AUGUSTINE JOSEPH BELLPORT. From his experiences as a pioneer in Western Kansas, and by reason of his encyclopedic knowledge of conditions in this part of the state, largely the result of his remarkable memory, Augustine Joseph Bellport of LaCrosse is one of the most interesting historic persons of Kansas. He first knew Western Kansas as far back as 1866. At that time the western counties were owned by the United States Government and the Government and the Indians were the chief factors to be considered.
Mr. Bellport was born in Brown County, Ohio, January 23, 1844, grew up in the Town of Fayetteville, where his father was the genial blacksmith of the community, and had the advantages of the common schools. His father, Philip Bellport, was born in the Department of Upper Saone, France, and was married just before he sailed for the United States. He was the oldest of thirteen children, and there is still in existence a group photograph of the parents and these thirteen children after they had grown up. Their parents are now buried at Fayetteville, Ohio, and the ten sons produced a posterity that is now widely scattered over the United States.
Philip Bellport on coming to the United States located in Brown County, Ohio, and spent his active career at Madisonville, where he died in 1886. Both he and his wife lie in the cemetery at Madisonville. His wife's maiden name was Mary Favret. Their children were: Mrs. Mary Julian, of Madisonville; Augustine J.; Stephen, who was associated with his brother Augustine in the early days of their experience in Western Kansas but is now a resident of Boulder, Colorado; Amos, of Madisonville, Ohio; and Mrs. Annie Long, of New Richmond, Ohio.
The great Civil war had closed and the pioneer enterprise of the nation was being directed to the opening up of the great western plains when Augustine J. Bellport arrived on the scene and at Leavenworth joined a Government freighting outfit. He went with this outfit to Fort Douglas, Utah, and was two months in making the trip across the plains up the Platte River along the route known as Lodge Pole Creek. The following winter was spent at Fort Saunders, Wyoming, and in the spring he came back to Denver. At Denver he and his partner gave a man $50 to haul them to the then terminus of the Union Pacific Railway. The railroad had been built as far as North Platte and from there they rode a train to Omaha. It was in the course of the same year, 1866, when Mr. Bellport came with another Government outfit to Hays City, Kansas. He returned with the caravan to Leavenworth, and in 1868 made a trip to the Peace Treaty camp of Indians somewhere on the Medicine Lodge River, about sixty miles south of Fort Larned. On arriving at the destination the camp was found to contain some 13,000 Indians of all tribes. The Government issued them provisions, including clothing, arms and ammunition. Mr. Bellport says that apparently the attentions of the Government were not pleasing to the Indians, since he saw the red men pile up the provisions and clothing and hold a war dance about them while they burned.
During his trip to Hays City in 1867 Mr. Bellport was quarantined at Fort Harker, now Kanapolis, Kansas. He passed through the cholera siege and while there saw people die faster than they could be buried. While at Hays City he met and made the acquaintance of the famous "Wild Bill," noted as a bad man of the West and subsequently marshal of Fort Hays. Associations with him and with other bad men in the West enabled him to know the exact measure of the cowardly bullying which he thinks was a big element in all the outlaws of the early days.
In 1869 Mr. Bellport was again at Fort Hays, having a contract with the United States to issue beef to the soldiers. His camp was on Big Creek near General Custer's regiment. Having completed his contract and returned to Leavenworth, he was next commissioned to go to the Cherokee Nation in the Indian Territory and take charge of a herd of Texas cattle. He wintered these cattle just south of Baxter Springs and in the spring of 1870 drove them to Leavenworth.
At the conclusion of this piece of business Mr. Bellport came into Ellsworth County, Kansas, and took charge of the Sherman ranch for D. W. Powers & Company. It is believed that this was the largest ranch in the state at the time. While there Mr. Bellport handled about 20,000 cattle a year. This stock was brought up from Texas and was in all sizes and sorts. He classified the stock, grazed and fattened them on the pastures, and then sold those ready for market to buyers who came out from Kansas City and Chicago.
On resigning his connection with the Powers outfit Mr. Bellport in the fall of 1873 brought a bunch of cattle to the Walnut and located just west of Rush Center. The winter he spent there was the beginning of his connection with Rush County. Perhaps better than any settler now living he is able to detail conditions as they were in Rush County over forty years ago. He says that only an occasional settler lived there. The cattlemen were still supreme, and the era of buffaloes and wild Indians had not yet passed. He remained in the vicinity of Rush Center until 1874. While there he took a pre-emption just east of the town, but his efforts as an agriculturist were disappointing, since the grasshoppers in 1874 ate everything, even the leaves on the trees. The droppings of the grasshoppers poisoned the water and made it almost worthless for use. In the fall of that year Mr. Bellport took his cattle to the head of Pawnee Creek, and began developing a ranch. He had the walls of a stone house nearly up when an Indian attack on some wild-horse drivers alarmed him and he hastily gathered up his stock and returned to his former location near Rush Center. It is impossible in this limited space to tell all the trials suffered by him and other early pioneers as a result of Indian depredations and threats. Indian scares were frequent and well ordered prosperity and security of life and property were not known for several years.
In the fall of 1875 Mr. Bellport went south to Texas, and the following spring he drove a herd of Texas steers to Dodge City. He owned some of the cattle himself but made most of the drive for Ellison and DeWeese, a prominent firm of old cattle men. He had made the acquaintance of Ellison and DeWeese while he was in charge of the Sherman ranch. On this drive Mr. Bellport followed a new trail which had been laid out west of the old historic Chisholm trail. He delivered the cattle to his employers at Dodge City and had charge of their cattle deliveries that year. Having cut out his own cattle from the herd, he wintered them during 1876 at the head of the Walnut near the present Town of Beeler. The presence of good grass took him in the spring of 1877 to Pawnee Creek, but not long afterward he sold out, "root and branch," his cattle to Mr. Choat, who afterwards became a well known banker at Larned. Mr. Choat kept the Bellport cattle a short time and disposed of them for $40,000.
With the exception of a few horses Mr. Bellport thus sold all his accumulations of ten years in the western stock ranges. He and his brother Stephen, who had been associated with him for some years, then went back to visit their old Ohio home. While there Mr. Bellport married the girl who had been waiting for him, and brought his bride in the same spring to Kansas. At Dodge City he saw the remnant of the band of Indians that had perpetrated the massacre of General Custer's command on the Big Horn River in the summer of 1876. During his early visits to Fort Hays Mr. Bellport had come to know General Custer somewhat intimately. At one time he was out on the prairie baiting a trap with poison for wolves, and seeing three horseback riders aproaching him, dressed in the garb of Indians, he was on the point of taking proper measures for defense and thus came near killing Custer and his two orderlies, whom he did not recognize until they came nearer.
Mr. Bellport's permanent connection with Rush County began in the spring of 1877. He built a stone house on his ranch near Rush Center and for many years made that locality his home and developed a large business as a cattle man. He was also conspicuously identified with the county seat war that waged for nearly ten years in the county. For seven years he was trustee of his township. When these civic and local disturbances were settled and LaCrosse became the recognized seat of government, he moved to that town in 1893 and went into business as a retail meat dealer. It was his intention to leave Kansas and settle in Oklahoma. He had taken part in the opening of the Cherokee Strip in September, 1893, and for a time was an active factor among the pioneer citizens of Perry. While there he was appointed trustee and assessor, organized his township into road districts and appointed the road overseers and bought grading tools for the township in which Perry is situated. The one drawback to residence in that new country was the absence of good schools, and he determined to remain in Kansas. For seventeen years he was engaged in business as a merchant at LaCrosse. His small market as originally started he developed by additions from time to time, putting in stocks of groceries, starting a bakery, and afterwards building up a department for feed and flour. Each of these departments he made independently profitable, and finally sold out the entire business. Mr. Bellport trained his sons in his store, and his daughters also acquired a good knowledge of the business as accountants. Since that time he has given his time and attention chiefly to the live stock and the ice business. His farm has several large ponds, both natural and artificial, and they supply sufficient ice for the community and give him a monopoly of the local trade.
Besides other connections which have already been noted Mr. Bellport was township trustee and a director of schools both at Rush Center and at LaCrosse. He has done a good deal to organize and mold political sentiment among his fellow citizens, but has seldom been an active seeker for political honors himself. He was brought up in a democratic home, but has aided and abetted the republican party for many years. His family are of the Catholic faith.
Mr. Bellport was married June 27, 1877, to Miss Magdalene Bower. Her father was Bernard Bower, who was born in Baden, Germany, where the name was spelled "Bauer." Bernard Bower was a wheelwright and followed his trade at Fayetteville, Ohio, subsequently lived near Rush Center, Kansas, and finally moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he and his wife are buried. His first wife was Appalona Beck. She was born in Baden, Germany, and they were married at New Orleans. By this marriage there were four children, two of whom died early. Those still living are Mrs. Bellport and Mrs. Philomina Herbert, of Dayton, Ohio. For his second wife Bernard Bower married Margaret Sertle, who was also of German stock. The children of this union are Mrs. Walter Benn, of LaCrosse, Kansas; Mrs. Rachel Bellport, of Boulder, Colorado; and Joseph B., of Chehalis, Washington.
In his later years Mr. Bellport takes his chief comfort in his home and among his family. He now has both children and grandchildren. His oldest child is Maggie, wife of Dr. J. E. Hyatt, of St. Marys, Kansas, who have a son, James, Jr. Augustine J. is in the real estate business at Wichita, Kansas, and by his marriage to Sarah Squire has a daughter, Catherine Mary. Bernard Philip, who died at LaCrosse, married Louise Groves and left a son Bernard Philip, Jr. Marie A. married James E. Dow, of Cotter, Arkansas, and has four children, James, Philip, Jannett and Josephine, the latter being twins. Miss Abbie lives at LaCrosse with her parents. Clarissa Margaret is the wife of Edmund Berger, a draftsman in the employ of the great steel company at Gary, Indiana. Orrin S. was a farmer near McCracken, Kansas, married June Wray, but is now in an officer's training camp preparing for participation in the World war.
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
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