JAMES W BELTS
James W. Belts has long been identified with the development of Brown county. He was born in Livingston county, New York, near the village of Danville, August 10, 1808, his parents being John and Mary (Welch) Belts, the former a native of Baltimore, Maryland, and the later of Pennsylvania. Their marriage, however, occurred in the Empire state. The paternal grandfather was John Belts, who emigrated from Germany to Canada, and about 1812 took up his abode in New York, where he carried on farming. His children were William, Henry, George and John, all of whom died in New York. The mother of our subject, Mary Welch, was also of German lineage, her ancestors having located in Pennsylvania at an early day. Her parents, however removed to Danville, New York, where the father secured a tract of land and improved a farm. It was one of his relatives, a Mr. Falkner, who laid out the town of Welsh. In the family to which Mrs. Belts belonged were seven children, of whom she was the youngest. The others were Jacob, Henry, Conrad, Catherine, Elizabeth and Magdalen. The religious faith of the Welch family was that of the Lutheran church.
The father of our subject was reared in the Empire state and worked at the carpenter's trade, but during the greater part of his life carried on agricultural pursuits. He died in New York, after which his widow emigrated to Illinois, making a home for her children in Fulton county, where her death afterward occurred. She, too, was a member of the Lutheran church, as was her husband. Their children were: Mrs. Lucinda Bevan; Mrs. Elizabeth Gay; Mrs. Mary Barbour; James W.; Henry, of New York; Jacob, who died in Illinois; and Albert and Conrad, who are living at Ligonier, Indiana.
James W. Belts of this review, was reared on the home farm in the Empire state until seventeen years of age, when he began serving an apprentice to the carpenter's trade. He was educated in the common subscription schools, and after putting aside his text-books he followed carpentering for some time, when, becoming interested in the slavery question, he resolved to investigate it in the south. Accordingly he went to Kentucky, where he spent two or three years, finding that the conditions were not as bad as had been represented in the east. He then started for his home in New York, but becoming ice-bound on the Ohio river he made his way to Columbus, Indiana, where he engaged in contracting and building. In this way he constructed the Presbyterian church, but failed to get all of the money which was to be paid for its erection. While working at carpentering at that place he became acquainted with one of the prominent families of the town, and forming more than a friendly attachment for a sister of the household be determined to abandon his plans of returning to New York. He was married there, continuing to make his home in Columbus for eleven years. His wife bore the maiden name of Sarah M. Spencer and was born in Clinton county Ohio, in 1832. Her father was a farmer of that state, and many of the Spencer family were well-known and successful educators. Mary Spencer removed from Ohio to Columbus, Indiana, making her home with her sister, who was the wife of Smith Jones. The members of the Spencer family were: Milton, a prominent resident of Ohio; Allen, also of the Buckeye state; William, who died in California; James, deceased; Margaret E., wife of Dr. Morgan, of Indiana; Elizabeth A., wife of Smith Jones, of Columbus, that state; and Sarah A., wife of our subject.
After remaining in Columbus for ten years Mr. Belts made a visit to his old home in New York, and on again returning to the Hoosier state took his team and went on a prospecting tour of Illinois, visiting his brother-in-law, Mr. Barbour, who lived in that state. The nation was at that time greatly agitated over the question of slave territory and in 1856 Mr. Belts came to Kansas to aid in reserving this state as free territory. He left his family at their old home and secured a squatter's claim on a quarter-section of land adjoining the farm upon which he now resides. Subsequently he purchased the property of a squatter who lived next to him and when the land came into market he entered it from the government. He had no capital on reaching Brown county, and in order to pay the man who brought his tool chest to the locality for him he hewed out a set of house logs. His next task was rough carpenter work and the splitting of eighteen hundred rails. He soon found plenty to do, and in the intervals of his work for others he built a small frame house for himself. A very energetic and industrious man, he was thus enabled to get a start. He broke and fenced his land and about this time took a contract for splitting nine thousand rails for George and Ben Winkles at a dollar per hundred. With the money thus earned he purchased his first yoke of oxen, and in order to secure another team he built a house for a man in the neighborhood. With his two teams he engaged in breaking prairie, and from time to time made permanent improvements upon his own land. In the fall of 1858 he sent for his family, who started late in the autumn of that year. They were ice-bound at Mt. Pisgah, on the Missouri river, three hundred miles from his home. He had no money or team of horses, but he found friends, one of whom furnished him with a team, another with a wagon and a third loaned him some money. He also found three or four men who paid him something for driving them to their destinations. In this way he reached his family, who had remained at Mt. Pisgah seven weeks, and after a short stay there Mr. Belts started for Brown county with his wife and children, reaching his destination on the 9th of January, 1859. He has since been a prominent settler of this locality, prominently identified with its substantial growth and improvement. He has added to his land until he now owns four hundred acres. His original homestead is situated on Spring creek, where he has made many permanent and beautiful improvements that add to the value and attractive appearance of the place. His residence is a commodious two-story frame dwelling, built in modern style of architecture and in the rear are large barns and substantial outbuildings for the care and shelter of grain and stock. He also has an excellent orchard, and his yard is adorned with ornamental shrubs and flowering plants until to-day he is the owner of one of the finest farms in his section of the county. When he arrived here there were only three settlers within six miles of him, and all were living along the creek. The western half of the county only contained three hundred and fifty population. For a few years the friends and opponents of slavery worked earnestly, the one hoping to make this a slave state, the other to rid it of the institution of slavery. The Indians were never troublesome, and, although there were no laws to protect the people, progress continued and gradually the state equalled other commonwealths in all its advantages and privileges. Mr. Belts took a firm stand to make this a free state and used his influence in that direction. In business he has been very energetic and now is largely living retired, enjoying a rest which is truly earned.
Unto Mr. and Mrs. Belts have been born the following children: John G., a coal operator of Missouri City; Ellen, deceased wife of A. A. Piles; Emma, now Mrs. Chase; Mrs. Elizabeth Frink; Mollie, wife of F. Hubb, of Arizona; Charles, a twin brother of Mollie and the operator of the home farm; Sadie L., wife of E. N. McCune; and Bessie F., wife of Rev. S. L. Dulin, who is located in Pierce City, Missouri.
The parents are consistent members of the Congregational church. In former years Mr. Belts was a Democrat, but afterward became independent, claiming his right to vote for the men whom he regarded best qualified for office. At the last election he cast his ballot for McKinley and has been a strong supporter of the President's administration. He filled many minor offices, including that of justice of the peace, and at all times he has been loyal to every interest which he believed would prove a public benefit. He is familiar with the history of the county from the period of its earliest development. During 186o and 1861, when the hard times and drouth caused much suffering among the people, he took his team and went to Iowa, where he traded salt for ground wheat. On the return trip, however, he was snow-bound, and seven weeks elapsed before be reached his home. He has been a leading factor in the agricultural progress of the county and at all times gas given his encouragement and aid to every interest and measure which he believed would prove a public good. He has seen the wild lands transformed into beautiful homesteads, and is justly proud of the advancement which has been made in northeastern Kansas.