John & Lottie Belle Family of Merrick County, Nebraska

John and Lottie Belle Family
John and Lottie Belle Family Rheta, Marion, Hazel, Beatrice. Front — Floyd, John, Loaie.

Lottie Sophia Burr was born at Palmyra, New York, on 1 June 1883. She was one of eight children of Henry and Charlotte Barnes Burr. Her parents both died when the children were young. The oldest daughter and her husband took care of the other children. Lottie was the only member of the family to come “West” to live. She remained close to her family through letters and visits. She was the last living child or, as she aptly said, “the last leaf on the tree.”

Lottie fished in the Erie Canal as a child and had fond memories of attending the Pan American Exposition held in Buffalo, New York, in 1901. She was an early telephone operator and switchboard supervisor, beginning prior to 1905, in Syracuse, New York.

John Henry Belle was born in Canada on 20 April 1874. His parents were Joseph and Matilda Cattround Leaf.

Lottie and John celebrated their wedding on 1 June 1908. They came by train to Nance County, Nebraska, in the spring of 1909. With them were John’s daughters Hazel Marie and Beatrice Veta.

John worked on the Hadfield and Morrison Ranches. In 1911 he began farming in Loup Ferry and Timber Creek Townships.

Three children were born to the Belles: Marian Kathryn (1910) married Earl Fullington; Floyd Arthur (1911) married Edna Fullington; and Rheta Agnes (1915) married Woodrow Dotson. Hazel (1902) married Frank Halpin and Beatrice (1905) married Ernest Sundermann.

John was known in the neighborhood for his “readings” of poetry, singing, and acting at literary societies.

Lottie was often called on to administer to the sick and to serve as a midwife.

The Belles had a great love of horses.

In 1930 the Belles moved to Central City. They lived in the College Section where they operated a truck farm selling fresh vegetables and melons. In 1934 they moved into town. Although a semi-invalid, John raised a fine productive garden.

Lottie told of being employed in the W.P.A. program. She sewed baby clothes and overalls. The fabric came precut, and the sewing group worked in the basement of Hards Public Library.

Mr. Belle was suffering from diabetes and died on 27 March 1944. After John’s death, Lottie worked as a live-in practical nurse. In the late 1940s she again “set up housekeeping” in an apartment. She lived alone until, at age ninety-three, her health would no longer permit it. Her last four years were spent as a resident of Litzenberg L.T.C. She died on 13 July 1980 at the age of ninety-seven years.

Lottie was “Grandma Belle” to not only her five children’s descendants but to many others. She had a twinkle in her eye and a ready smile. Her quick wit was always with her, and of course, she made the best cookies ever!

On her ninetieth birthday she was asked by a nine-year-old great-grandson, “Isn’t it boring to be ninety years old?” Her reply, “I have lived from horse and buggy days to see a man walk on the moon. I can assure you it hasn’t been boring!”

Submitted by Rheta Dotson, daughter, and Nancy B. Johnson, granddaughter


Merrick County Historical Society, History of Merrick County, Nebraska (1981), Volume I, Dallas, Texas : Taylor Publishing Company, 1981.

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