My Ancestry – Tragedy Strikes – My Thoughts

I find the entire situation strange. Obviously, Great, Great Grandpa Seth was involved in things he shouldn’t have been, but was his death a tragic accident, or was he murdered?

I guess we’ll never know, but according to Grandma he was murdered during a card game for calling the mayor a cheater. And given the inconsistencies in parts of the story as well as the lost evidence at the beginning of the story one has to wonder if Seth Gates might have been a sacrificial lamb to keep an even bigger scandal from spilling out onto the streets of Ludington.

In my opinion, I find it hard to believe that the body was burned beyond recognition yet the hounds’ tooth in his possession wasn’t. I find it odd that a married woman, during this era, would go to a cabin alone with a married man late in the evening and be believed to be innocent of any nefarious deeds. Seriously, what woman of good report would do such a thing, especially in this era when a woman’s virtue was everything.

What I do know is that Grandma never allowed cards in her house, and most likely because her own mother believed Seth was killed over a game of cards.

Next week I’ll introduce my Great Grandmother, Seth’s daughter. A woman who none of us knew about other than she had walked away from her only child.

My Ancestry-Tragedy Strikes (Part V)

As if things couldn’t get bad enough for Great great grandma Gates, a local minister goes and makes things worse.


Do I need to say more? My heart stopped when I read this. I could not believe a man of God would do such a thing without consideration for the grieving family. But oh, Grandma Gates gave as good as she got.


My Ancestry-Tragedy Strikes (Part IV)

These next four images are all part of the same article. They deal with the investigation, the testimonies as well as trying hard to dispel any rumors.

After reading this particular article it only leaves me with more questions. The fire was so hot that it melted the glass like rain, and only portions of his torso was left, YET they were still able to identify him by his key chain, a gold tooth, his razor… oh, wait and a watch fob, yet the fire was so hot that it melted off a cast iron handle. Oh, and do you recall reading something about a Elk’s tooth in a previous article?

Things just don’t sound right. No wonder speculation as to what really happened sparked all sorts of rumors.

Oh, and imagine poor, innocent Mrs. Bowne. I always try to give people the benefit, but seriously, the poor woman went to a cabin on the lake with a married man while his wife was in the hospital having his 8th child? It was late in the evening, her husband was at the hospital as well. I’m thinking she didn’t just go there to watch him eat pickled pigs feet and shave.

To be sure, she was a real good friend of the family, but I’m wondering how Mrs. Gates felt about her after this.

I seriously don’t  think Mrs. Bowne  had anything to do with Gates’ death, or at least I don’t believe she murdered him. However, I do believe his death was suspicious. According to the story told by my grandmother, Gates was gambling with several others, including the town mayor and the sheriff. Someone got caught cheating. Whether that was Gates or Gates accused another I have no idea. I also realize that that could have been a story made up by Mrs. Gates to tell her children because it would have been much easier to accept than the fact her husband was unfaithful.

I guess we’ll never really know.

My Ancestry-Tragedy Strikes (Part III)

Here is a short article on the inquest, followed by another that shows the state police were involved in the investigation.



In this second article, notice the last line. Hmmmmmm, why did they have to start over? Sounds a little fishy but that could just be the fiction writer in me.


My Ancestry-Tragedy Strikes (Part II)

Wow, it’s been quite a while since I’ve been here. Life has kind of gotten in the way, which is another blog for another day. For now, I’d like to continue where I left off with my previous post on my great great grandfather’s story. The previous article was published by Benzie Banner. This next one from Ludington, although it shares some of the details, has a little more information.

The article is titled Seth Gates Loses Life Early Sunday and continues on to the next page. It speaks of a criminal investigation, which will get into in a future post.


My Ancestry-Tragedy Strikes

I’ve often been curious about certain ‘stories’ passed down. Here’s one that still remains a mystery. I’ll be posting several articles of the next few weeks about this particular mystery and my thoughts.

Today, however, I won’t say much as this newspaper article from a November 1925 Benzie Banner says a lot. For those of you who are wondering, this story is from my mom’s side. The man, Seth Coleman Gates, is my Grandma Jerome’s grandfather.

This photo was taken by a distant cousin who is as curious about these mysteries as I am. You’ll have to click on the picture and then click again to get it magnified.



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.