The Carroll County Courthouse Tragedy

            On December 17, 1910, there was a corn-husking on the Bear Trail in Cana, Virginia, at the home of Hubert (or Hubbard) Easter. These were social events and a custom that went with them said that if a boy husked an ear of corn that was red he got to kiss the girl of his choice. It's said that Wesley Edwards was on the lucky end of a red ear of corn and he picked out the girl that he wanted - Rachel McCraw - and gave her a kiss. The problem was that her boyfriend, a young man by the name of Will Thomas, wasn't all that happy with Wesley's pick.

            The next day at church, Will got Wesley's attention from the door of the schoolhouse that was being used as the church, and quietly motioned for him to come outside. When Wesley got there he found that Will Thomas also had three others with him about the same size and age. Wesley was then attacked by the four of them. His brother, Sidna, heard the commotion from inside the schoolhouse and came out to help Wesley defend himself. The two held their own and before long the fight was over with the Edwards brothers getting the upper hand. Wesley was about twenty years old at this time, and his brother was twenty-two.

            Something that should be said here is that the Edwards boys were grandsons of Jeremiah Allen and their ancestors had lived in this area since the late 1700s. And it seems that the Allens had sort of a running feud with the local politicians. This conflict was said to have had its roots from the turbulent times right after the Civil War, some 40 years earlier. The Allens were Democrats and most of the people in Carroll County, Virginia at this time were Republicans. Even so, Floyd Allen and Jasper "Jack" Allen, two of Jeremiah's sons, held various county offices over the years. It seems that they were liked by the general public but had a problem with the people that were running things. One man that Floyd had a grudge against in 1911, was a man by the name of Dexter Goad. Dexter felt the same way about Floyd.

            Soon after the fight, Wesley and Sidna had several charges filed against them - 7 misdemeanor and felony indictments in all - ranging from disturbing public worship to assault with a deadly weapon (brass knuckles and a pistol). It's been stated over the years that they were only charged with misdemeanors, but that's not the case. It was also said that the charges were filed by the Edwards boys' uncle, Garland Allen, who just happened to be the preacher in the church at the time of the fight. This was just a rumor. The charges were actually filed by George Thomas, father of Will Thomas. It just so happened that the Commonwealth Attorney for Carroll County was William M. Foster, who had been in a fight over political differences with the boys uncle, Floyd Allen, several years prior and they were pretty much sworn enemies at this point. He had no problem indicting the Edwards boys.

            Wesley and Sidna Edwards' father, John Jasper Edwards, had died while they were young and Floyd Allen had kind of stepped in and helped his sister, Alvirtia, with the raising of her two boys. They looked up to him as a father-figure and when they found that they had been indicted and were about to be arrested they went to him for help. He happened to be home, sick in bed, and he wasn't able to go take care of their bond right then. He told them to go across the state line into North Carolina - Hillsville is close to the border - and stay out of sight until he could make it to town and pay their bail. Commonwealth Attorney Foster found this out and called Sheriff Cabell Haynes of Surry County, North Carolina and had him arrest the pair and deliver them to the state line.

            Thomas F. Samuels was the deputy that was sent to bring them back, and he deputized Peter Easter, a neighbor of Floyd Allen's, to go along. Samuels only owned one animal but had a two-seat (4 person) buggy and Easter supplied his horse to make up the team, since two horses would be needed to haul them over the mountain. They went to the state line and received the Edwards boys from Sheriff Haynes and Deputy Oscar Monday. There was only one set of handcuffs between them and because Sidna Edwards tried to escape a couple of times, he was tied with rope.

            Hillsville was about 25 miles away and they could have taken a shorter route than they did, but Thomas chose to take the road over Fancy Gap Mountain which just happened to go by five Allen brothers' homes, Sidna's store, as well Floyd's store and Victor's store. Peter Easter complained about taking this route but Samuels replied that "an officer of the law should be able to go where he pleases."

            Floyd Allen met the buggy south of Sidna Allen's home as he was on the way to his own home below the mountain. Samuels pulled a gun on him, so he rode back past the buggy to Sidna's store where he then blocked the narrow road with his mare. Samuels again pulled his gun on Floyd. A fight ensued and Floyd beat Samuels with his own broken pistol. Wesley Edwards tried to hold Easter but he got away and fired a shot at Floyd, wounding him in the finger. At this point the Edwards boys were released. Easter went on his way, on foot, to the home of an acquaintance where he called Hillsville. Samuels was left laying in the ditch and the horses were run off. Floyd Allen would later say that he never intended to have the boys set completely free, he just wanted them to be released from their manacles and he wanted them treated as humans instead of animals.

            On the following Monday, Wesley and Sidna Edwards were turned over to the court by Floyd and were soon tried and convicted of their crimes. Wesley was sentenced to sixty days and his brother thirty. Their sentences were completed by working in Sheriff Joe Blankenship's orchard. Floyd Allen, Sidna Allen, and Barnett Allen were all indicted for interfering with the deputies. Sidna was never tried for his part and Barnett was tried and acquitted. Floyd was a different matter.

            The court met only once every three months in Carroll County and Floyd's trial was postponed a couple of times but finally started on Tuesday, March 12, 1912, just after the noon recess, and concluded at about 3 PM the following day. Floyd's attorneys were retired judges Walter Scott Tipton and David Winton Bolen. The prosecuting attorney was William Foster - the same William Foster that Floyd had fought with several years earlier. Dexter Goad was the court clerk. The trial was the talk of the town and there were plenty of people there to watch, including quite a few from the Allen family.

            Floyd's trial was a quick one. He didn't deny demanding that his nephews be released from their bonds but he did deny using any violence. Floyd was made to look the bad guy and at the end of the day the jury couldn't reach a verdict. He was still free on bond for the night and spent it with his brother Sidna at Sidna's house.

            The next morning they made their way back to court and settled in for the verdict. Floyd was found guilty and was sentenced to one year in prison. His lawyer, Judge Bolen, then asked for a new trial due to newly found evidence - new witnesses that Floyd wanted questioned - and a hearing for that appeal was granted and was to begin the next morning. Judge Bolen then asked that Floyd be released on bail pending the appeal hearing, but the judge denied the request, saying that he couldn't grant bail after the defendant had been convicted, but that if the appeal was granted at the hearing the next day, he would set bail. He then told the sheriff to take Floyd away. One account says that Floyd stood up at this time and said "Gentleman, I ain't a goin'." The court clerk, Dexter Goad, then pulled his gun and a gun battle between the two sides broke out that lasted about two minutes with over fifty shots being fired in a small, packed courthouse (filled with around 150 people). There were five deputy sheriffs, the prosecuting attorney, the clerk, the assistant clerk, and several of the Allens all firing at each other. (According to Prosecutor Landreth's interview notes later, three member of the jury told him that when Floyd stood up, the Sheriff (Sheriff Webb) pulled his pistol and it got caught in his handkerchief and fired. These three jurors never testified at the later trials).

            When the gunbattle was over there were several casualties. Five people were dead and 7 others were wounded. Three of those five died in the courtroom, two died later. The dead were Judge Thornton L. Massie, Sheriff Lewis Webb, Commonwealth Attorney William Foster, Juror Augustus C. Fowler, and a witness by the name of Betty Ayres, who had reportedly seen the confrontation between Floyd and the deputies while on her way to the store to buy a spool of thread (although there is no proof that this actually happened). Floyd and Sidna Allen were both wounded as was Dexter Goad and also a juror, two innocent bystanders and a deputy. Betty Ayers died the next morning, and Augustus Fowler died on Saturday.

            Floyd was wounded in the leg and when he tried to get on his horse to head for the hills his leg gave out and he fell to the ground. The rest of the Allens thought that he was going to die there so they said their final goodbyes and took off. Floyd spent the night in the Elliot House Hotel along with his oldest son, Victor.

            The Baldwin-Felts Detective agency arrested Floyd at the hotel the next morning and within a month they had the rest of the Allens under arrest except for Sidna Allen and Wesley Edwards, who left the area and couldn't be found. They headed for Des Moines, Iowa and found work as carpenters. At one point, in June, Wesley grew homesick and was able to sneak back in for a quick visit and then he went back to Des Moines. While he was home he gave his girl, Maud Iroler, fifty dollars to come to Iowa to marry him. Her mother found the money and extracted the truth from her. She then knowingly went to Des Moines with three detectives so that they could make the arrests.

            In the ensuing trials, Victor Allen, Barnett Allen and Burden Marion, a neighbor, were acquitted. Sidna Edwards and another of Floyd's nephews, Friel Allen, both received 18 years in prison. Wesley Edwards got 27 years, Sidna Allen got 35 years and both Floyd and his son, Claude, were sentenced to the electric chair.

            Friel Allen's father, Jack Allen, claimed that he negotiated his son's surrender in exchange for a five-year prison sentence. When Friel went to trial and was convicted and sentenced to 18 years, Jack Allen did a lot of complaining about the deal that he had struck with Thomas Felts of the detective agency and how he had been double-crossed. Papers were later uncovered that had Felts admitting to the deal, but he never admitted to it publicly. Jack was shot in a roadhouse in 1916 and the man who shot him was working the next week for the Baldwin-Felts Detectives in West Virginia. That man, Will McCraw, only lived a brief time before being shot in the head by Detective Hugh Lucas for supposedly cheating at cards. It's said that Felts didn't leave loose ends.

            Friel Allen and Sidna Edwards were pardoned by Governor E. Lee Trinkle on October 6, 1922. Sidna Allen and Wesley Edwards were pardoned by Governor Harry Byrd on April 29, 1926.

            The death sentence for Floyd Allen and Claude Allen was an unpopular one with many of the people of the area, but it eventually made no difference. Floyd and his son were electrocuted on March 28, 1913 after a couple of appeals. They were buried on the southern side of Fancy Gap Mountain and their tombstone said "judicially murdered in the Va. Penitentiary March 28, 1913 by order of the Governor of the State over the protest of 100,000 Citizens," which has since been removed.

            The information for this account was taken from several sources, including "The Memoirs of J. Sidna Allen" by Sidna Allen (written in 1929), "The Red Ear of Corn" by Bill Lord, and "The Carroll County Courthouse Tragedy" by Ron Hall. Ron Hall also personally offered some additions and corrections to inaccuracies that were originally posted here. For information on how to order "The Red Ear of Corn" please email Bill Lord at For information on how to order "The Carroll County Courthouse Tragedy" go to the Book Sales page of The Carroll County Historical Society.

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