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Floyd Allen Trial: 1912 - Virginia Tries Floyd Allen For Murder

county foster sidna arrested

Defendant: Floyd Allen
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyer: J.C. Buxton
Chief Prosecutors: J.C. Wysor and W.S. Poage
Judge: Walter Staples
Place: Wytheville, Virginia
Dates of Trial: April 30-May 18, 1912
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death by electrocution

SIGNIFICANCE: The Floyd Allen affair represents one of the rare incidents in American history when a criminal defendant attempted to avoid justice by assassinating the trial judge.

Carroll County, Virginia, is a rural county, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and far from any major city. The Allens were the county's leading family, owning a great deal of land and dominating local politics. They ran Carroll County as their private chiefdom. In the early 1900s, the patriarch of the Allen clan was Floyd Allen.

In 1911, two of Allen's nephews, Sidna Allen and Wesley Edwards, were involved in a scuffle with some Allen opponents outside a schoolhouse where Baptist services were being held. The local prosecutor in nearby Hillsville, Commonwealth's Attorney William M. Foster, was also an Allen adversary, and he promptly charged Sidna Allen and Edwards with disturbing public worship. Foster's men arrested Sidna Allen and Edwards after tracking them down in Mount Airy, North Carolina and brought them back to Carroll County for justice. On the way back to Hillsville, Floyd Allen and his henchmen set upon the lawmen and freed their kin. Foster then charged Allen with assaulting officers of the law and had Allen arrested.

A jury found Allen guilty, and on March 14, 1912, Allen went to his sentencing hearing before Judge Thornton L. Massie in the Hillsville courthouse. Massie sentenced Allen to one year in prison. There were, however, nearly 20 Allen men among the spectators in the courtroom. Allen rose to his feet and calmly said, "Gentlemen, I ain't goin'." That was the cue. The Allen men (Floyd included) pulled out their concealed pistols and began firing. Five people were killed: Judge Massie, Commonwealth's Attorney Foster, Sheriff Lew F. Webb, a member of the jury named Augustus C. Fowler, and a witness named Betty Ayers. Floyd Allen was wounded when the deputies and guards returned fire, and he was quickly arrested. The rest of the Aliens fled, and it took a manhunt of several months to round them all up.

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over 7 years ago

I'm sorry, sir, but whomever wrote the history in a Bible was not Floyd... and he didn't get it correct.

In December, 1910, Wesley Edwards kissed Rachel McCraw at a cornshucking at Hubert Easter's house. Next morning her boyfriend and 3 others got into a fight with the Edwards boys at Flint Hill School where church services were being held.

As a result of succeeding charges by the prosecutor they fled to Mt. Airy, NC where they were arrested in April, 1911 by Surry County Sheriff Cabel Haynes and deputy Oscar Monday. They were brought to the state line and transferred to Carroll Co. deputies T. F. Samuel and Peter Easter (both married men with large families). One was handcuffed and one was tied in Easter's 4 seat buggy.

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over 7 years ago

i have records in our old family bible how it happened . the edwards boys were sweet on two girls at the church and the deputys were wanting the same girls the edward boys bet the deputys up opretty handily +they didnt like it so they pulled their gund and asrrested the boys and they came by uncle floyds place and had then pinned face first first to the wagon bed . uncle flloyd saw this and took them away from them and took them to jail himself

thats what it all started over the nephews were innocent and so was floyd but politics came involved

so a lot of lies were told there

, we have it written in a bible from floyd himself

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over 6 years ago

Hell, my name is Justin Allen and I am a relative of the late Floyd and Sidna. I was wandering if anyone had any detailed information regarding a family tree. My Grandfather was Oklahoma "Homer" Allen. Thanks for any help with this. I look to find some cousins and such from my fathers side of the family.

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over 7 years ago

Thanks for the updated info Mr. Hall, much appreciated. BobAllen

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almost 8 years ago

this is my great great uncle an it's a shame that our famley history book is in a libeary an can not be releast

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over 8 years ago

One of the big problems with the inaccuracies that developed over the years about this story was that newspapers made up a good portion of what was printed about the event.

Another is the word of mouth stories that have been told by people "who were there." If all the people were there who later claimed to be, the courthouse would have had to have been the size of Yankee Stadium. In actuality, there could have been only about a hundred people in the room, which was smaller in 1912 than it is today.

The events that led up to the event are rather well documented by existing trial testimony of the participants. There has never been much dispute about that. As to what happened that day, a lot of information was understandably suppressed by the prosecution. Originally, 3 jurors told the prosecution (according to transcribed interviews by the prosecutor's office) that when Allen stood up and declared he was not going to jail, the sheriff pulled his borrowed pistol and it caught in his handkerchief and fired.

These jurors never testified at the later trials.

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almost 9 years ago

I have heard this story my entire life as I am from the area and my great grandfather was in the courtroom the day of the shooting. I have heard so many versions of what led to the trial and what happened on the trial date, I do not think anyone knows what happened except people were shot, some wounded and some killed. To who was at fault that depends on who's side of the story you hear.

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over 10 years ago

Unfortunately, this information is neither "factual" nor "accurate."

The quoted significance of this article is in error. There is no evidence that Floyd Allen assassinated the judge. In fact, Allen did not draw his weapon until he had been shot twice.

The nephews involved in the scuffle (December 11, 1910) were Sidna and Wesley Edwards, sons of Floyd Allen's sister, Alverta. Sidna Allen was Floyd's brother.

As far as dominating local politics, the Allens (except for Jack Allen) were all Democrats and the county was run by Republicans and had been since the Civil War.

The local Commonwealth's Attorney William Foster, took the misdemeanor charge of disturbing public worship and made it into 7 felony indictments; attempted murder, assault, maiming, etc.

The Edwards boys were arrested by Surry County policemen, Cabell Haynes and Oscar Monday and they delivered them to a Carroll deputy at the state line. The arrest was likely illegal, since no extradition papers have ever been found.

The deputy, probably in an effort to "rub salt in the wounds" took the Edwards boys back to Hillsville via the worst possible road and right by five Allen brothers' homes.

Floyd, acting alone, beat up the deputy and took the boys to jail himself. The deputy, Thomas Samuel, charged Floyd with assault and illegal rescue of prisoners. That was what the trial was about. He was never arrested, but demanded to go before the grand jury, which bound him over for trial under bond.

Floyd Allen's trial lasted from Tuesday until Wednesday afternoon, March 13th, 1912. On Thursday morning the jury returned their verdict and they set the sentence, not the judge.

There weren't 20 Allen men in the courtroom. There were 7 including Floyd and his two sons, one of whom did not have a gun.

Floyd Allen was shot three times, his brother, Sidna, once. Floyd was arrested in the Elliott Hotel next morning and the rest, except for two, were caught within 10 days. Sidna Allen and Wesley Edwards went to Des Moines, IA and were arrested six months later.

The trials, held in Wytheville, VA, were conducted by Judge Waller Staples (not Walter) and Floyd and Claude Allen received the death penalty.

Sidna Allen got 35 years after 5 trials and Sidna Edwards got 18 years but never fired a shot in the courthouse.

Wesley Edwards and Friel Allen received sentences of 27 and 18 years respectively, even though Friel Allen's father had negotiated a guaranteed five year sentence for his son in exchange for his surrender.

Floyd Allen's son, Victor, was found not guilty.

Ron Hall
Carroll County Historian and Author
"The Carroll County Courthouse Tragedy"