There seems to be a quandary when it comes to proving who was the first Belt to come to Montezuma County. Some of our family think it was my grandfather, William George Belt, prospecting in the La Plata Mountains north and east of Mancos. Others think it was my Uncle Sid Belt, when he was prizefighting in the mountain towns of Silverton, Durango, Cortez, Telluride, Dolores, Lake City and Cañon City.
I believe it was Sid. The Belt family came here from Republic, Washington, where my grandfather William had a gold mine. The year would have been 1917-1918. Sid was 18 years old then and was boxing. He would have been able to make a good living boxing, and it could be that the family simply followed the money.
My father, Richard Vance Belt, was the only one of the 10 Belt children born in Cortez. He was born in 1919, the last of the children. Sid was the third child, born in 1900. There were eight boys, Courtney, Jess, Sid, Kenneth, Willard, Paul, Phil and Richard; and two girls, Lauretta and Alice. They all lived in Cortez from time to time, but most moved away. Uncle Court worked in the famous Bunker Hill mine in Kellog, Idaho, his whole life. Sid, called “Kid Belt,” boxed many years and started the scrap business in Cortez in 1930. The others settled in various parts of the country – some serving in World War II. My dad, Richard, worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps camps around Cortez in the late 1930s at Summit Lake, Jackson Gulch Reservoir and, most notably, Mesa Verde National Park. In 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in WWII in Australia, the Philippines, Luzon and Mendanau as a communications soldier.
While being mustered out of the U.S. Army in 1945 in Fort Lewis, Washington, he stopped on his way home to visit his sister, Lauretta. While there, he met my mother, Alice Brown, married her and took a job in communications with the General Telephone Co. in Washington state. I was born two years later, and my sister, Sandra, was born the next year.
Sid, meanwhile, stayed in Cortez, boxed and married Bessie Leigh, from Cañon City. They had three children – Bill, Irene and Betty.
Sid was an excellent boxer and won almost all his matches. Sid boxed a guy named Joe “Awful” Coffee five times and won three of them. They were lifelong friends, and Joe Coffee, of Pueblo, is in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.
In the late 1920s, Sid was in Los Angeles training with his friend, Jack Dempsey, for the U.S. Welterweight Championship when his wife, Bessie, died suddenly after the birth of Betty. Sid then returned home to Cortez to tend his family, and not much more boxing came to pass. His scrap career then began, trading fruit/oranges, grapefruit, melons, etc., for things of value. No one had much money in the 1930s, so he traded for old car batteries, radiators, scrap iron, copper and brass. Sid hauled the fruit and melons from Arizona to Cortez, traded, and hauled the scrap back to Phoenix. He had bought the truck from his winnings as a boxer.
Things were tough in the 1930s, but in the late 1930s (1937-1940) Japan began buying large amounts of scrap iron from the United States for a military buildup. The scrap business picked up nicely until the United States entry into World War II in 1941, Dec. 7.
Scrap drives were common after the war began, and Cortez was no exception.
Sid and his new wife, Mildred Burgess, lived in the early 1940s on Montezuma Avenue. The scrap iron they collected was put in a wind row down the middle of Montezuma Avenue and instilled pride in everyone. The scrap was then trucked to Dolores, put on a railroad box car and made its way to Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) in Pueblo to be used in the war effort.
Sid and Millie had four children – Bobby, Eddie, Karalee and Tom. Bob became a school teacher and administrator in Colorado Springs, and now lives in Arizona. Eddie became an electrical engineer, worked in California’s Silicon Valley and now lives outside Durango.
Karalee was a housewife, worked in the oil business and now lives in Phoenix. Tommy became an Episcopalian priest, served in Holbrook, Arizona, a commune in Atlanta, Georgia and in Montrose. He now lives in Atlanta.
Sid took his brother-in-law, Tom Burgess, as a full partner in the business in the late 1940s and the business Belt and Burgess Salvage Co. The 1950s were good times for the scrap business. There was an oilfield in Montezuma Creek, Utah, and the uranium boom in and around, Moab, Utah.
The 1960s found Sid getting older and wanting to not work as much. He and Tom Burgess sold the business to a scrapman in Farmington named Weems in 1965, but shortly had to take it back. In 1966, Sid and Tom let Buddy Belt (Sid’s grandson) take over the business. This lasted about a year, until my father, Richard, and Sid’s oldest son, Bill, bought Sid and Tom Burgess out of the business. It then became Belt Salvage Co.
Richard, Bill and Buddy Belt worked and ran the business until 1971, when I (Dan Belt) got the opportunity to buy a small portion of Richard’s half. I bought a quarter of my Dad’s half of an eighth of the business.
Bill and Buddy wanted to start a welding shop next to Belt Salvage, but it soon proved too much for Bill when Buddy left.
Bill wanted out of Belt Salvage, so Richard and Dan bought Bill out, and started the business with just the two of us.
Bill had worked construction, owned a motel with his father-in-law, Creighton Rauh, and worked for Empire Electric before his adventure in Belt Salvage. After he sold out of the scrap business, he retired to Sun City, Arizona, and lived out his final years with his wife, Armoral.
Irene Belt, Bill’s sister, went into the Navy as a nurse in 1941, met her lifelong mate and husband, Van Somners. They had five children.
Betty Belt lived and married in Sacramento, California, and had two children. Betty and her husband, Bob Barr, returned to Colorado and lived there until Bob died. Betty then returned to Sacramento, where she still lives.
Buddy Belt had two sons, Michael and Doak, and two daughters, Dusty and Dotie. Michael lives in Cortez, and Doak and Dusty and Dotie live in San Diego, California. Buddy has since passed.
Richard Belt and Alice lived in Cortez, and ran the business with Dan until Richard died in 1979. They had two children, Dan and Sandra. Alice died in 2001. Sandra lives in Cortez and has two daughters, Marci and Ginger. Dan had been at Belt Salvage for 44 years and still runs the salvage yard with his two fine sons, Chris and Kelly. Dan is now semiretired. Chris has three children, and Kelly has three children. Dan, Chris, Kelly, their wives and children all still live in Cortez.
June Head, Historian of the Montezuma Historical Society was given the story by Dan Belt in July 2013. Dan has passed away and Chris and Kelly now have Belt Salvage. Thank you, Kelly for giving permission to print this article from your father, Dan.