Note: James King Belk and his wife Charity (Palmer) were prominent Liberal residents present since the formation of the town. King had a first marriage, mentioned in J. P. Moore’s book on Liberal, which caused something of a scandal as his first wife had purportedly believed him to be dead, whereas he was very much alive and had remarried to a Charity Palmer and moved to Liberal. Steve Richardson of the Cawker City Hesperian Historical Society wrote asking if I had heard of him and was able to say that I had. His interest was due connections between Cawker and Liberal. A George W. Chapman is one citizen of Cawker who was alert to Liberal in the early 1880s and was prepared to donate his collection of geological specimens to the academy there if the citizens of Cawker did not provide a suitable building for it and a public library. Another resident of Cawker with a tie to Liberal was William Belk, a brother of King Belk. Thus this series, Steve having sent me several articles published on it in 1920-1921. All related posts will be found under the tag “Belk”.
The following was published in the St. Joseph Observer, November 12, 1921.
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DID LAMAR MAN LEAVE TWO WIDOWS?
WAS HIS REPORTED KILLING BY INDIANS YEARS AGO NOT TRUE?
STORY OF THE EARLY DAYS OF MISSOURI
George K. Rogers in His Quest for the Father Whom He Has Never Seen Runs Across a Clue Which Takes Him to Lamar Where After An Investigation He is Put in Possession of a Story Which Is Almost as Strange as Fiction
LAMAR, Mo. Nov. 10 – Was J. K. Belk, money lender and influential citizen of Liberal, in this county, the same J. K. Belk, who 50 years ago was believed to have been killed by Indians in the West?
Did the J. K. Belk of Liberal concoct a story of his death in order to abandon his wife and two small children and then return to Missouri to marry again, amass a small fortune and live the life of a small town business man for 40 years?
Or is the J. K. Belk, who died at Liberal five years ago, leaving and estate of $25,000, really a different man?
These and many other perplexing problems will have to be settled by the courts in the suit of Mrs. Olive Rodgers, 82 years old, of Hiawatha, Kas., who says she married man named Belk 60 years ago and who is seeking to obtain the estate of the Liberal man for herself and two sons. This suit is now pending in the district court of Brown county, Kas., of which Hiawatha is the county seat.
Suit Goes Back to Frontier Days
The suit will bring to light tales of the wild frontier days of the Northwest, the Indian fights, the hard struggles of a widow with two infant sons, the model life of a financier in a small inland Missouri town, his rise to wealth and affluence, and the fight for his estate between two women, both of whom claim they are his widow.
The remarkable story was revealed here by George K. Rogers, 56 years old, who was accompanied to Lamar by his aged mother, in an effort to trace the life of Belk who, he claims, is his father, and to secure evidence to substantiate the suit of his mother in her fight for the estate.
The story told by Rogers is as follows:
About 60 years ago J. K. Belk married a girl at Hiawatha, Kas. Two sons were born to them. Times were hard and they moved to California. Belk left his wife and babies there and went into Idaho, seeking work. He wrote to his wife frequently and in one letter he told her that he had secured a job driving a stage coach. Letters were received at frequent intervals in which Belk told of his job and his hope that he would soon be able to send for his little family.
Then one day the postman brought sad news. It was from a man named Brown, who said he was a fellow stage driver of Belk. He told a tale of a wild fight with the Indians, how he held off the savages for a while with his rifle, but how he finally was unable to withstand their attacks and the stage was captured, Belk being killed.
Wife Left Penniless
Mrs. Belk was left penniless with her little boys and she struggled along as best she could and before long married a man named Rogers. Her two little sons, as a matter of convenience adopted the name of Robers (sic). Their stepfather lived but two years, dying in an epidemic of smallpox in the Northwest. So panic-stricken were the people over the pestilence that they burned everything owned by everyone afflicted with the disease. Rogers was proprietor of a store, so they burned the small stock of goods that he owned.
Mrs. Rogers at this point again took up the struggle of making a livelihood for herself and two sons.
The oldest son became a successful business man. The younger son, George K. Rogers, was employed by a fraternal order as a lecturer.
A few years ago Rogers, in the course of his lecture tour, stopped in Hiawatha, the old home of his parents. There to his surprise he was told that his father had lived for many years at Liberal, Mo. and had died there only a short time before. Further investigations of this story convinced Rogers that the Belk of Liberal was really his father and led to the institution of the suit by his mother in Kansas.
Belk left a widow, Mrs. Charity Belk, in Liberal, whom he married somewhere in the Northwest and with whom he lived 40 years. She has one daughter, Mrs. H. R. Branson.
If Mrs. Rogers proves her contention, the Belk estate, amounting at Liberal to about $25,000 and a considerable sum in Brown county, Kas., which was left to Mrs. Belk and her daughter, will go to the legal wife and heirs. The case is set for trial this month.