King Belk of Liberal, Missouri (cont.) November 12, 1921 News Article

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.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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.

King Belk of Liberal, Missouri (cont.) News Article from November 11, 1921

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”.

Thank you to Steve Richardson for the below article.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Brown County World
November 11 1921

BELK CASE SETTLED
WIFE NO. 1 GETS SHARE

The sensational Belk case has been settled out of court, according to information W. F. Means received Friday from George Belk-Rogers, who, with his mother, Olive Belk-Rogers, has been at Liberal, Mo., for several weeks. It is reported that Charity Belk, of Liberal, second wife of King Belk, agreed to settle with the California widow and her 2 sons for $18,000. It is said that the King Belk estate left by him at his death 2 years ago amounted to about $150,000. The Missouri window and her daughter, however, claim amount has been over-estimated. The Belk case was perhaps one of the strangest cases of the kind ever filed in a Kansas court. Daily World printed a Belk story in serial form several months before the suit was filed, using fictitious names, but sticking close to real facts as possible. Story aroused great interest. Olive Belk-Rogers, of California, without doubt, was legal widow of King Belk, Brown county pioneer, who died 3 years ago at Liberal, Mo., leaving a widow and a daughter there. As has been related in World several times, King Belk left Olive Belk and 2 sons in California, returned to Brown county. This was nearly 50 years ago. He went to Liberal where he married again without being divorced from the California woman. The California Mrs. Belk says in her suit petition that she believed for more than 50 years that her husband was slain by Indians in Idaho. After his death at Liberal, George Belk happened to be passing thru Kansas on business trip to Akron, Ohio. He said he had stopped to learn something about early history of his father. George alleged that he discovered for first time the true life of his father, when relatives here told him that King Belk had lived for a half century after his supposed death, had married again, and accumulated fortune. Then George began investigations. Thread by thread he put together the double life of his father. At Liberal he was pronounced an imposter by wife No. 2. George employed lawyers, returned to California. Suit was brot in the district court of Brown county. King Belks original (…?) near Padonia still belongs in the Belk estate. There are real estate holdings in Jewell county, but bulk of estate is at Liberal. Mrs. Olive Belk-Rogers is about 80 years old. She had indisputable evidence, doubtless would have been awarded liberal share of the Belk estate had the case been submitted to a jury. Jake Shepard, noted Fort Scott lawyer who died several weeks ago, and W. E. Archer, were attorneys for wife of No. 2. Mr. Archer had made a trip to California to get depositions. W. P. Means and a Missouri lawyer were attorneys for the California Belks.

Before leaving for home in California, Mrs. Olive Belk was a caller at World Office Tuesday morning. Altho 80 years old, Mrs. Belk is bright, has a quick mind, a most interesting personality. She might be called a “printer of the old school,” because Mr. Belk was a type setter back in the late 60s, early 70s. Then she turned her attention to literary efforts, where she achieved more than passing success. Her poetical gems were gladly accepted by Los Angeles big daily newspapers. Under non de plume Mrs. Belk had columns in 2 Los Angeles papers. She was given letter of endorsement by Los Angeles press association. Altho more than 40 years have passed since Mrs. Belk held a “case” in a newspaper office, she told World folks that she still had mental picture of type cases, could now go to a case, set type. While in World office, Mrs. Belk recalled that she had a part in the “Bloodless Battle of Padonia,” when bushwackers from Missouri came over in Kansas to capture the village, possibly kill all who tried to prevent it. On horseback, Mrs. Belk rode from Padonia to White Cloud where she informed a colonel what was about to happen. Soldiers were sent from there, plans of Missouri bushwhackers were thwarted. Steve Hunter was in that “bloodless” battle. He was armed with a shot gun. As has been related in World stories, Mrs. Belk and her husband left Brown county in 1862, driving to California. Later came disappearance of her husband, King Belk, his subsequent marriage at Liberal, Mo. In the mass of despositions secured by George Belk-Rogers and his mother was one from a man who witnessed an altercation King Belk had with a horseshoer in Idaho soon after his departure from Lassen county, Calif. in 1864. Man who made deposition stated that horseshoer struck Belk on the head with a hoof asp, rendering him senseless for several minutes. In explaining conduct of King Belk–that of re-marrying without being divorced–Mrs. Belk is inclined to believe that the violent blow he received at hands of Idaho horseshoer caused a mental trouble that was responsible for his marital misdeeds. Altho King Belk had lived with another woman for more than 40 years as his wife, the original Mrs. King Belk wishes to take a charitable view of her husbands dual life. “When King left California to look up a new home where he might be more prosperous, he took with him all the money we had earned together and saved,” said Mrs. Belk. “That was perfectly all right. But that money was used by King and the other woman in getting their start in which they accumulated a good deal of wealth. If compound interest was figured on the money that King took away with him more than 50 years ago it would amount to as much as was received from the estate in our terms of settlement.”

George Belk-Rogers, California man who unraveled hidden mystery of life of his father, King Belk, whom George thot had died 50 years ago, is expected to arrive in Hiawatha Saturday evening for brief stay before returning to California with his mother, Olive Belk-Rogers. Hiawatha people who have met George Belk say he is a shrewd fellow, did a wonderful piece of work in solving the great mystery of his fathers life. Mr. Rogers formerly was a national lecturer for Woodmen of the World. He has a most engaging personality, is polished in art of politeness and acting the part of a gentleman.

King Belk of Liberal, Mo. (cont.), News Article from November 4, 1921

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”.

Thank you to Steve Richardson for the below article which quotes material from the “Liberal News”.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Brown County World
November 4 1921

W. H. HART SAYS HE MET BELK AND BRIDE

There are many depositions on file in clerk of courts office in relation to Belk case. Latest one to arrive is that of W. H. Hart, of Seattle. Hart was in Brown county in the late 50s when it is alleged that King Belk was married. He states that he met King Belk, who introduced him to his wife. Alice Belk Rogers, who claims to be lawful widow of King Belk, accompanied by a son, George, is at Liberal, where King Belk died, leaving wife No. 2 and big estate. Speaking of George Belk, Liberal News says: Mr. Belk Rogers brings with him very strong endorsements from banks, business firms, and commercial and civic organizations, in many of which he holds honored membership. He impresses one as a resourceful, energetic and successful business man. He says he is confident that the outcome of the present controversy will be favorable to his mother and himself. He further says in his own behalf that he did not consider coming here until the case had been carried thru the preparatory stages so as to require only the necessary time for the proper legal actions to be concluded.

King Belk of Liberal, Missouri (cont.) News Article from Oct 17, 1921

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”.

Thanks to Steve Richardson for the below from the Hiawatha Daily World.

* * * * * * * * *

Hiawatha Daily World
October 17 1921

MUCH OF BELK CASE TO BE IN DEPOSITIONS

Belk case that will be tried in November term of court will have nearly all of its sensations in depositions. This is the case in which a Mrs. Belk-Rogers and 2 sons in California are working to secure a large estate left by King Belk to his widow, Charity Belk, at Liberal Mo. Mrs Belk-Rogers alleges that King Belk deserted her in California 50 years ago, returning to Hiawatha, former home of the Belks, later went to Liberal, where he was married without being divorced. Mrs. Belk in California married again to a man named Rogers. Her 2 sons took that name. Charity Belk takes position that Mrs. Belk and sons are imposters. King Belk accumulated property worth $50,000.

King Belk of Liberal, Missouri (cont.), News Article from March 30 1921

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”.

Thanks to Steve Richardson for the below from the Hiawatha Daily World, written a couple of months before the case was scheduled for a hearing.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hiawatha Daily World
March 30 1921

CLAIMS KING BELK HAD NO PREVIOUS MARRIAGE

An attorney for Mrs. Charity Belk, of Liberal, Mo., says that her defense in the suit for half of the King Belk estate will be resisted on the grounds that King Belk and Mrs. Belk-Rogers in California were never united in marriage. Defense also says that plaintiffs will not be able to prove that the marriage ceremony was consummated. The alleged marriage occurred more than 50 years ago, therefore not many citizens here now were residents of Hiawatha at that time. On the other hand, attorneys for the California Mrs. Belk say they have in their possession indisputable proof that there was a legal marriage. The Belk suit, in which an effort will be made to take from the Missouri Mrs. Belk half of an estate estimated to be wroth $150,000, promises to be brim full of sensational charges. The California Mrs. Belk is 78 years old, has 2 sons, and King Belk is alleged to have been their father. The Belk case will come up for hearing in the May term of court.

King Belk – “The Double Life of a Brown County Pioneer”

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 Hiawatha Daily News published a story in 1920 about King Belk of Liberal that appears to attempt to preserve anonymity for all concerned, but contrives cover names so close to the original that one wonders why the bother.

Each published version of the King Belk story provides a slightly different account, and however slight those small differences are interesting in causing one to wonder what the whole truth of the matter was. In the account below, Olive Hallett (Hellett), King’s first wife, was aware he had returned to Brown County, a detail that other accounts leave out. Also mentioned is that their marriage was not doing to well when Belk left.

Not only was Olive aware her husband had returned to Brown County–more significantly, King Belk’s sister, here given as Agnes, is stated in the article to have known about the first wife and two sons.

In the below article, King Belk is Curtis Belknap. The second husband of the first Mrs. Belk, Olive Hallett, who was Mr. Rogers, is given as Duffy. Rich, Mo., I gather is supposed to be Liberal, but there are some off dates on the years as Liberal was not platted until 1880, and the Belks moved there in 1881 with its formation. The article gives King Belk as going to “Rich” in the 1870s.

* * * * * *

The Double Life of a Brown County Pioneer
October 28-29, 1920

Mr. and Mrs. Curtis Belknap, like many Brown county early settlers, knew what it meant to pioneer in Kansas in the early 60s. Belknap wooed and won his bride in Brown county, not far from Hiawatha. They went to Judge Brandon some 20 miles away and the marriage ceremony was performed. They did not have to go before a probate judge and become the targets for court house clerks and others who might happen to be around when a prospective groom calls and asks for a marriage license. In those days there were no probate judges; Kansas was a territory and not doing business as it does today. The waving buffalo grass on the prairies of Brown county and the desolation apparent everywhere were the things that made the Belknaps restless. They had heard of California and its gold. “This land in Brown county will never amount to anything,” Belknap may have mused. “Let’s go to California, where we can get rich,” he said to his wife. Mrs. Belknap did not care much about having a good time. She did not know anything about society and such like, so she did not know how to feel lonely on that account. But true and loyal to her husband, and a desire to do the things she thout might make them prosper more than they thout they had prospered here, she acceded to do his wishes and it was decided to drive thru to California with oxen. How about their 160 acres of land here? Belknap said nobody could steal it and they would not get much if they could. So the Belknaps set about making preparations for their journey to the far west. Just what happened on that trip across the plains, over mountains and thru deserts, beset day and night by dangers, can not be told in the story. Vicious animals roamed at will thru the uncivilized lands and the treacherous Indian was another danger, but the Belknaps made their start. It was slow progress over unbroken roads. They had no Pikes Peak route or other well known trail to aid them. It required 9 months time for them to make the trip, but the arrived unharmed. As far as the few persons here knew, the Belknaps were as happy as a bride and groom could be. No one here suspected that there were not getting along famously as lovers and newlyweds generally do, and no one knows why Curtis Belknap left California and came back to Brown county–alone. He came to the home of his sister, who still resides in this county. He had little to say about Agnes, his wife. There appeared to be a marked indifference, the sister noticed. There were 2 little Belknaps in California–2 sons. Belknap said little about them, altho the sister often remarked that she thot he ought to go back to his California home. He stayed around Hiawatha a few months. One day he went away–perhaps like he did when he left California. He said little about his going, where he was going, and what his plans were.

Out in California, Mrs. Belknap and her 2 boys got along as best they could. The children went to school, and as time passed by they became bread winners for the mother. The boys knew little about their father. They were told by the mother that he has returned to Hiawatha, Brown county, Kansas, and perhaps some day would come back. But he never did. One day there came a letter from a man named Black, written in Montana. It was a death letter, telling how Curtis Belknap was killed by Indians. A man named Duffy had admired Mrs. Belknap and her 2 boys and his admiration for Mrs. Belknap eventually ripened into love. After a brief courtship they were married. Duffy, while not wealthy, prospered and did well by his wife and children. He helped the children in securing good education and they were graduated from an accredited high school. Duffy fell ill and died in a few days, leaving a small estate. One of the Belknap boys became an authority in promotion of big motor car industry affairs and his services and advice were sought by rich men in Ohio. He is so smart he looks like a college professor with high degrees. He is so modest about his smartness people invariably like him.

(Continued Tomorrow)

(Continued from Yesterday)

At Rich, Mo., a stranger appeared in the village and said he was there for the purpose of “looking around,” and if he liked the country he might decide to buy land and stay there permanently. Exact date of this particular mans appearance at Rich is not known, but it was about 50 years ago. He said he liked Rich, and in turn the villagers said they liked him. So he decided to stay there and cast his lot with them. Yes, he was the same Curtis Belknap who once lived in Brown county, drove his oxen to California and was “killed by Indians in Montana.” Belknap did not try to deceive anyone at Rich as to his real name, not even Mrs. Bessie Wright, who was estranged from her husband. Their divorce suit was pending in a Kansas court. Belknap proposed to Mrs. Wright, their marriage to take place as soon as she got her divorce decree. Mrs. Wright accepted. The couple journed to a Kansas town. Records on file in a certain Kansas county show that a marriage license was granted to Curtis Belknap and Mrs. Bessie Wright one day before Mrs. Wright was granted a divorce. The following day the couple were married. They returned to Rich, where they were received by the villagers like newlyweds used to be welcomed home from their wedding trip. Belknap was a worker. He always prospered, even in Brown county, where he said the land would never be worth anything and not even worth a good mans time in improving it. As time passed by, Curtis Belknap became on of the most influential citizens in his county. His advice and opinions were sought on matters pertaining to public question. Perhaps people told visitors who were introducing new enterprises that they had better see Curtis Belknap first, and if he said it was O.K. they would subscribe for the cause and give it their support. In the early 70s the stork paid an official visit to the Belknap home and left a daughter, whose name will be known as Jennie. Jennie grew to womanhood, became accomplished in music and was popular with the young set. Did Curtis Belknap tell his Missouri wife and daughter about his previous marriage and the 2 sons he left in California? The writer of this story can not say that he did. This feature of the story perhaps will be told in court. But it is a fact that Belknap made no effort to find out about what became of his California children, even if he believed that Mrs. Belknap N. 1 was dead or had secured a divorce from him on the grounds of desertion. Belknap grew immensely rich in lands. He became ill about 3 years ago. He evidently felt that the Grim Reaper was getting reading to cut him down, because he began disposing of farms and other property, converting them into cash, which he divided between Mrs. Belknap No. 2 and the daughter. When he passed away he left no estate, but the wife and daughter had about $150,000. The funeral of Curtis Belknap was one of the largest ever seen at Rich. People paid high tributes to his memory. In a short time, Mrs. Belknap No. 3 had a monument dealer erect a stone at her husbands grave that was the finest at the Rich cemetery. It cost $3,000.

(Continued Tomorrow)

(Continued from Yesterday)

Frank Belknap knew so little about his father and was a lad of only a few summers when the father went away he took tha name of Duffy after his mother married. Down deep there was a keen desire by Frank to find out more about his father, Curtis Belknap, whom he believed was killed by Indians. That story was accepted by his mother as true. Never did she question it. For many years Frank Belknap had known that his father had lived in some Northeast Kansas county. In the month of April 1920, he was called from his California home to a big Ohio city, there to meet with officers and promoters of a motor car industry. Upon reaching Kansas City, Frank found that he had 3 or 4 days to spare before the business session, and he bot a ticket to Troy, Kans. Approaching a lawyer in Troy, Frank said: “Did you ever know or hear of people in this county in early days by the name of … ?” The lawyer studied a moment and answered, “They did not live here, but I believe some of the family or relatives live in Sabetha.” Satisfied that he was in the wrong county, Frank left immediately for the Grand Island depot, arriving there just in time to catch the train for Sabetha. While a passenger on that train, and within a short distance of Sabetha, he struck up a conversation with 2 men who live in Brown county. “Do you fellows know of anybody around here who is related to a man named Belknap, who once lived in this part of the state?” Frank asked. “Belknap” one of the men said. “John Winters, who lives in Hiawatha, knows all about the Belknaps,” one of them volunteered: “I believe that Curtis Belknap was an uncle of Johns.” Without waiting to investigate the Sabetha relationship, Frank Belknap returned to Hiawath to see about his unseen and unheard of relations. Arriving at the Hiawatha depot Frank Belknap saw Hugh Crawford standing around looking for jitney business. “Can you tell me where I might find John Winters?” Frank asked Crawford. “Why, I saw him here a few minutes ago: I think he came in his car to meet the train you came in on. Yea, there he is now.” Stepping up to Winters Frank asked: “Are you John Winters?” John replied that he was. Without trying to deceive or have a little amusement with his newly discovered relative, he said: “I am trying to find out something about Curtis Belknap who lived in Brown county in the 60s, and went to California. While returning from that state Belknap was killed by the Indians. That man is my father. I understand that he lived around here.” John Winters was dazed. “Curtis Belknap was your father?” he interrogated. “Yes, sir, that is the truth.” “A few minutes ago you told me your name was Duffy,” said Winters. That was soon explained. Then Winters began telling Frank Belknap something about the hidden life of his own father. “Uncle Curtis died 3 years ago at Rich, Mo,” he said, “and at his death he left an estate worth about $150,000, which he gave to Aunt Bessie and Cousin Jennie.”

(Continued Tomorrow)

(Continued from Saturday)

Frank Belknap was mystified. At last he had discovered the spot where his own father and mother had resided before he was born. The thot that his father had lived more than 40 years and Frank did not know it seemed almost unbelievable. Frank asked his cousin, John Winters, several times if it really was a fact that Curtis Belknap had re-married and had lived at Rich, Mo., where he accumulated a fortune. No doubt was left in the California mans mind that the story was correct. “Why,” Frank said, “mother got a letter from Wm. Black, telling us all about how father was killed my (sic) Indians while he was returning to Hiawatha. Perhaps she has that letter yet.” Mr. Winters insisted upon his newly discovered cousin going to his home for several days stay, but Frank told him of his important business appointment at Akron. “I can stay over night,” he added. They went to the Winters home where Frank met more blood reelatives for the first time. They sat up very late that night, talking about Franks father, his second marriage and his family affairs in Missouri.

The Winters family album was introduced. There were pictures of Franks father, also Mrs. Belknap number 2 and her daughter, Jennie. Yes, there was another picture that the son did not expect to see: it was a photograph of the costly monument Mrs. Belknap number 2 had erected at the grave of her husband at Rich, Mo. There he saw the letters “B-e-l-k-n-a-p” chiseled in marble. Frank studied that picture more than any other; perhaps it may have been looked upon by the son as conclusive proof that his father was not killed by Indians and had lived for more than 40 years after his death was reported. John Winters told his cousin Frank about the farm Uncle Curtis owned in Brown county. Yes, it was the same farm the father and mother had left in the early 60s because they thot the land would not amount to anything. Buffalo grass marked the farm in those days as a deselate place and it was no wonder that the Belknaps became discourage and went to California, where people dug gold and lived among flowers and honey. John Winters took Frank in his automobile and they drove into the country, out past the Belknap farm, recorded in the name of Bessie Belknap, of Rich, Mo. Perhaps Frank could imagine how his father and mother struggled on this farm to make ends meet. Frank was urged to stay longer but he told the Winters that he would have to hurry to Akron and would return to Hiawatha again in a few weeks. The first visit was in April 1920. Before leaving, however, Frank said he intended to see that his mother got her rights. As for himself, he said he did not care, “but mother must have what belongs to her,” he added.

It was late in the summer of 1920 when 2 strangers appeared in the village of Rich, Mo. They arrived there late one evening. The inquired where they might find the “best restaurant in town.” It was pointed out to them and they proceeded to the place and asked to have supper prepared. It was after regular meal times and both men were hungry. The ordered what they called a “square meal.” While it was being prepared the strangers began asking questions of the restaurant proprietor. “Who are some of the old timers around here?” one of the strangers queried. As the restauranteur went about his work in fixing supper he answered questions in a casual manner like anyone would with strangers. Referring to old timers, he said: “Well, you know this town is pretty well owned by 2 old women–Mrs. Belknap and Mrs. Johnson. Yes, they own about everything here.” Again Frank Belknap was almost startled. The man at his side in the little lunch room at Rich was a Kansas City detective, whom he had employed to assist him in getting the true story of his fathers double life. That night they went to the only hotel in Rich. Again the detective asked questions about “early settlers,” etc., and again they were told of Mrs. Belknaps wealth. Just what other information Frank Belknap and the detective may have secured at Rich can not be made public at this time. Among other places visited by Frank was the Rich cemetery. Before leaving Frank had a picture taken of himself standing at his fathers grave.

(Continued Tomorrow)

(Continued from Yesterday)

Satisfied that he had clearly established the fact that his father had lived more than 40 years after his death was reported, and had accumulated a fortune, Frank Belknap returned to Hiawatha to continue his investigations and consult lawyers. There was a strange coincident in connection with Franks visit to Rich. While he was there, Mrs. Belknap number 2 and her daughter, Jennie, were in Hiawatha. They had heard that a strange man, claiming to be a son of Curtis Belknap, had been in Hiawatha and told relatives that he was a son of Belknap. By the time Frank returned to Hiawatha Mrs. Belknap and her daughter had gone back to Rish. The Winters family had always been cordial to Mrs. Belknap number 2. The hospitality of their home is equal to that of any home in Hiawatha. John Winers had begun to realize that affairs were getting rather complicated. John had “played politics” in county affairs, was regarded as a good politician by local candidates, and his friends had often mentioned that he should be rewarded by being named postmaster because of his fairness and the hard work he had done for his party. This is mentioned to show that John Winters played the game on the square and never “double crossed” a friend. But the Belknap drama that bordered on being a tragedy, worried him. On one side was arrayed the original wife and children of Curtis Belknap: the other, a woman who had lived for almost a half century with his own uncle and married without being divorced. But the complex situation did not influence Winters in being fair and honorable with Mrs. Belknap number 2. She and her daughter were received at the Winters home just like they were many times before Uncle Curtis died. Mrs. Belknap referred to Frank Belknap as “that man with a Van Dyke beard.” She had not been in the Winters home long until she began asking questions about “that man.” Not once did she call him Frank Belknap. “Did you entertain him in your home?” Mrs. Belknap asked John Winters. “Yes, we did, Aunt Bessie,” was the quick answer. “Well,” she said, “do you make it a practice of entertaining everybody that comes along?” Mrs. Belknap was beginning to show her displeasure over the appearance of “that man with a Vany Dyke beard.” Looking into John Winters face, the woman said, “Don’t you know that man is an imposter?” Winters knew that the time had arrived when he must be honorable an show where he stood. Without the least show of anger he said: “No, Aunt Bessie, he is a real son of Uncle Curtis and is not an imposter as you think he is. I am sure that he can establish his identity and prove that all he claims is true.” John Winters went with Mrs. Belknap number 2 and her daughter to a Hiawatha lawyer and introduced them. Then he left the lawyers office, saying he did not wish to hear what was said, fearing that she might think he would later disclose features of the case to Frank Belknap. Mrs. Belknap number 2 and the daughter were desirous of getting certain affidavits to aid them when the case comes up in court. These affidavits were secured from Brown county men. Curtis Belknap had also consulted lawyers, 2 in Hiawatha and another in a Missouri city.

In concluding “The Double Life of a Brown County Pioneer,” the writer has refrained from introducing features of the case that might have a tendency to influence the reader. The entire story essentially is correct. Many readers have expressed the belief that Curtis Belknap was an unhappy man thru nearly all of the years of his second marriage, in spite of his wealth. Maybe he suffered mental anguish more than anyone knows concerning the hidden part of his life. That indescribable thing that makes men and women do wrong and desert one another and their children asserted itself and perhaps at an unsuspecting time when Curtis Belknap had no intention of marrying again, he became enamored to the Missouri woman and that Master thing, love, caused him to forget his wife and children in California, struggling there alone fighting hte battles of life. On the other hand, the original Mrs. Belknap had a love affair after receiving a letter that she thot was genuine, telling her that her husband had fallen victim to a deadly bullet fired by an Indian. Her second marriage was short, as related in a previous chapter. And now after many years in blindness as to the fate of her husband she knows the truth, and her sons declare that the wrong done her must be righted, at least as far as the fathers property is concerned. But there is a great moral law that can never be righted in any court of land.

(The End.)

Note: Thank you to Steve Richardson for the above article.

Freelove and Common-Law Marriage – J. P. Moore’s “This Strange Town–Liberal, Missouri”

THIS STRANGE TOWN–LIBERAL MISSOURI
A HISTORY OF THE EARLY YEARS
1880 – 1910

BY J. P. MOORE

Return to the Table of Contents

Freelove and Common-law Marriage

[pages 158-162]

Since there have been stories and accusations that Freelove was practiced some in early Liberal as being consistent with the spirit of Freethought-Liberalism, no history of the town would be complete without some comment on the subject.

There seems good reason to conclude that there really were some persons here in the very early days that did believe in the principles of Freelove. (Read the Recollections of an Early Resident, also Mr. Braden’s Pamphlet. sic) But there is no evidence that the few individuals of the cult ever succeeded in indulging in more than a very limited practice of it here. There were, apparently, some persons attracted to Liberal in the mistaken belief that “Freethought” meant “Free everything.” There may yet be some who confuse common-law marriage with Freelove.

So at the outset of any comment on this subject there should be a clear understanding of the difference between Freelove and common-law marriage.

Freelove is the promiscuous intermingling of the sexes without any marital restrictions–basically without any form of marriage–every woman every man’s wife and every man every woman’s husband. This is the primitive law of the herd.

Common-law marriage is without either clergy or statutory civil ceremony. It is the coming together of a man and a woman, living together as husband and wife, and acknowledging themselves before the public to be such–and marital fidelity to be observed as in any other form of marriage. In old England it was accepted as the unwritten law, based upon immemorial usage. (See your encyclopedia.) Not so long ago this form of marriage was recognized as being legal in nearly every state in the union, and is still held to be so in several states. It was legal in the state of Missouri until as recently as 1921, when it was outlaws by legislative act.

In pioneer days there were many remote localities where no minister was available and any court of record was far away. In these regions common-law marriages were frequent. In such marriages it was not unusual for the parties involved to invite in a group of relatives and friends to witness the acknowledgement of the contracting parties of their assuming the status of husband and wife. The new couple occupied a position of respect in the community, with no stigma or mark of disgrace, whatever.

In common-law marriage any offspring was and is held to be legitimate, and laws of inheritance apply to both wife and children, the same as in any statutory or ecclesiastical marriage. The wife took the name of the husband, and divorce was recognized.

In early Liberal there was a prominent couple whose marital status was said by some to have been common-law. They were an honorable and highly respected couple, and useful citizens. They were of the character that would have abhored any thought of Freelove: although there were some persons uncharitable enough to say that they had been, in theory if not in practice, votaries of that cult. That couple was Mr. and Mrs. J. K. Belk. There may have been other couples in early Liberal whose marital status was common-law, and by the law of averages there probably were; and there may have been some since.

It is known of the Belks that whatever the form of their marriage, ecclesiastical, civil or common-law, they were united as husband and wife in far northwestern Kansas in the very early 1870s’s, when that region was remote and sparsely settled. They were Freethinkers, and because of that belief they were attracted to Liberal. They came in 1881, among the town’s pioneers. Mr. Belk was influential in civic matters. In this respect he served two terms as postmaster. He was financially well to do. He did some building and invested in considerable real estate. Also he was a lender of money in a period when Liberal had no bank. Mrs. Belk was a leader in the Spiritual Science Association, and in her younger days was prominent in social events, as also was their daughter, Myrtle.

Encyclopedia Britannica–1957, and possibly later editions–will tell you that ecclesiastical marriages once were illegal in some New England states.

It might correctly be said that aside from the founder, no one had more to do with creating the early history of Liberal than did the Belks–so their story should be treated as a “must”.

I violate no confidence, and I believe I reveal no secret in telling the story, in respect to the form of marriage. I heard it soon after coming to Liberal, and in research for this history have heard it corroborated. Some have been inclined to refer to the status as Freelove–far from the fact, though, that such interpretations may be and really is.

In any case, it is known that Mr. Belk had two sons by a previous wife. Some facts concerning this became known many years ago. This when Mrs. Mary A. Burgess made a trip to California, as the story has been told to this writer by an old resident: There Mrs. Burgess met a woman with two sons by the name of Belk. As one will, Mrs. Burgess casually asked if they might be relatives of King Belk, whom she knew in Liberal. They told her that was the name of the husband and father in their case. They said Mr. Belk had been a frontiersman and a stage coach driver; and they thought he had been killed in an Indian massacre. At any rate he had not returned home from a trip, and they had not previously heard either from or of him. His peregrinations after his disappearance had been wholly unknown to them.

This story was corroborated by one of these sons, who came here after his father’s death in 1917, on behalf of himself, his brother and their mother, and demanded a share in the father’s estate. He found that title to the real property had been transferred to the daughter. Bu he did receive a substantial cash settlement. In proof, this son, who was a frequent visitor in my office while here, exhibited to this writer a check and a bank draft, totalling $20,000, that had been given to him by Mrs. Belk to satisfy his claim without litigation. If there was to be more, he did not say.

As noted, the Belks were wealthy. But, notwithstanding their wealth, they lived rigidly frugal–the while their wealth accumulating. Through the daughter, Mrs. Lillian Mrytle Branson-Sibley, a generous portion of this wealth was bequeathed to the Liberal school district and the city. The balance was given to relatives and friends. The money received by the city and the school district went for permanent improvements of which some future historian may write.

It must be seen that Liberal should be grateful to the Belks, as the community so profited by their frugality and eccentricities. Stories of recognition of the Belks, by the founding of Belk Day, may be found in the files of the Liberal News, particularly in issues of September and October, 1957. And what should stand for centuries to the memory of the Belks, there is in the Liberal City Cemetery a tall and imposing monument of granite, marking their burial place.

As Bryant said in his great poem, Thanatopsis, “All that breathe shall share thy (their) destiny.”

And with Omar Khayyam:

“When you and I behind the Veil are past,
Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last,
Which of our Coming and Departure heeds
As the sea’s self should heed a pebble-cast.”

In presenting the foregoing story, I mean no disrespect for the Belk family. On the contrary, I feel that I am contributing to the clearing and preservation of their good name. From the time I came to Liberal in 1899, until the death of the last member of the family, I heard stories of their marital status, household squabbles and their excessively frugal practices. The semi-recluse way of life lived by them in their later years provided fertile soil for the sprouting and flourishing of calumnies. So it should not be surprising that there were such.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Now, based on what we’ve learned from Moore, follow me on my little research journey as I seek to add to the above with what I can learn from the census.

We have the Belks in 1910 in Missouri, of course:

1910 Liberal Ward 1, Barton, Missouri
110/114 Belk James K. 72 married 32 years b. KY father b. VA mother b. KY
Charity 60 md. 37 years 1 child still living b. IN father b. IN mother b. KY

From the 1900 Ozark, Barton, Missouri (Liberal) census:
110/111 Belk James K. b. August 1837, 62, married 27 years, b. KY, father b. VA, mother b. KY, farmer
Charity wife wife b. 1849 Sept, age 50, 1 child, b. IN, father b. IN, mother b. KY
Branson, Lilian M. daughter b. 1875 July, 24, married 1 year, b. KS, father b. KY mother b. IN
Harvan M. son-in-law b. Oct 1874, 25

1880 Lincoln, Smith, Kansas:
232/232 Belk, James K. 43 b. VA mother b. KY
Charity 30 wife b. IN
Lylian M. 4 daughter b. KS father b. KY mother b. IN

1875 March 1st Kansas census, Smith, Lincoln:
J. K. Belk 37 farmer 340$ b. KY from MO
C. Belk 25 b. IN from Iowa
J. Metcalf 24 b. IL from IL a cooper
G. W. Metcalf 21 farmer
A. J. Metcalf 26 cooper

A history of Smith County, Kansas states that among the first settlers was J. K. Belk.

1870 Irwin, Brown, Kansas census:

14/15 Belk, John 58 farmer 9700? 2152 KY farmer b. KY father
Caroline 52
Wood, James 23 farmer IN
Augustua 19 Mecklinburg
Delinham, Elain 16 IN
Ashcorf, Homer 24 NY
Ludia 28 IN
Belk, King 34 KY

1860 Irving, Brown, Kansas:
57/52 John Belk 49 farmer 4020? 1000 b. NY
Caroline 42 1000 100
Sidney 20 laborer b. MON
James K. 22? ” ” b. MO
Jno. C. ? 14 ” ” b. NY

1850 Marion, Buchanan, Missouri
796/796 John Belk 38 $1200 KY
Nancy 36
William 17
King 15
Eliza 13
Sidney 11
John 7 b. MO

Digging further, I find in 1870 two Belk brothers living in the Hellett family. It seems sensible these could be the children of James King Belk by his first wife.

1870 Janesville, Lassen, California:
64/65 Hellett J. 55 b. ME
E. B. 47 b. VT
S. 20 b. OH
Belk Charles 7 AR
George 5 CA

Now I find in Southern Pacific Bulletin, Volumes 9-10, 1920 the following story that mentions King Belk and his first wife:

Pioneer Poetess Attends Veterans’ Reunion

In attendance at the Veterans’ banquet and reunion at the Palace Hotel, May 10th, was Mrs. O. R. Belk-Rogers of San Jose, California, author of the poems “Give Honor to Whom it is Due” and the “Song of the Iron Horse.” The first-named, written in 1872, gives recognition to the builders of the Central Pacific Railroad and the second, written in 1869, appeared in the Sacramento “Daily Record” in a special edition, dated May 8, 1869, which was printed on a press mounted on a truck–one of the floats in the parade at the celebration of the driving of the golden spike May 10, 1869.

Mrs. Belk-Rogers was a noted literary woman of San Francisco during the 70s and she was especially deputized by the “Golden Era,” the pioneer literary journal of California, in 1878 to make a trip by buckboard and muleback across Arizona for the purpose of contributing a series of articles anent the proposed building of the Southern Pacific Lines through that territory.

With her husband, James King Belk, and her nursing baby, she “crossed the plains” in 1862. Suffering all the hardships of the pioneers’ nine-month trip, it is no wonder her gifted pen rendered grateful acknowledgments to the accomplishments of the pioneer railroad builders.

Her son, George, who was formerly a railway agent and telegrapher on the Southern Pacific Lines, at the banquet read the poem “Give Honor to Whom it is Due.” Another son, Charles, is now connected with the B> & B. Department of the Coast Division.

The poem, “The Song of the Iron Horse,” is printed below:

Harness me quickly with Iron bands, I am Impatient with long delays;
I fain would speed to distant lands. That bask far oft In the sun’s first rays!
Harness me quickly; feed me with fire, Give me steam for breath, a mind to control;
Who steps In my way with vengeance dire.
My iron hoof shall his requiem toil
Harness me quickly! With solemn roar Pacific moans, “My waves are too slow
For the army of progress that seek … shore—
So I bid thee haste in thy glorious strength.
And bring them safe to my golden door.”
This tide of empire no power can stay.
Its volume is swifter than ever before! Then harness me quickly and let me away.
I will safely compass the burning sands,
And the stormy mountain’s drifting snow;
I will bring the wealth of distant lands.
And a blessing prove where’er I go; My neigh is thunder, my breath Is flame.
From a heart of steam my pulses
beat;
I people the waste, and the wild reclaim,
Along the track of my flying feet.
With awe the nations watch my course. As I compass the land from sea to sea
And exclaim, “The wonderful Iron horse
Is a power, Indeed, with a people free!”
Then let me away, my mission to fill;
Behold! along my shining course. The deserts brighten, and strong hearts thrill
In gratitude to the Iron Horse.

So, now we have the name O. R. Belk-Rogers as the name King’s first wife later went under. What can I find for Rogers?

The 1880 census shows the Charles and George Belk brothers of 1870 are now Charles and George Rogers and living in Pajaro, Santa Cruz with their grandparents.
453/454 Thompson, Manley 57 b. Maine parents b. ME
Elizabeth B. 58 b. KS father b. VT parents b. NY
453/455 Rogers Charles 17 grandson b. KS father b. NY mother b. OH
George 15 grandson b. CA father b. NY mother b. OH
Amy Z. 5 granddaughter b. CA father b. NY mother b. OH

This would be the same Manley Thompson in the 1850 Embden, Somerset, Maine census, 26.

It seems odd that Mrs. O. R. Belk-Rogers traveled across the plains with her husband, but in 1860, Manly Thompson was already a 35 year old rancher living in Honey Lake Valley, Plumas, California, worth valued at 3000 and 2500, b. Maine, the only other person in the household a herdsman from OH named William Rantz. Where were his wife and children?

Returning to the 1870 census I realize that the household above J. and E. B. Hellett, was that of this Manley Thompson. He was 45 and given as a M. Thompson, a farmer, worth 8000 and 5000, from Maine. Living with him were two laborers by the names of J. Smith and J. Towers. Then it occurred to me that E. B. Hellett, the 47 year old wife of J. Hellett, in whose household the Belk boys were living, was the Elizabeth Thompson who was Manley’s wife in 1880.

And bingo, now we can find the name of King’s first wife.

She was Olive R. Hallet.

The 1850 Montgomery, Marion, Ohio census shows:
18/18 Jesse Hallet 34 carpenter ME
Elizabeth 27 VT
Olive R. 8 OH
Zenas F. 5
Eli 5/12

In 1860 they were living in Walnut, Brown, Kansas Territory:
J. Hallett 46
Elizabeth 28
O. R. 18
Isaiah 10
Frank 1

Jesse Isaac Hallett of Maine was married to Elizabeth Hesseltine.

I find Olive in 1900 in Alameda, Alameda, California with her sons, daughter, her son-in-law, and her mother:
47/47 Rogers Olie head July 1842 3 children with 3 surviving, widowed, b. OH, father b. ME mother b. NH artist drawings
Charles son Dec 1862 b. CA father b. NY mother b. OH machinist RR?
George K. son May 1868 b. CA father b. NY mother b. OH Com. Trader?
Allen Amy daughter March 1872 28 b. CA father b. NY mother b. OH
Edward son-in-law May 1862 38 b. NY parents b. NY owner gold mine
Thompson Elizabeth mother May 1822 78 widowed 2 children with 2 surviving b. VT with parents b. VT

I can’t find Olive in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. She is, however, mentioned in 1886 book, After Death, the Disembodiment of Man: the World of Spirits, its Location, Extent, Appearance; the Route Thither; Inhabitants; Customs; Societies; Also Sex and its Uses There etc. etc. by Paschal Beverly Randolph.

…Olive Belk, of Janesville, Honey Lake Valley, California, was the peerless and redeeming spirit of that town,–a gentle, tender, affectionate, and loving soul,–qualities expressed in the higher phonetics by the sounds ZOI-LI-VI-LA; hence her most beautiful name will be ZOLIVIA.

Isn’t that an interesting find?

Wikipedia credits Paschal with being not only a medical doctor, occultist and spiritualist, but also the first person to “introduce the principles of sex magic to North America”, and established the earliest known Rosicrucian order in the U.S.

If Olive Belk was highly praised by Paschal then I would imagine she, too, was a freethinker and a spiritualist, like King and King’s second wife. It’s impossible to speculate on her life but she seems to have led likely a very interesting one as a poet and artist. Whether or not she “married” again we don’t know, but she must have had a daughter by a man named Rogers, and her sons took that name as well as shown on the census. But in her public and professional life she appears to have continued to be known as Belk, or Belk-Rogers. I wish we knew more about her.

Follow the Belk tags for more info. Will be publishing a series of articles.