In fact, three Ottawa County sheriffs were shot by desperadoes between 1870 and 1903, and all lived to tell their tales.
In 1884, Sheriff John Vaupell was shot in the neck and wounded by a sheep rustler. Sheriff Henry Dykhuis was shot and wounded by a William Wilson, a prisoner, during a 1903 Grand Haven jailbreak.
Earning the distinction of being the first sheriff shot in Ottawa County is Henry D. Weatherwax. It happened Nov. 15, 1870, in Grand Haven and he was shot more than once.
Weatherwax got sucked into the predicament — he was recruited by Grand Rapids Sheriff Jesse F. Wyckoff, who was asked by Kalamazoo Sheriff John H. Wells to take a case tracking down a suspect. Wells couldn't pursue it, as he was involved in the George Vanderpool murder trial — but that's another case.
The story begins with a Grand Rapids resident named John Henry Doty, a married man who was having an affair with his wife's sister. In the spring of 1870, it was reported Doty had left his wife, Zetella, and his three children to be with her sister — his mistress — Martha Ann Pierce, who was residing at Marshall. A hint of potential polygamy was written into newspaper items concerning John Doty's cavorting.
Enter George Jones Pierce, a young man of 21. He knew both women Doty was involved with — they were his sisters. He was not too happy about it. He figured one sister for Doty was enough.
George had a special place in his heart for sister Martha Ann. When their mother died when George was 7, sister Martha Ann essentially raised him. Father Issac was often gone at work providing for the five kids.
In early November 1870, Issac Pierce moved from Grand Rapids and took up residence in Grand Haven. His son, George, came with him.
According to the Grand Rapids Eagle, on the 12th of that month, George boarded a train at the Grand Haven depot and headed to Allegan on business. While aboard, he spotted John Doty on the train in the company of a young woman, who was later identified as Jennie Watson.
This infuriated George — not only was Doty romancing another of his sisters, it appeared he was actively recruiting another female for his affections, too.
Unnoticed by Doty and Watson, George stayed on the train, missing his departure point and exited the locomotive at a Kalamazoo depot when his brother-in-law Watson disembarked. That's when Pierce pulled out a pistol. Doty did get to see his would-be assassin a moment before shots rang out.
As Doty fled, he was shot in the back and leg.
Watson, unhurt, turned out to be an innocent mutual friend of John and Zetella Doty.
After shooting, George Pierce fled the scene. Kalamazoo police launched a manhunt to find both men and for several days published reports stating Doty had died.
Enter Kalamazoo Sheriff John H. Wells, who appealed to Grand Rapids Sheriff Jesse F. Wyckoff to take the case, which he did. Within three days, Wyckoff had located where George Pierce was hiding — at his father's home in Grand Haven. He contacted Sheriff Weatherwax, who in turn recruited Grand Haven Marshall Orson Vanderhoef.
At 10 the evening of the 15th, Wyckoff, Weatherwax, Vanderhoef and several volunteers surrounded the home of Issac Pierce. As Wyckoff knocked on the front door, a shot sounded through a window at the rear of the home, striking Weatherwax in the right arm.
Father and son bolted out from a window and made their escape. Wyckoff tackled the old man as Weatherwax and Vanderhoef engaged in pursuit of George, all firing their weapons. Weatherwax was hit again, this time in his left arm, and George was shot in the hand.
The wounded Weatherwax disengaged, while Vanderhoef apprehended the fugitive.
When the dust had settled, both Pierces were in custody and rumors of John Doty's demise were greatly exaggerated. Very much alive, Doty was apprehended and interrogated extensively.
It appears Doty “married” Martha Ann Pierce — although they were never legally married. Birth records also indicate Doty fathered children with both women.
In March 1871, George Pierce went on trial in Kalamazoo and was sentenced to at least six years in prison at Jackson for shooting Doty and Weatherwax. The Dotys got out of Michigan and moved to Utah, then the state of Wyoming, settling in Mormon communities.
George Pierce died in 1886 at the age of 37. John Doty died at the age of 62 in 1905 at Big Horn, Wyo., and is buried next to wife Zetella, who died in 1914. Her sister — or John Henry Doty's other Pierce “wife," Martha Ann — died in 1929 and is buried at Oakhill Cemetery in Kent County, Mich. Both Zetella and Martha Ann are buried under the last name of “Doty.”
Henry D. Weatherwax — born April 19, 1833, in Peru, New York — lived out a life of public service. After four years as Grand Haven sheriff, he moved his family to Grandville, where he served as county supervisor for six years and justice of the peace for eight. He died Nov. 26, 1904, at the age of 71 and is buried at Grandville Cemetery.