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James Dennis Lasley

A Short Biography
by Greg W. Lasley


The Lasley family oral history prepared in 1939 gives the following information. James Dennis Lasley was born in 1865 in Point Township, Posey Co., Indiana. His father was James Preston Lasley and his mother Sarah Jane Austin. He married Sallie Ila Hardy and had six children; Florence V., Sarah B., Mary I., J. D., Jr., Claude Hardy, and William Henry. He lived in West Point, Mississippi from 1903 until 1939 (which is when the oral history was prepared, but he remained there until his death in 1942 at age 77). James Dennis is described as being 5'11" tall and he weighed 180 pounds. The oral history indicates he served as a volunteer in Spanish American War (but so far I have not been able to confirm this and suspect it is not correct). Additional oral history passed along to Greg Lasley by William H. Lasley in 1976 was that James Dennis had shot and killed a man named Robert Curtis sometime around 1881 in Indiana because Curtis was beating up a woman, possibly James Dennis' mother. I suspect this information was passed along by William H. Lasley's mother, Sallie Ila Hardy Lasley. William H. Lasley also told me that James Dennis had been born possibly in Warrick Co., Indiana and raised in or near Mt. Vernon, Posey Co., Indiana. The Warrick County information apparently came from a conversation he had in 1965 with another William Lasley, originally from Warrick Co. I now believe that the Warrick Co. information is incorrect.

1865 - 1902 Birth to Paducah, KY

The below facts have been learned in addition to the above oral history. Most of these pieces of information were uncovered by Jack Elliott and/or Greg Lasley while on a research trip to Indiana, Illinois, Arkansas and Kentucky in January, 2001. James Dennis Lasley (hereafter JDL) was apparently born March 23, 1865. This date is on his funeral record, his Mississippi death certificate, and was also the birth date he is known to have used during his life. His funeral record (and the death certificate) further confirms he was born in Posey Co., Indiana. In the 1880 census in Point Township, Posey Co., Indiana with his mother (then known as Sarah Curtis), Dennis Lasley is shown to be 15 years of age (This census record was originally discovered ca 1970 by Claude Lasley, Sr.). Also, on the 1900 census in Paducah, Kentucky he says he is 35 and was born in March, 1865. He provides two different birth locations during his life. The 1880 census (Indiana) and 1900 census (Kentucky) both indicate he was born in Indiana. On the 1910 and 1920 censuses (Mississippi), however, he says he was born in Kentucky. I think at this writing (January 2001) I am satisfied he was indeed born in Posey Co., Indiana, beyond a reasonable doubt. See the short biography on James Preston Lasley for more information about this.

JDL's father was James Preston Lasley who died in 1865 shortly after JDL was born; refer to biography on him for more details. His mother Sarah married Andrew Taylor in 1868 in Posey Co., Indiana but Andrew died in 1874 of unknown causes. Sarah next married Commodore D. Curtis in 1874, also in Posey Co., Indiana. See the short biography on Sarah Jane Austin for more information.

Our earliest documented record of JDL is from 23 December 1865 when his mother, Sarah Jane Austin Lasley, filed for a widow's pension to the federal government after her husband James Preston Lasley died while in the military. In this paperwork, JDL is listed as her third child, born March 23, 1865. The next documented record of JDL occurred in 1878 in Posey County, Indiana, when he shot and killed his step-father, Commodore D. Curtis. (So far we have not located JDL or Sarah on an 1870 census in Indiana or elsewhere). 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 above accounts referring to "the boy" as 13 years old in 1878 further confirm his birth year as 1865. 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. However, in October 2001 I received the government file in which JDL's mother, then Sarah Jane Curtis, filed a pension claim for the two children of her third husband, Commodore Curtis. In this paperwork is an affidavit from George S. Green, the Posey Co., IN auditor dated 24 October 1890 in which he states the bare facts of this shooting. The affidavit indicates that on 26 February 1878 at about 7 o'clock in the evening Commodore Curtis met his death by violence in his home in Point Township when his step son, Dennis Lasley, shot him with a shotgun. Unfortunately there is little other information.

The next documented record of JDL is the 1880 Posey Co., IN census when he is listed only as Dennis Lasley, 15, with mother Sarah Curtis and half-siblings Mary I. Curtis, 5, and William Curtis, 2. Apparently at this time of his life, JDL simply used his middle name of Dennis. On this census, Lasley shows to have been born in Indiana.

We next have an official record of JDL on August 22, 1884 in the Posey County Deed Book 22, p. 330 which reads: Sarah J. Curtis and James D. Lasley of Gallatin Co., IL (the next county west of Posey Co.) sold to Isaac J. Bell of Posey Co., Indiana, 40 acres of land for $500 to wit: SE quarter of NE quarter section 22, T8S, R14W. Being the interest of said grantors in said real estate as the heirs of James P. Lasley late of Posey County, deceased. The deed is signed by JDL; SJC (who was illiterate) placed her mark as an "X". Then on April 7, 1886 we have the following in Deed Book 23, pp. 497-498. James D. Lasley of Gallatin Co., IL to Isaac J. Bell of Posey Co., IN for $250. SE quarter of NE quarter section 22, T8S, R 14 W. This deed being given to ratify the one given by said grantor and Sarah J. Curtis to said grantee Isaac J. Bell under date of August 22, 1884. Our last Illinois (or Indiana) record of JDL occurs 12 July 1890 when he signs an affidavit relating to pension paperwork that his mother, Sarah Curtis has filed regarding the late Commodore Curtis. On that statement JDL is identified as residing in New Haven, Gallatin Co., IL and that he is 24 years old.

At this point we have no further documentation on JDL for 10 years until 1900 when he shows up on the Paducah, KY census as J. D. Lasley (born in Indiana) at 35 years of age with wife Ella, 26. On that census he lived at 320 Ohio Street and shows that he and Ella have been married for 8 years. Jack Elliott and I visited the 300 blk. of Ohio Street in January, 2001 and found that it is currently a vacant lot, however, it is evident houses once stood there. His occupation is listed as barber. On the census, Ella indicates she has born two children, but neither were living in 1900. The July 7, 1900 Paducah Sun newspaper has a brief note which states "The Labor Day Committee will meet at Roger's Hall Sunday at 10 o'clock a.m. J. D. Lasley, Secy." JDL's mother, Sarah Jane Curtis, died in late 1901 or very early 1902 probably in Gallatin Co., IL. On February 17, 1902 James D. Lasley and wife Ella Lasley of McCracken Co., Kentucky (Paducah) in the Gallatin Co., IL Deed Book 29, p. 364 are shown as one of the heirs of Sarah J. Curtis, deceased, and sell their undivided interest in three small lots in the township of New Haven, IL to a Jarrett Epley for $100. The only other heirs are Mary I. Curtis (Oliver) and William A. Curtis. Back to Paducah we find the following: On April 2, 1902 in McCracken Co. Deed Book 62, p. 602-603, L. R. Barnes sells to James D. Lasley for $320 "a lot in Mechanicsburg as part of Paducah and more particularly described as follows. Lot 14 in block 2, 40 ft. front by 150 ft. deep to an alley on Hayes Ave. in Hayes subdivision in Mechanicsburg as shown in plat records in Deed Book 63 p. 529." The next entry appears in Deed Book 67, pp. 322-323 on October 24, 1902 in which James D. Lasley and Ella Lasley, his wife, sell to Rozecca Burton for $350 "a certain lot in the city of Paducah being lot 14 block 2 Hays subdivision a plot of said subdivision being recorded in Deed Book 63, p. 529. The said lot herein referred to fronting 40 feet on Hayes Ave., and running back for a depth of 150 feet to an alley and being the same lot conveyed to James. D. Lasley by L. R. Barnes as recorded in Deed Book 62, p. 602." Paducah printed city directories for 1894 and before, and then not again until 1904; JDL was not listed in any of these.

1903-1920, West Point, Mississippi

JDL next shows up in West Point, Clay Co., Mississippi in about 1903. Jack Elliott, Jr. has found J. D. Lasley on the West Point city tax roles in 1904, but not earlier.

JDL's first wife, Ella, apparently died in 1905 of unknown causes. The following accounts are from West Point newspapers. Neither article mentions her first name, but we believe this must be the same wife named Ella he was with in Paducah. More research is needed to determine where he married Ella and where and when their two children (shown on 1900 census) died. Dixie Press, newspaper, West Point, Miss., June 1, 1905 (Thursday) "After an illness of several months, Mrs. Jim Lasley passed away at her home on East Broad Sunday afternoon [if 6/1 was Thurs. then Sunday was 5/28] at 2 o'clock. The funeral service was conducted the following morning at 10 o'clock and the interment made in the Odd Fellow's cemetery. "Mrs. Lasley had suffered much severe pain since she moved to our city, and on account of her afflictions had known very few of our people, but by those who knew her she was highly esteemed as a friend." And another news account is in the West Point Leader, newspaper, West Point, Mississippi, Friday, June 2, 1905. "Mr. J. D. Laslie has the sympathy of the community on the death of his wife, which occurred Sunday afternoon, after a long illness. The funeral services were conducted by Rev. W. T. Hudson Monday morning from the residence on Broad street, after which the body was borne to the cemetery and tenderly laid away, there to rest till the resurrection morn."

On August 24, 1905, there is a very curious account in West Point's Dixie Press newspaper that reads: "J.D. Lashley [sic] has returned from a trip to the Indian Territory." The Indian Territory of 1905 was later (1906) admitted to the U.S. as Oklahoma. We have no idea why JDL went there or how long he stayed or what he did while there.

On September 4, 1905 it is recorded in Clay Co., MS Deed Book 38, p. 280 that J. D. Lasley paid $850 for a lot on Division Street in West Point. Full data on this lot are in Jack Elliott's notes.

The April 5, 1906 issue of the Dixie Press newspaper says "Lasley & Crowder have opened up a barber shop in the rear of DeLashment's store."

The Clay County, Mississippi Marriage Book vol. 14, p. 178 shows a marriage license issued between J.D. Lasley and Sallie Ila Hardy dated April 30, 1906. The affidavit is dated May 2nd, 1906.

The Dixie Press, May 2, 1906 (Thursday) "Lasley-Hardy.
The home of William Hardy was the scene of a happy marriage last Wed.
evening at 8:30 o'clock at which time J.D. Lasley led Miss Ila Hardy
to the altar and the two were pronounced man and wife by Rev. W.T.
Hudson, pastor of the First Baptist Church."

West Point Leader, newspaper (predecessor to the Daily Times Leader),
West Point, Mississippi, May 4, 1906, this was a special trade edition with considerable coverage of virtually every business in West Point which was accompanied, expectedly, by a vast array of advertisements, most by businesses that did not normally advertise.

Lasley & Crowder's Tonsorial Parlor.
Best Service rendered, by experienced Workmen. Shop Opposite Holt Hotel
Office No. 2 Jordan Avenue. Messrs. Lasley & Crowder have a new barber shop with baths. Everything new here, and you will always get your barber work done by first class workmen. Read their ad."

Dixie Press newspaper, May 17, 1906. "Those pretty cement sidewalks are beginning to adorn almost every section of the business district, and we hope the good work will continue." Jack Elliott, Jr., sent me the above information with the following comments: "I include this item, because Nana (Sarah Blanche Lasley Swafford) showed me a concrete sidewalk on Jordan Avenue with a straight razor impressed in it. She said that her father (JDL) pressed it in there outside his barber shop." In January, 2001, Jack and I photographed two different straight razor impressions along this sidewalk.

March 20, 1907, Clay Co., MS Deed Book 40, p. 73, J. D. Laslie bought a house and lot on Division Street for $850. This is a different lot than the September 1905 lot above.

The Dixie Press, March 27, 1907. "Mr. and Mrs. Jim Laslie are entertaining a tiny girl visitor who made her advent into their home the other night." This would be the birth of Florence Virginia Lasley on March 19, 1907.

April 22, 1910, federal census, West Point, Clay Co., MS, shows James Lasley, 45, a barber (and indicating he was born in Kentucky), with wife Sallie I., 29, Florence, 3, and Sarah B., 1.

September 7, 1910, Clay Co. Deed Book 41 p. 467, J. D. Lasley bought a lot on Forrest Street for $300.

Between 1910 and 1920 there are several records of various properties bought and sold in the city of West Point by JDL. Jack Elliott has notes on all of these transactions but I will not list them here.

Sometime between ca 1912 and 1916 JDL and family lived in Artesia, MS for a while. Jack Elliott, Jr. reported the following: "Nana (Sara Blanche Lasley Swafford) recalled that while they were living in West Point, they moved down the railroad to the very small town of Artesia (located about 15 miles south of West Point; Artesia's population was probably only a few hundred). Nana was never sure why they moved to such a small place; it was much smaller than West Point. What is also strange is that they owned a house in West Point, a relatively large and well built house. She recalled driving their cow down the road from one town to the other. There I'm sure she said that JDL barbered. She once pointed out to me the house in Artesia in which they lived. A druggist, Conley Cox, Sr., lived next door. One night he caught his wife with another man and shot them both. Nana recalled being woken up in the middle of the night as someone brought the Cox child or children over to place them in bed with the Lasley children while the bodies were dealt with and the situation sorted out."

In the City of West Point "Minute Book" of 1916, the following account is recorded during the meeting of the selectmen on June 13, 1916. "On motion duly seconded it was ordered that a policeman be elected temporarily to take the place of D. T. Cogdell and if Mr. Cogdell was not reinstated this election to stand for the unexpired term. Mr. J. D. Laslie was duly elected by ballot for the position of policeman." Each month through September, 1916 the name J. D. Laslie is recorded as receiving his pay as a policeman (apparently $65.00 per month), and in October, 1916 this was corrected to J. D. Lasley. He is paid through February, 1920, but I found no further payments. Just as a matter of historical interest, I found an item in the Minute Books for November, 1920, which provided raises for the mayor as well as policemen and firemen. Taking effect at that time were salaries of: Mayor, $150 per month; Chief of Police, $125; day policeman, $125; night policeman, $100; day fireman, $100; night fireman, $75.

I had been told as a child that JDL shot a person who was trying to steal coal from a train in West Point while he was a policeman. The following undated news clipping has been located in Sara Blanche Lasley Swafford's possessions. So far, Jack or I have not been successful in finding this article in the newspaper archives to determine a date. "Negro Shot by Police When He Resists Arrest. George Leonard, negro, was shot in the ankle last night by a local policeman when he attempted to make his escape after caught by police stealing coal from a railroad car on a siding here. Two companions, aiding Leonard in the stealing, made their escape, but police today have several clues that will lead to the arrest of the negroes, possibly today. Leonard was taken to the hospital where he was given first aid treatment and placed under arrest. His wounds are not serious, it was said. His accomplices were not believed injured. The negro had stolen approximately 1,800 pounds of coal before they were apprehended by officers. Two negroes were given fines of $12.50 each in city court yesterday after being found guilty of stealing coal from a local coal yard Monday night. Robert Gibson, negro, paid his fine of $12.50 and was released, but Joe Clifton, negro, was lodged in jail until he can raise the like amount to pay his fine." We believe this shooting involved JDL as a policeman, but he is not mentioned in the article and so far we have no other information. Since Sara kept this article we certainly suspect this is so.

January 21, 1920, federal census, West Point, Clay Co., MS shows James D. Lasley, 54, policeman on city force (indicating again that he was born in Kentucky), Sallie I. 41, Florence 12, Sarah B. 11, Mary I. 8, James D. Jr. 6, Claude 5, and William H. 3.

1920 - 1928 Arkansas

Sometime in early 1920, JDL moved his family to near Wynne, Cross Co., Arkansas where he tried his hand at farming for a couple of years. In Cross Co. Deed Book 36, p. 609 dated January 15, 1920, W. C. Dennis and wife sell to J. D. Lasley for "$3,000, that is $1,900 cash and the assumption of $1,100 mortgage payable to J. R. Mayo dated Feb. 1919 to us paid by J. D. Lasley. W half of NE quarter Sect. 23 T7N R3E containing 80 acres". Jack Elliott and I visited this property in January, 2001 and took photos. It is now mostly wooded and has several nice (and two not-so-nice) homes on it.

Two years later, on January 3, 1922, J. D. & Sallie Ila Lasley sell this same property to W. S. Newsom for "$2,300 cash in hand and the assumption of mortgage in the sum of $1,100" in Cross Co., Arkansas Deed Book 45 pp. 443-444.

JDL and family moved to the outskirts of Forrest City, AR probably in 1922 and a year or so later they moved into Forrest City itself and probably lived at 409 Walnut Street. We got this address off the back of an old photograph of Sarah Blanche Lasley, but there is currently not a Walnut Street in Forrest City. Perhaps the street has been renamed? There are high school year books for Florence and Sarah from 1926-1928 in Forrest City. Following are some recollections by Jack Elliott, Jr. regarding some things Sarah Blanche Lasley Swafford had related to him some years back. "JDL sold his home in West Point, and purchased a farm near Wynne, Arkansas. The family possessions were loaded onto a box car and shipped to the farm. The venture was a disaster. Daddy (Jack Elliott, Sr.) has commented on this, pointing out that he could not figure out why a man in his mid-50s, who had never farmed would take such a gamble by going into a very arduous and risky business of farming. Nana commented on this; everything they did was a disaster, crops failed, early frost killed the fruits, etc. They eventually lost the farm and they moved to Forrest City, Arkansas. I don't believe that JDL ever owned any real estate again; he was forced to return to barbering; by this time he was close to 60. Nana recalled how tired and defeated he seemed coming home late at night after long hours at work. Sarah told Jack Elliott, Jr. that William Henry Hardy (Uncle Henry) asked JDL to move home in 1928, and apparently this is what occurred. Jack recalled "Nana said that being unmarried at the time that he needed help running his house (he lived in his father's two-story home). I wonder though if he didn't make the offer in part to help out his half-sister Sallie Ila, and her family. So in 1928 back to West Point they went and moved in with Uncle Henry with JDL going back to barbering."

1929 - 1942, West Point, Mississippi

1930 census, West Point, Clay Co., MS
James D. Lasley, 65, born Indiana, parents born "United States"
Sally I. Lasley, 52, born Mississippi
Mary I. Lasley, 18, born Mississippi
James D. Lasley, 17, born Mississippi
Unknown why the other children are not listed. This is at the bottom of a page and it is possible the next page contains these children, but is not available on-line.

August 12, 1930, West Point Times-Leader newspaper. "Hardy Home is Damaged by Fire. The fire department was called to the home of Henry Hardy, night Fire Chief, this morning at 10 o'clock. The fire started in the kitchen and the rear of the home was in a blaze before the alarm was turned in and before the fire department had time to reach the home. The rear of the house was practically destroyed and the upstairs and front of the house was burned and smoked up. Most of the furniture was saved and had it not been for the hasty work on the part of the Fire Department the house would have been completely destroyed." Jack Elliott, Jr. reported the following from a conversation with William H. Lasley in the 1980s: "I once asked Uncle Bill how it burned. He laughed and told me that he and his cousin Johnny Snider accidentally burned it down. I can't remember all the details, but apparently they left something on or near a stove or heater, left the room, a fire started, and before it was discovered it was too late."

During the 1930s JDL ran a barber shop in West Point with Mr. McGee. Jack Elliott, Jr. had spoken to some men years ago who remembered Jim Lasley and his shop. Jack reported "I remember two men telling me on separate times that they recalled having their hair cut by Mr. Lasley. They said his was considered to be a cheap haircut. That's why many went to him. His price was less than other barbers, but was also a rather quick, crude job." On 10 January 2001 Jack Jr. and I spoke to his father, Jack, Sr., who remembered getting his hair cut many times in the 1930s by JDL. He said he got haircuts by Lasley or McGee for 25 cents. Crowder had his own shop at this time, but the haircuts there were more expensive at 40 cents, so Jack always went to Lasley or McGee.

Jack and I located a number of receipts concerning JDL in Sara's possessions after her death. Most of these indicate taxes paid, barber license fees paid, there is one for purchase of a gun, and other assorted similar items. The originals of these are all with Jack.

In 1939, William Henry Hardy married Elizabeth Chandler and JDL and family moved out of the house on Stonewall St. (which had been rebuilt after the fire) and rented another house on South Division St. in West Point at the location where Sara's Beauty Shop was operated from about 1945 until the 1990s. Sara purchased this building in 1946, the same year she began her beauty shop in it. Previously she had been employed by other beauty shops.

JDL died October 23, 1942 at the age of 77. He had apparently fallen through a rotten spot in the floor of his barber shop and suffered broken ribs and other injuries. He died a few weeks later, the official cause of death being listed as "traumatic pneumonia / acute dilation of heart due to broken ribs sustained in a fall."

Daily Times Leader, newspaper, West Point, Mississippi, Saturday, October 24, 1942. "Lasley to Receive Masonic Burial. J. D. Lasley, 77, barber and former member of the local police force, who died Thursday night at his home here, will be accorded a Masonic burial Sunday afternoon at 4 o'clock. Services will be conducted from the home by the Rev. J.E. Barnes. Interment will be in Greenwood cemetery. Pallbearers will be: W.H. Rose, John Thompson, Hugh Harris, G. W. Nethery, J.C. Erwin, D.A. Meek, Sr., Dr. D. E. Rainey, and R.C. Davis. Masons are requested to meet at 3 o'clock Sunday afternoon. Mr. Lasley came to Mississippi in 1903 from Paducah, Ky." Additional, observations on the obituary: Time of death. Obit reads "Thursday night" Thursday was October 22., However, we have an October 23 death date. So he must have died Thursday night, but after midnight. There is another undated newspaper clipping his death in a different (?) West Point paper that we found in Sara's things. This one reads: "J. D. Lasley Succumbs. Local Barber, 77, Had served on Police Force. J. D. Lasley, 77, West Point barber who served on the police force for a number of years, died at his home on South Division street last night after a short illness resulting from a fall. Mr. Lasley fell in his barber shop several weeks ago, and suffered a fractured rib and other bruises. Funeral services are incomplete. Mr. Lasley moved to West Point in 1903 from Paducah, Ky., and in 1906 he was married to Miss Sallie Ila Hardy, who survives him. To this union were born six children, three boys and three girls, all of whom survive. They are: J. D. Lasley, Jr., of Louisville, Miss.; C. H. Lasley of the U.S. Navy; W. H. Lasley who is with the Army at Camp Pickett, Va., Mrs. J. W. Ingram of Russellville, Ark., Mrs. Sara Branson of West Point, and Mrs. A. B. Harrison of West Point. Nine grandchildren also survive. The deceased was a member of the Baptist church."