Biography of John T. Belk

John T. Belk, a prominent and successful businessman in Codington County, South Dakota, was born in Illinois in 1860. After gaining a practical education, he worked in various industries before settling in South Dakota and acquiring land. Belk’s diligent management of a grain business earned him the trust of the G.W. Van Dusen Company. Alongside his business pursuits, he actively participated in politics, supporting the Republican party and serving as a respected legislator. Belk was also involved in fraternal organizations and held a high position in the Pythian fraternity. He married Jennie Hazlett in 1893, and they had three children.

HON. JOHN T. BELK. – Prominent among the leading public and successful businessmen of Codington County, South Dakota, is the well-known and popular gentleman whose name appears above. John T. Belk, legislator, grain buyer, and enterprising man of affairs, was born in Ottawa, Illinois, August 22, 1860, the son of Henry and Mary (Channel) Belk. The father was a native of Yorkshire, England, and the mother was from the state of Illinois. Henry Belk was a filemaker by trade and during his residence in Ottawa, he became a public-spirited citizen, actively involved in the affairs of the city. He was a man of sterling worth whom all within range of his influence respected and esteemed. John T. Belk was the first born of the four children in the family of Henry and Mary C. Belk.

John T. Belk’s childhood and early youth were spent in his native state. After receiving a good practical education in the public schools, he began working for himself in a horse-collar factory. He spent about four years in that line of work, becoming familiar with every detail of the business. At the end of the fourth year, he left his employer and accepted a position with the Oliver Chilled Plow Works in South Bend, Indiana. After three years in the factory, he resigned and moved to South Dakota, specifically Codington County. He filed a claim about two miles northeast of Henry and eventually received a patent from the government for the land. Mr. Belk moved to his place in 1882 and has since made many substantial improvements on the farm. His buildings and the general appearance of the farm reflect a man with progressive ideas, refined tastes, and liberal culture. The majority of his 320 acres of land are under a high state of cultivation. The entire tract is well-suited for agricultural and livestock purposes, located in one of the richest parts of the county. It’s easily accessible due to its proximity to town and its value has been increasing each year.

In 1896, Mr. Belk began working with the G. W. Van Dusen Company, grain buyers in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was responsible for their business interests in the eastern part of South Dakota until 1904. During this time, he managed an elevator in Henry, handling enormous quantities of grain each year. He effectively and satisfactorily managed the large and constantly growing business. He enjoyed the confidence of the wealthy firm and extended the company’s operations through his courtesy and kind treatment of patrons.

While focused on his business concerns, Mr. Belk has also been mindful of his duty to the public. Like all good citizens, he shows a deep interest in politics and believes that in a country with a free ballot and public officials serving the people, it’s important for everyone to be politically engaged and ensure that only good men are elected to office. He has been a zealous supporter of the Republican party since his twenty-first year and is currently not only an effective worker, judicious adviser, and organizer but also a leader who is highly trusted by the party’s rank and file. In 1893, during the memorable prohibition fight, he was the Republican nominee for the lower house of the general assembly. Despite a lively contest, where he campaigned extensively throughout the county, he not only won against his competitor by a significant majority but also outperformed nearly every other candidate on his ticket. Mr. Belk entered the legislature with the goodwill of his constituents, regardless of party affiliation, and made a creditable record as a lawmaker. He served on several important committees and actively participated in the general deliberations of the legislative body. The year before his election, he worked as a clerk of the judiciary committee in the state senate. This experience greatly contributed to his subsequent role in the lower house as the people’s representative from Codington County.

Mr. Belk is an esteemed member of the Pythian fraternity, currently holding the position of installing officer or deputy grand chancellor of the lodge in Henry. He is also affiliated with the Ancient Order of United Workmen, having passed all the chairs in the local lodge. At different times, he has represented the lodge in the grand lodge of the state.

Mr. Belk has been married since 1893 to Miss Jennie Hazlett, daughter of George and Jane (Whitaker) Hazlett from Iowa. They have three children: Vernon, Vida M., and Cora.


Robinson, Doane, History of South Dakota: together with mention of Citizens of South Dakota, [Logansport? IN] : B. F. Bowen, 1904.

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