My Ancestry- The Sheriff’s Man

Last time I brought you the story of Estella Gates. I for one can’t help but admire her tenacity. I mean she was a cut above the rest to stand out of the crowd and not only do a man’s job, but do it very well. I always wondered what sort of man stood by her side. I haven’t found much on William Moore Gates, but here is what I do know:

a8ed0d5c-639c-4734-9046-59bdba7883dfBorn April 7, 1860 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin to Coleman Gates and Elizabeth Jane Weed.

Married Sarah Estella Kendall August 6, 1884 in Clark Mills, Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

According to this flyer from Benzie County’s Sheriff’s Office, William was sheriff from 1910-1913 and again from 1918-1921. It’s been rumored that he was a game warden as well.

Photo by UpNorth Memories--Donald (Don) Harrison
Photo by UpNorth Memories–Donald (Don) Harrison

There is a story in Ninety Years Crossing Lake Michigan about one of Sheriff Gates’ investigations. It seems that on January 12, 1912, there was a fire at the Royal Frontenac Hotel in Frankfort. The fire began around midnight. Fortunately, there were no guests since the Royal Frontenac Hotel had closed down for the winter. Anyhooo, as word of the fire spread a gentleman by the name of Bill Rathburn rushed into the majestic hotel.

Why, you might ask. Well, it seems this man owned several slot machines, and since the fire was at the other end of the 500 ft hotel, he saw no reason not to run in and save his source of income. As nosy neighbors often do, people watched a man rush into the building, in the dead of night, and rush right back out with… loot. Now, whether or not they realized this man was the owner of the loot he was trying to save, nobody truly knows, but his actions would only add to the story of the year.

…set off a night of looting that was totally out of character for Frankfort residents. Townspeople ran into the building and emerged with chairs, tables, lamps, bedding, paintings–all manners of goods.  If it could be carried, someone took it.

Ninety Years Crossing Lake Michigan The History of the Ann Arbor Car Ferries by Grant Brown, Jr. pg. 84

The greedy actions, so out of character, shocked the innocent and the victims of the fire. Some believed that since the hotel was closed for the winter and without a staff, the culprits wouldn’t get caught and therefore believed they had rights to their loot. Others believed that since the fire would destroy everything within in the building and would lose the stolen objects, then it was okay to steal.

Great, great, great grandpa William Gates and a detective showed up and declared otherwise. Supposedly it was against the law to steal from a burning building. And since all the items taken were much finer than anything that would have been found in most Frankfort homes, the hotel management generously offered to reduce the charges of larceny to petty larceny if the items were returned. Items were returned and each person was charged a fine of $9.10 for their crime.

I can’t help but wonder if there were a few items that were never returned. After all, the building did burn down and wasn’t rebuilt until the late forties to mid fifties. No body would really know, would they? It would be interesting to hear those stories.

Campaign Picture
Campaign Picture

So, what else do I know about William Moore Gates, besides the fact that he looked likes Kurt Russell from Tombstone.

He was the secretary for Frankfort Electric Light Company.5b1207ee-298c-403f-a85e-36aeaed17a38

He and Estella also ran a grocery store in Honor, Michigan. So, I guess you could say William was a go-getter type of a guy, but I also believe that he supported his wife’s career 100%, especially given that not only was his wife a sheriff in the years following his second term, but it seems he may have been one of her under sheriffs. And when Estella moved to Oklahoma to take a job as sheriff, he followed.

Now I don’t think that means she wore the pants in the family, I think it’s more of a supportive role he played. The distant cousins I’ve spoke with, who actually remember William and Estella and actually spent time at their grocery store as grandchildren, say they were the nicest people anyone could ever meet. And their parents, aunts and uncles had nothing but admiration for the sheriff duo.

I must thank several of my Thompson/Gates cousins for providing me with these interesting pieces of my ancestry.

I hope to one day visit this area of Michigan and see if I can’t find more stories from their days in Benzie County. Of course, there are many more stories of Grandma Sally and Grandpa Bill’s ancestry out of Michigan that I would love to research as well.


This is the grocery store that was in Honor, Michigan. It is no longer standing. The woman on the right side of the picture behind the counter is Estella Gates and I believe the man in the dark suit is William, but I cannot be sure. It seems he has the same nose and eyes as the photo above. Since I believe they are all related it is very difficult to tell.

Here is one more photo of William as a young man when he lived in Sheboygan. It is rumored that he fbd6dc96-0124-4872-bc2d-7575624bcf48had stayed with another family by the time he was eleven, suggesting that some sort of tragedy befell his family. Given that William was born one month before his father’s death, it is possible that his mother remarried. It is also possible that since William was the youngest of fifteen children that he could have gone to live with a sister at some point.

I’m guessing he couldn’t have been too poor since I’m certain paupers couldn’t afford to have photos taken and he must have been likable to have been elected sheriff, not once, but twice.

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