Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sheriff Estella Gates, Benzie County Michigan

Have you ever dug into your family ancestry?

I have. I do it all the time. I find it’s a wonderful way to escape from the modern world and delve into the past. And every now and then I come across a real gem.

Like this one.

Allow me to introduce you to my great great great grandmother Estella Gates. She was a sheriff in Benzie County Michigan. From all that I've been told and can find through newspaper articles, she was the first female sheriff in Michigan, elected in 1916 after having served as a deputy for several years under her husband, William Moore Gates.

I found an article that tells a few of her feats as sheriff. “Oh! I didn’t do so much. The people elected me sheriff. The work had to be done and I did it.” The article goes on to say how she stopped two murderers from escaping her jail cell and “jailed the most notorious of the river rats”. Another newspaper article, one from Oklahoma, claims this same woman was their first female sheriff as well.

Eventually she and her husband moved to Texas before they returned to Michigan where she died of pneumonia at the age of 80. I never had the pleasure of meeting her, but after speaking with second cousins who grew up under her tutelage, they say she was the sweetest and kindest lady they’d ever known. I can only imagine what it would have been like to spend my summers with Sheriff Gates. One has to wonder what kind of woman it took to keep the peace and take down 'river rats' and what kind of man stood at her side while she did it. I’ve been told the pair were very much in love. Of course, I know their lives weren’t always filled with roses as one of their sons, my great great grandfather, died a tragic death and caused a great mysterious scandal, but that’s a blog post for another day and another time as the event continues to affect those still among the living.

Here are a few pictures from one of my cousins. As you can see the picture of William Gates is a campaign advertisement. I think he kind of looks like Kurt Russell from Tombstone.

This is the gun Estella used during her time as sheriff. I’m sure she kept it handy after her service too. I was a little surprised at its size. I figured Grandma Gates would have carried something a little bigger. But then I guess a bullet is a bullet when it’s well placed.

This next picture is of a night-stick, whether it belonged to her husband or to Estella nobody is real sure, but I thought you’d like to see it. Looks like it’s been well used. Maybe on a few hard skulls of all those lumberjacks Estella had been known to keep under control.

By changing a few details here and there, Estella’s life would make a wonderful historical romance. Just think, a female sheriff, rough and rugged lumberjacks, river rats, murderers and a hero who looks like Kurt Russell and is confident enough in his manhood to accept her chosen occupation. Yeah, I think it’s a story I’d love to read. In fact, I think I'd love to write it. ;)

Do you research your ancestry? Have you ever come across really interesting tidbits?

Born and raised in Kansas, where she currently lives with her husband and children, Christina loves to read stories with happily ever afters, research,  take photos, knit scarves, dig into her ancestry, fish, visit the ocean, write stories with happily ever afters and talk about her family and Jesus. 

Her debut novel, The Guardian’s Promise, released from Love Inspired March 2014. Her second book, The Warrior's Vow, released July 2014.

* This blog post is adapted from a blog I wrote for Hearts Through History on October 22, 2011.


  1. Christina, You certainly have an interesting history. Thank you so much for sharing! Miss Estella would have been a great one to know.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

  2. Christina, I loved reading this post about your great, great, great grandmother. I agree with you. This is the stuff of an excellent historical novel! Please bring this to fruition. I'd love to read it. I'm a lifelong resident of Michigan and have spent some time in Benzie County over the years. My sister-in-law's family has strong roots in the area, and may well have known your ancestors. Thanks for sharing a very interesting story!
    Grand Rapids, Michigan

  3. You definitely have to write this novel, Christina! And you can put "Based on a True Story" on the cover. That always gets readers' attention!

  4. You have a rich heritage! Those skeletons in our closets make for some great stories!

  5. Hmm, you must be about the same age as my granddaughter. :) My dad was born in 1916. :) He gave me some letters from my great-grandfather to my great-grandmother written during the Civil War, Also had one from her father to her when she went off to finishing school in New Orleans in 1859. Those letters sparked my interest in genealogy and what I found led to my current series. The first book is loosely based on Manfred and Sallie's love story in 1865 as the war ended and Manfred headed home. Learned a lot of new stuff since then.
    The idea of a lady sheriff is fascinating and should go in a story. Write it, Girl!

  6. What a fun post. I agree, it's fun to delve into our ancestor's history. I have a night stick, too. It belonged to my husband's grandfather and is from the WWI era. We know he was an MP in the war, but not sure if that was when he had the night stick. It's very heavy even though made of wood. Thanks for a great read.