Judge John Howard Gates

1865 - 1927

“Judge John Howard Gates of Sioux Falls, supreme court Judge of South Dakota, was born in Waterloo, Black Hawk county, Iowa, October 26, 1865, a son of John C. and Adelia (St. John) Gates. The father, a native of Ontario county, New York, was born February 16, 1838, a son of Joseph B. Gates, who was born on the old family homestead in the Empire state and there spent his entire life. He was a son of Daniel Gates, who came from Rutland, Vermont, and whose father took up land in the Phelps & Gorham purchase about 1790. There the Gates family followed farming and the great-great- grandfather and the great-grandfather of Judge Gates continued to live there throughout their lives. The Gates family are direct descendants of John and Priscilla (Mullens) Alden. The great-great-grandfather, Daniel Gates, was the second husband of Milcah Ludden, who was born April 7, 1765, and was a daughter of Benjamin and Esther (Capen) Ludden. The latter was a daughter of John and Ruth (Thayer) Capen, and Ruth Thayer was a daughter of Ephraim and Sarah (Bass) Thayer. The ancestry is still traced back in the maternal line through Sarah Bass, a daughter of John and Ruth (Alden) Bass, the latter a daughter of John and Priscilla (Mullens) Alden.

Judge Gates attended the public schools until graduated from the East Waterloo high school with the class of 1882 and in the fall of 1883 he became a student in the Iowa State University. During the periods of vacation, while he was pursuing his college course, he worked in his father’s abstract office and from September, 1884, to September, 1885, he was employed in the First National Bank of Waterloo. Resuming his studies, he was graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy in 1888 and during the period of his college days he was a member of the Irving Institute, a literary society of prominence, and became a member of the Beta Theta Pi, a Greek letter fraternity. In September, 1888, he accepted a clerical position with the law firm of Bailey & Davis of Sioux Falls, with which he remained for a year, although in the meantime a change in the partnership led to the organization of the firm of Bailey, Davis and Lyon. For the further study of the law Judge Gates matriculated in the Columbia University Law School of New York city in September, 1889, returning to Sioux Falls in August, 1890, after which he was admitted to the bar on the 2d of December of that year. It was then that the firm of Davis, Lyon and Gates was formed, of which Judge Gates continued as a member until January 1, 1913, wen he was elevated to the bench of the supreme court, having been elected in November, 1912 from the second supreme court district. In the meantime he had been called to other office in the line of his profession, having served in 1893 – 4 by appointment as city attorney of Sioux Falls. In 1896 he was defeated for the office of states attorney of Minnehaha county. On the 16th of August, 1909, he was appointed by Hon. J. E. Carland, district judge, as special master in the South Dakota railroad rate case. His report was filed in September, 1911, and his action in this matter attracted statewide attention, his principal contentions being ultimately sustained by the United States supreme court on the Minnesota rate case. Judge Gates gained an enviable reputation through the conduct of these cases and introduced a formula for use in apportioning earnings that is used today by the state and inter-state commissions. Since the 7th of January, 1913, he has sat upon the bench of the supreme court of South Dakota, proving himself the peer of the ablest members of that court of last resort, his decisions indicating strong mentality, careful analysis, a thorough knowledge of the law and an unbiased judgement. His legal learning, his analytical mind, the readiness with which he grasps the point in an argument all combine to make him one of the most capable jurists that has ever graced the supreme court and the public and the profession acknowledge him the peer of any member of that highest judicial body of the state. He is a member of the American Bar Association, one of the charter members of the South Dakota State Bar Association and for many years was treasurer of the Minnehaha County Bar Association.

On the 13th of November, 1899, Judge Gates was married to Miss Mary Edna Carter, a native of New London, Wisconsin, and a daughter of Jervis W. Carter, a pioneer of Dakota territory who served as district attorney under Judge Kidder in territorial days. Judge and Mrs. Gates have three children: Beatrice, John Carter and Hobart Hare.

Judge Gates and his family take very active and prominent part in the work of the Espiscopal church and has been a chancellor of the missionary district of South Dakota for that church for many years. He was formerly vestryman and warden of Calvary church at Sioux Falls and is now warden of Trinity church in Pierre. He served as a delegate from South Dakota to the general convention of the Episcopal church in New York in 1913 and he is now a member of the provincial court of review of the Province of the Northwest of the Episcopal church. His interest in church work has been most keen and he has found tangible evidence in farreaching and beneficial efforts for the upbuilding of the cause. He is also deeply interested in education and from 1906 until 1908 was a member of the board at Sioux Falls, during which period the high school building was constructed, a work for which he was largely responsible. His political allegiance has always been given the republican party and he is a stanch supporter of its principles. In fraternal circles, too, he is well known, holding membership in Minnehaha Lodge, No. 5, F. & A. M., of Sioux Falls, of which he is a past master; Sioux Falls Chapter, No. 2. R. A. M.; Cyrene Commandery, No. 2, K. T.; El Riad Temple of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine at Sioux Falls; and the Elks lodge of that place. He is also a member of the South Dakota Society of Sons of American Revolution. His profession prominence, his activity in Masonic and church circles and his public-spirited citizenship have brought him a wide acquaintance and his record is an honor to the state that has honored him.”

George W. Kingsbury, History of Dakota Territory, Vol. 5 (Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1915) pp. 371 – 373.

Judge John Howard Gates died at the age of 62 years and was buried on November 12th, 1927 in Block 3, Lot 8 of the cemetery. His wife, Mary Edna, lived on until 1970, reaching the age of 99 years. She is buried next to him.