2017-10-05 / Front Page

Sheriff Looks To Gather Historical Records, Pictures

By Erich T. Doerr

The Mackinac County Sheriff’s Office will be celebrating its bicentennial in 2018 alongside that of the county. The office is planning an open house sometime next summer to mark the occasion, with Sheriff Scott Strait using the pending celebration as an opportunity to look back at the department’s long history. He is seeking photographs, stories, artifacts, and other information from local historians and sheriff descendants about the office and any of the investigations and cases it has taken up throughout the years.

“The idea is to compile this information to have a historical record of the sheriff’s office from throughout its 200 years,” Sheriff Strait said.

He hopes to display the information and artifacts collected at next year’s open house. Anyone who has information about the history of the sheriff’s office can e-mail it to Sheriff Strait at straits@mackinacsheriff.us or drop it off at the sheriff’s office building on South Marley Street.

From 1818 to the present, Mackinac County has had 36 sheriffs, with Lawrence Leveille as its longest serving one, filling the role for five terms from 1985 until 2004 when he retired and Sheriff Strait replaced him. Sheriff Strait has been researching the history of the sheriff’s office as a hobby for more than two decades after Mr. Leveille piqued his interest through his efforts to create a full list of the sheriffs. The list is now almost complete, with the one unconfirmed entry, former Sheriff Medard Metivier, who is believed to have served from 1841 to 1848. Mr. Strait said it took research through Lake Superior State University (LSSU) and historical sources in Lansing to locate information on Mr. Metivier. He also served two terms as Mackinac County’s coroner.

The office is especially interested in information from 1818 through the 1880s. Not much information has been found for the years before the improvements in record keeping that came with the formation of the area’s first newspapers, including The St. Ignace News in 1878.

Mackinac County was formed on October 26, 1818, as Michilimackinac County. Its first county seat of justice was the Borough of Michilimackinac, today the City of Mackinac Island, which had formed the prior year in 1817. Michigan Territorial Governor Lewis Cass appointed Edward Biddle to serve as the county’s first sheriff the following day. Mr. Cass later went on to become the Democrats’ losing presidential candidate in 1848 and serve as the United States’ Secretary of State from 1857 to 1860 under President James Buchanan.

Before statehood, the Michigan territory was larger than the state it became. In the early 1830s, it stretched west into much of what is now Wisconsin and some parts of Minnesota. Michilimackinac County itself was also quite large, splitting the Upper Peninsula with the more northern Superior County, while taking up also much of the Lower Peninsula north of the thumb region, including the locations that are now Alpena, Ludington, Manistee, Grayling, and Traverse City. Michigan became the 26th state to join the union on January 26, 1837, with Michilimackinac County shortening its name to Mackinac County the same day. The large county started to break up in the following years between 1840 and 1853, complete with a formal reorganization in 1849 that likely came as its geographical borders were redefined.

Sheriff Strait said working with LSSU on this research project has turned up some interesting information about the county. When Michilimackinac County still reached into Wisconsin, there is some evidence there was consideration given to moving the county seat from Mackinac Island to Green Bay, since it was also a larger population center. There are also rumors Green Bay tried to appoint its own Michilimackinac County Sheriff, but local records are unable to confirm or deny this. A vote passed in 1882 moved the Mackinac County seat from Mackinac Island to St. Ignace.

Sheriff Strait is interested in what kind of local stories may turn up through the current effort. Already there are unconfirmed reports a Mackinac County sheriff may have been tasked with making arrests in connection with the June 1856 shooting death of Beaver Island’s King James Jesse Strang. Mr. Strang was an early leader of the Mormon Church who set up a community on Beaver Island and was self-proclaimed as the island’s king in 1850.

“It’s stuff like that one that shows the depth of the national historical significance of this area,” Sheriff Strait said, noting the area’s long Native

American presence and role in the War of 1812. “I find it interesting and I want to know more about it. We want to record what happened in this area so future generations can learn about this region.”

The sheriff’s office has not finalized a date for next year’s open house. Aiming to choose one that won’t conflict with any of the local festivals, the office is looking at possible dates in August.

Mackinac County Sheriffs

Throughout the 199-year history of Mackinac County more than 30 men have served as its sheriff. Michigan’s territorial governor appointed the first two sheriffs, Edward Biddle and John A. Drew, to their terms. A full list of the sheriffs is shown here as the present day Mackinac County Sheriff’s Office is seeking for historical information about them.

Edward Biddle, 1818-1831

John A. Drew, 1831-1840

Medard Metivier, 1841-1848 (unconfirmed)

J. B. Spencer, 1849-1850

Tully O’Malley, 1851-1852

Julius Granger, 1853-1856

Dominic Murray, 1857-1860

Michael Murray, 1861-1864

Moses Rapin, 1865-1866

John H. Chapman, 1867-1868

Augustus Todd, 1869-1872

Michael McNally, 1873-1876

Peter McNally, 1877-1878

Hugh McLaughlin, 1879-1882

Peter A. Paquin, 1883-1886

Lewis I. Monteith, 1887-1888

Medard A. “Bob” Metivier, 1889-1892

Thomas Dolan, 1893-1896

Bruno Leclerc, 1897-1900

Harry H. Ryerse, 1901-1902

Thomas Dolan, 1903-1904

James McClintock, 1905-1908

George A. Rapin, 1909-1912

John Kolar, 1913-1916

Robert Henry Benjamin, 1917- 1920

Thomas A. Taylor, 1921-1922.

George A. Rapin, 1923-1926

William M. McCauley, 1927- 1938

Carl Worth, 1939-1940

Ronald Cheeseman, 1941-1954

Leslie MacDonald, 1955-1960

Charles E. Garries, 1960-1966

Phillip J. “Dody” Schaefer, 1966-1980

Benjamin A. Thompson, 1980- 1984

Lawrence H. Leveille, 1985- 2004

Scott A. Strait, 2005-present

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