Clayton Bates was born in 1907, in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. As a young boy, he worked in the cotton fields and his mother was a nurse for a white family. Clayton hated his job though, and his true love was dancing. Some days, he would secretly go to the local barber shop and dance for the rich white men for some extra money, until one day when his mother found out and dragged him home. Clayton always went back though, because he loved the extra money, and most of all, he loved to dance.At the age of eleven, Clayton got sick of his job in the cotton fields. He claimed that the job "wasn't 9 to 5, it was can to cant".
He pleaded with his mother to let him go to work in the cottonseed mill, but she wouldn't let him because she felt he was too young to be working in a dangerous factory. After enough reasoning his mother agreed to let him go to work in the cottonseed mill, where he worked on top of a cottonseed pile. His job was to push the cottonseed so that it flowed down into the conveyor, where it was ground into meal. On only his second day at the job, Clayton slipped and fell into the conveyor with the cottonseed and fell into the auger, which crushed his leg and 2 fingers on his right hand. Since, black people were not allowed into most hospitals at the time, Bates was forced to have his leg amputated on his mother's kitchen table.Clayton refused to let this slow him down, and with a wooden peg leg his uncle made for him, he ran five miles every day, jumping over ditches and whatever obstacles he met.
After close to a year and a half, Clayton was able to run and dance just like he used to, and he refused to let anyone pity him for his disability.Soon after his accident Clayton was back to his dancing, and was now known by everyone, even his mother, as "Peg Leg". "Peg Leg" began joining traveling dance shows.