JAMES LYCURCUS DENTON 1836-1882
Arkansas State Superintendent of Schools 1878~1882
James Lycurgus Denton was born in 1836 near Clarksville, Johnson County, Arkansas, but in 1840 moved with his parents to a location near Fayetteville, Washington County, Arkansas. Me was the son of Jacob and Lydia Barrington Denton, and the grandson of George and Hester Layman (Lamon) Denton. Jacob, the father, was born near Lexington, Kentucky, in 1804 and moved to Dyer County, Tennessee, with his parents by 1828. This Denton Family all moved together to Arkansas in 1836.
James L. Denton married Miss Amelia Kate Johnson in 1862, but she lived only eleven months. In 1864 he married Miss Maggie L. Moore of Helena, Phillips County, Arkansas. Maggie Moore was the daughter of Col. William Moore and Margaret Moore of Helena. James and Maggie had four known children: Charles Edwin, born January 2, 1867; Mary Lillian, born September 5, 1869; A. L. Denton who was a farmer near Weatherford, Texas; and W. B. Denton, who was a merchant in the firm of Rainey, Denton, and Neal in Helena, Arkansas.
James Lycurgus Denton showed scholarly abilities and talent in the fields of oratory and debating from the time he was a small child. He was educated in both country schools and seminaries of Washington County as well as by private teachers. His first teacher was Martin Walker, the brother of the Hon. David Walker, who was prominent in early Arkansas history. James graduated from Arkansas College in Batesville. At age eighteen be began teaching school. At age twenty he was licensed to preach by the Methodist Episcopal Church South.
James L. Denton is credited with initiative and inspiration in his reorganization of the state school system of Arkansas, which was said to have been below the quality of school systems in other areas of the country. He spent tireless hours corresponding with and traveling to meet educational experts and studying all the latest teaching methods of the day. His dream was to insure a free public education for all children in the State of Arkansas. He improved teacher training so the teachers would be better prepared. He worked to improve school management, and through his powerful oratorical skills he aroused an apathetic public to support him in all these endeavors. He was greatly successful1 in all that he set out to do, and it is said that he laid a lasting foundation for change to modernize the Arkansas school system, which was to flourish because of his efforts.
However, by his second term several Arkansas newspapers printed accusations that he had mismanaged the Peabody Fund, which was used to finance these changes. The charges were vague, indefinite, and never proven. Nevertheless, the weight of the charges so disturbed the proud and sensitive nature of the Hon. James L. Denton that he became temporarily insane and committed suicide. On the night of October 9, J882, while visiting a family friend, he was in such a state of anguish that he jumped from the second story porch balcony and broke his neck, dying instantly
His numerous obituaries praised him highly. The 1882 Arkansas School Journal spoke of him as follows.
"James L. Denton is dead; but he has woven himself into the school system of Arkansas; he has impressed himself upon every school district of the State, until his work can never die. His monument is the impetus which he has given to the cause of popular education; and his name will be bright in that when brass corrodes and marble crumbles.
"One of the most gifted sons of Arkansas has passed away. No brighter light shone within her borders. Genial, social, eloquent, pure in spirit, clear and vigorous in intellect, refined in taste, he was gifted above his fellows and was a light wherever he went.
"He was a faithful friend, a good citizen, a devoted husband and father and an earnest Christian. To his bereaved family we tender our earnest sympathy and trust that they may have now 'the peace that passeth all understanding' and at last, the reward in reservation for all those who love and serve God.
James Lycurgus Denton was a man who should be honored and remembered, not only for what he hoped to achieve for the children of Arkansas, but as a sensitive, scholarly man who well served his church and profession and was a good citizen of his community as well as being loved by family and friends.
Information for this article was gathered from material found at the Arkansas Iii story Commission in Little Rock, Arkansas:
I. Newspaper: Arkansas Sentinel, October 11, 1882
2. Newspaper: Van Buren Press, October 14, 1882
3. The Encyclopedia of the New West, pp. 13-14, "Biography of Hon. James L. Denton"
4. Volume 2 of the 1908 Publications of the Arkansas Historical Association, which includes on pp. 427-436 material from the 1882 Arkansas School Journal.
If any readers are descendants of James Lycurgus Denton, or know more that can be added to his life story, please write to me, for I would like to learn more about this family.
Mrs. Betty Palmisano
(Betty Palmisano is the great-great granddaughter of George and Hester Layman Denton and the great granddaughter of Hester Denton Satterfield (Mrs. Peter Satterfield). Hester Denton Satterfield was a sister of Jacob, and thus an aunt of James Lycurgus Denton.)
Elijah Denton was born in 1842 when his father was 30 years old. The home place was at Doyle, Tennessee, near Quebec between Sparta and McMinnville. Elijah died in 1932.
During the Civil War, he fought for the South and was twice wounded, at Bull Run and by sniper fire in Devils Den at Gettysburg. Refusing to surrender at the end of the War, he stole four horses and a wagonload of oats from the Union Army and went to Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona Territories. Later, he was cleared by the Statute of Limitations.
Children Age at Death Place of Death
Effie D. Worley 94 Okla.
William Denton 82 Texas
Lee Denton 80 Texas
Newt C. Denton 81 Texas
Henry Denton 78 Texas
Albert Denton 81 Okla.
(Information from Cecile Denton Roden, Paris, Texas)
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John Denton Carter, of Biloxi, Mississippi wrote recently, saying that Denton County, Texas is considering an additional honor for Rev. John B. Denton, for whom the County is named and who is buried on the Courthouse lawn. Plans are to place a bronze bust of Rev. Denton in the Courthouse. Since there is no known portrait of Rev. Denton, the bust is to be a composite of likenesses of his three sons, John B. Denton, Jr. and Jonathan P. Denton, both Methodist ministers, and Dr. Ashley Newton Denton, of San Marcos and Austin, Texas.
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Carl Alkire, of Weatherford, Texas sent a bit of interesting information on Ashley Newton Denton. In 1858 when he was a medical student, Ashley shot and killed John W. Curtis, the mayor of Weatherford, Texas.
It was stated that Jose Maria, the Chief of the Caddos, had boasted of killing John B. Denton, and young Ashley was determined to kill his father1s murderer. Later, he learned conclusively that Jose Maria was not the killer of his father, and he gave up the chase. Evidently, he changed his mind completely about Indian killing; when a company was raised to drive the Indians from the agency, Ashley did not join; he had an altercation with Dr. J.B. nearby. Curtis publicly observed it was strange that a man, so hot-headed a after the Indians a year previous and so determined to slay his father's killer, would change so much as to quarrel with any man brave enough to go fight them. Whereupon, Denton armed himself; in the resultant exchange of shots, Curtis was killed.
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