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Commodore D. Curtis

A Short Biography
by Greg W. Lasley

Commodore Curtis was born ca. 1828 (see below news account that indicates he was 50 in 1878). Apparently, Commodore is his first name and not a title. Commodore first comes to our notice when he enlists as a private in Company L of the 6th Illinois Cavalry on 7 September 1861. His home is listed as Mount Vernon, IL at that time. He served with that unit until mustered out in Selma, AL on 5 November 1865. I have obtained his service records and will list various items of interest below. We next find a record of him when he married Sarah J. Taylor, who was originally the wife of James Preston Lasley. Refer to biographies on SJC and JPL for more details. In the Posey Co. Marriage Book 7, p. 148 we find a marriage license issued on May 30, 1874 to Commodore D. Curtis and Sarah J. Taylor. They were married May 31, 1874 by Elder John A. Bailey.

Our next documented record of Commodore is from 1878 in Posey County, Indiana, when he is killed by his step-son, James Dennis Lasley (Dennis Leslie or Laslie in accounts of the time). There is a book titled "History and Directory of Posey County" by W.P. Leonard which was written in 1882. An account in this book reads "Dennis Leslie, a boy, shot and killed Commodore Curtis, his stepfather, for abusing his mother and threatening his life, in the summer of 1878, of which he was acquitted at the preliminary examination before a justice in Point Township." We have learned that the term "summer" is incorrect, as this incident actually occurred on February 26, 1878. We found several newspaper accounts of this incident including one in the "Shawnee Herald" of Shawneetown, IL which is right across the Wabash River on the west side of Posey Co., Indiana. That account, dated March 8, 1878, reads: "Commodore D. Curtis, a farmer, 50 years old, was shot through the heart and killed at his home near Mt. Vernon, Ind., yesterday by his stepson, aged 13. Curtis was trying to murder his wife in a drunken spree and the boy got a gun and shot him." Obviously, the date of "yesterday" is wrong for a March 8 paper since the incident occurred Feb. 26, 1878. We suspect the newspaper merely copied this report from some other paper (which one?) and printed it verbatim. Another news account reads as follows: "At the hour of going to press we learn of a terrible case of fratricide (sic) in Point Township. Tuesday night (Feb. 26, 1878), a man by the name of Commodore Curtis was beating his wife, when his son a boy of 13 years warned the father to desist. The parent paid no attention to the boy but continued beating the woman, when the boy grabbed a shotgun on the wall, and deliberately killed his father. Curtis was buried yesterday." (Mt. Vernon, Indiana "Democrat", Feb. 28, 1878). Another account reads: "Mr. Curtis, more familiarly known as Commodore, living below this city, was killed by his step-son, on Tuesday last. We are informed that Mr. Curtis attempted to take the life of his wife, when his step-son interfered, shooting him with a revolver in the abdomen, from the effects of which he soon afterwards died." ("Western Star", Mt. Vernon, Indiana, Feb. 28, 1878).

The actual court records on this incident appear to be missing. The Posey County criminal record books do not begin, unfortunately, until October, 1879. Criminal cases before that date were supposedly kept in the civil books, but the Posey County "order books" Q and R are missing from the courthouse and have been so for many years we are told. Despite a search of the available books, Jack Elliott and I were not able to find any written references to this case other that what I have shown above. In the 1890s, however, Sarah Curtis files a pension application for additional support for the two Curtis children. In this paperwork is the Justice of the Peace report on the shooting which simply states that he met his death violently by a shotgun blast fired by his step-son. There is no explanation other than that.

On March 21, 1878, Sarah J. Curtis appeared in Posey Co. court and filed on the estate of Commodore D. Curtis as his heir. Items listed as Commodore's property were said not to exceed $500 and include, in part: 3 head of cattle ($34), 1 span of mules ($120), 1 wagon ($15), 50 pounds of tobacco ($1.50), 1 cow and calf ($20), 9 head of hogs ($23), 200 bushels of corn ($64), 1 grindstone ($1), 1 table (75 cents), 4 bushels of potatoes ($1), "a lot" of bacon ($2.50), one half barrel of pickles ($1), 50 pounds of lard ($6.24), 1 wash board and tub ($1), 1 plow ($4). A reference to this probate also appears in "A Documented History of Posey Co., Indiana, 1815-1900" by Carroll & Gloria Cox, on page 47. Under the probate section it simply reads "Curtis, Commodore, 1878. Widow: Sarah Jane, a $500 estate". Note that this is one of two places we confirm the middle name "Jane" from the family oral history rather than simply an initial "J" for Sarah.

We know that Commodore fathered two children while married to Sarah. The 1880 Posey Co., Indiana (Point Township) census shows Sarah Curtis with Dennis Lasley, 15, her son, and a daughter Mary I. Curtis, 5, and son William Curtis, 2. James Dennis Lasley apparently only used his middle name at this time. Sarah J. Curtis filed a request to the federal government for the pension of Commodore Curtis in 1890.

Time Line for Commodore D. Curtis:

ca. 1828 - born in Greenville, KY according to his military enlistment papers. There are huge age discrepancies, however:
On a muster role dated 15 Oct 1861 he is described as 22 years of age
On a re-enlistment form dated 5 Mar 1864 he is described as 24 years of age
On a muster role dated 9 Mar 1864 he is described as 25 years of age
On a muster role dated 30 Mar 1864 he is described as 35 years of age
On a muster role dated 5 Nov 1865 he is described as 25 years of age
I have based the year of birth on the accounts of his death which describe him as 50 years of age in February, 1878, but unknown for sure which is correct. I have never found this particular Commodore Curtis on any census form.

7 Sep 1861; enlisted as a private in Co. L of the 6th Illinois Cavalry at Shawneetown, Gallatin Co., IL. His home was described as Mt. Vernon, IL at that time. He is described at 5 feet 5 and one half inches tall, with a dark complexion. Many of the muster roles mention that he furnished his own horse and equipment. A history of the 6th Illinois Cavalry can be found at:
Commodore was apparently with this unit throughout its history and thus was involved in numerous engagements.

1861 - 1864; shown on numerous muster roles of the above unit as a private, but on one muster role in January & February 1862 he is shown as a "wagoner."

March 1864; promoted to sergeant

1 May 1865; Eastport, Miss., HQ of 6th Illinois Cavalry, Sgt. Commodore D. Curtis is "reduced to the ranks" for using language in regards to his superior officers which was disrespectful, and unbecoming a soldier. Jack Elliott, Jr., Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History informs me that "Eastport was a town, now extinct, that was located on the south side of the Tennessee River at the mouth of Bear Creek. The mouth of Bear Creek was used in defining the MS-AL state line which intersects the Tennessee River at that point. So this is a point that can be easily identified on any map of MS."

November 1865; mustered out of the service at Selma, AL.

31 May 1874; married Sarah Jane Taylor (formerly Lasley) in Posey Co., IN

26 Feb 1878; Commodore is shot and killed by his step-son, James Dennis Lasley

To be complete I should state that there appears to be a problem associated with the birth of one of Commodore's children, William Alvin Curtis. William's birth date is listed in several sources as 28 December 1878. Commodore Curtis was killed on 26 February 1878. William was born a full 10 months after Commodore was killed. I'm not sure what to make of this, but it is indeed interesting.

2 October 2007: I am very anxious to learn more information about Commodore Curtis, but there does not seem to be anything available except that which I have posted. If anyone out there can provide anything else, I'd be very appreciative.

Greg Lasley

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