Courthouse Tragedy

On the morning of March 14, 1912, Mr. Floyd Allen stood in the Carroll County courtroom to hear the verdict of his peers. Upon conviction of interfering with an officer of the law, Judge Thornton Massie oversaw the jury’s imposed sentence of one year imprisonment. Mr. Allen stood and declared, “Gentlemen, I ain’t a goin’.” Gunfire, chaos, death ensued… all in a moment. Five people died and seven were wounded in the gun battle that followed.

A nation-wide manhunt was called for by the Governor of Virginia which lasted six months. Two of the participants were executed and the others received lengthy prison sentences.

The Historical Society has gathered significant materials, published over the years, that attempt to interpret this event in our local history. The definitive history, Mr. Ron Hall’s “Carroll County Courthouse Tragedy” is still published and is available at the Museum bookstore. A large collection of portrait photos, newspaper accounts, and a marvelous diorama of the 1912 courtroom scene are on display in the historic courthouse, as is the collection of “folk marquetry” furniture made by J. Sidna Allen.

courthouse shooting

Did You Know…….

- Floyd Allen had a long history of serving the law in Carroll County as a deputy sheriff and was, in fact, a special policeman at the time of the tragedy.

- J. Sidna Allen, in addition to being a well-traveled and successful businessman, had been a newspaper editor and a schoolteacher.

- William McDonald Foster, Commonwealth’s Attorney in 1912, had been a Democrat but turned Republican when he ran for the post. He defeated the son of Jasper “Jack” Allen for the position.

- In 1912, the Carroll County courtroom was some 20 feet shorter than it is today.

- Carroll law officers did not cross into North Carolina to arrest the Edwards brothers as has long been claimed. They were arrested by Caleb Haynes and Oscar Monday of the Mount Airy police department and brought to the state line.

- Arresting officer Oscar Monday was the step-brother of the Edwards brothers.

- Floyd Allen was tried in 1903 for shooting his first cousin, Noah Combs, and was sentenced to spend 1 hour in jail and pay a fine. He refused them both.

- To illustrate the volatility of turn-of-the-century mountaineers, when Jeremiah Allen died in 1898, Floyd and Jack Allen got into a ruckus over a barrel of brandy when the estate was being divided. Floyd shot Jack in the head and then began to beat him in the head with a rock while he was out cold. Jack came to and shot Floyd which ended the affair. Neither died, but Jack had a silver plate in his head until he died. Neither was prosecuted.

- Old timers said that when Wesley kissed the McCraw girl at the cornshucking, it wasn’t out of affection for her, it was to irritate her boyfriend, John William Thomas. The animosity derived from a feud between Thomas’ father, George W. Thomas, and Floyd Allen. It was Thomas and his father who swore out warrants for the Edwards brothers as a result of the fight at the schoolhouse/church the next day.

- William Sidna Edwards, the nephew of Floyd Allen, was sentenced to 18 years in prison as a result of the Courthouse Tragedy, although he never fired a shot. His mother was afraid they’d find him guilty of 1st degree murder, which carried the death penalty, so she convinced him to plead guilty to 2nd degree murder, which did not.

- Sidna Edwards’ presence at Floyd Allen’s trial was requested by Floyd’s lawyers. Floyd called home to have his son, Victor, bring him to court on Wednesday, March 13th. Otherwise, neither Sidna Edwards nor Victor Allen would have been present.

- Claude Allen did not take a gun when he went to Hillsville To Floyd’s trial. He only picked up Victor’s gun when he left it in the hotel room on the morning of March 14th. Otherwise, he would not have been armed.

- Commonwealth’s Attorney, William McDonald Foster, was a brother-in-law to one of Floyd Allen’s defense attorneys; Walter Scott Tipton. Foster married Katherine Tipton in 1894 and had 5 children by 1912. Katherine survived until 1960.

- William Foster’s daughter, Aline, married George Ellison “Bud” Edwards in 1917. Edwards was one of those involved in the fight at the church with the Edwards brothers and went on to be County Sheriff for numerous terms.

- Nancy Elizabeth “Betty” Ayers was shot in the back just about the beltline and just to the right of her spine. The bullet came up under the skin of her right breast. She was shot on Thursday morning and lived until early the next morning. Although some stories say she didn’t know she was shot and some say she said “I am killed,” no documentation exists to confirm either. Court testimony says she was outside throwing up on the lawn when Doctor Nuckolls came by. He asked her if she was “hurt or mashed” and her sister-in-law responded that she was just scared.

- Almost everyone in Carroll County is related to everyone else. For example, Betty Ayers, who was killed in the courthouse tragedy, was a 4th cousin to Dexter Goad (clerk of court), 4th cousin, twice removed, from Woodson Quesenberry (deputy clerk), 2nd cousin, twice removed, from Floyd Allen’s wife and a 3rd cousin to the Edwards brothers, Wesley and Sidna.

- Thomas Franklin “Pink” Samuel, the deputy from whom Floyd Allen released his nephews, moved to Amelia County and never testified at the trial. He only lived 7 years after the trial. He was called “Pink” because of a birthmark on his cheek.

- Lewis Franklin Webb, the County Sheriff killed in the Courthouse Tragedy, had just taken office in January of 1912, but had been a deputy numerous times. He never carried a gun as a matter of course, but on his way to court, the first day of Floyd Allen’s trial, his cousin, Allan Webb, advised him to borrow a pistol. He borrowed a .38 automatic from another cousin, Church Alderman.

- After his release from prison in 1922, Friel Allen came back to Hillsville and had Attorney John Alderman arrange a meeting with Dexter Goad. Mr. Alderman said Friel and Dexter met privately for about half an hour and shook hands at the end of their meeting. Mr. Alderman said he was not privy to what they discussed.

Friel settled in Inglewood, CA where he married twice, but never had any children. He worked for the Edison Lighting Company. He died there in 1953.

- Andrew Howlett, one of the spectators who was wounded during the Courthouse Tragedy, was a brother to Mack Howlett, who shot and killed Carr Allen in 1898. He was with his brother when the shooting occurred and was in jail with him when a vigilante mob took his brother into the jail yard and killed him. They didn’t find Andrew because the cell was dark and he had climbed up between the chimney and wall near the ceiling.

- After the shootout ended, people in Hillsville were afraid the Allen family would come back into town and kill everyone in sight. Floyd Allen jury member, John W. Farris, remarked that they wouldn’t be back until they were brought back. He proved to be right. He lived to be the last surviving member of the jury, dying in 1963.

- As a result of the deaths that occurred in the courtroom in 1912, the entire estates of Floyd and J. Sidna Allen were seized in settlement of wrongful death suits by the families of Massie, Foster and Webb. The law provided that everything could be seized with the exception of a few bare essentials necessary for existence, for example, 1 cow, 1 pig, etc. In the case of J. Sidna Allen, one of Massie’s relatives complained that the raw bacon that was seized needed to be sold before it spoiled.

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Carroll County Historical Society and Museum
Preserving and Presenting the History of the County of Carroll, Commonwealth of Virginia. Contact us: By Mail – PO Box 937 - Hillsville, VA 24343 | By Phone – (276) 728 – 4113 | By Email – | On Facebook – | Or come visit us in the Historic Courthouse at: 515 North Main Street - Hillsville, VA 24343
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