The Hillsville Courthouse Shootout, Part 5

Jadon Gibson

Carroll County in Virginia was without law enforcement officers after the death of Sheriff Lew Webb on March 14, 1912. Virginia statutes at the time disempowered deputies in the event of the sheriff’s death. Governor William H. Mann declared martial law with enforcement by the Baldwin Felts Detective Agency, a security company with offices in Virginia and West Virginia. They were also to bring in others involved in the Hillsville Courthouse shooting.

Floyd Allen was severely wounded in the barrage of gunfire and could not ride, falling to the ground as he attempted to mount his horse. His son Victor remained to care for him, renting a room in the Tom Hall Hotel. The Baldwin Felts detectives arrived on the scene swiftly and arrested the senior Allen and locked both he and Victor in the county jail. Kinfolk and others involved in the courthouse shooting in Hillsville fled and took up hiding. The detectives had difficulty ferreting them out as the locals had knowledge of practically every nook and cranny. They had hunted in the area since they were youngsters.

Claude Allen feared that he, his father and other family members wouldn’t receive a fair trial in Hillsville.  They were heartened somewhat upon learning that the trials would be separate and held in Wytheville, VA., though only thirty miles away.

Floyd Allen’s trial for the slaying of Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorney William Foster began the following month on April 30, 1912. The hands of justice moved quicker in that era. The jury returned from deliberations again and again saying they couldn’t reach a decision. Floyd was dubious at the outset but became more confident with each pronouncement of no verdict. He had been found guilty in cases back in Carroll County before but the judges imposed fines when he was unwilling to turn himself in to accept incarceration. Finally on May 18th the jury reported they were hopelessly deadlocked. The Allens were elated.

Walter R. Staples, who had been appointed county judge, implored them to return and bring themselves to an agreement, to a just verdict. Later that afternoon the jury returned with a verdict. It shocked Floyd Allen and members of his family.

“Guilty,” the foreman of the jury proclaimed, causing a buzz throughout the courtroom and southwest Virginia for that matter. Death would be the penalty. Floyd was hopeful for freedom one minute, his hopes were dashed the next.

His son Claude Allen was tried for the murder Judge Thornton L. Massie with the trial commencing two days later. The judgment of the jury was that the prosecution did not show proof of premeditation. Claude was then tried for the murder of Commonwealth Attorney William Foster. The jury was unable to reach an agreement and the jury members were dismissed.

Another jury was impaneled and Claude was again tried for the murder of William Foster. This was prior to the implementation of “double jeopardy.”  On this occasion a guilty verdict was brought in and he was sentenced to the death penalty.  Claude and his father were now both on death row.

“Floyd, both you and Claude have been charged with the murder of four men and one woman,” Judge Staples directed at them. “For the murder of one of these men, each of you have been separately tried and convicted. The Court of Justice in Hillsville, sitting for the enforcement of law and the protection of society, has been almost entirely destroyed. That was done by you and your associates. This cannot be denied.

“Judge Massie, a peaceful man and pure in character, was shot three times where he sat helpless and inoffensive. The Attorney for the Commonwealth of Virginia was shot five times. The sheriff, who was in the act of taking you, Floyd Allen, into custody, was shot six times, falling where he stood when your defiance of the law was uttered. The juror was shot in his seat. These four men and a woman were all killed. A second juror was shot as he retreated and the Clerk was shot very near his desk.

“It was done by you and your associates with a quickness and accuracy of aim and action…. acting under the impulse of surprise. Twelve patient, honest, conscientious gentlemen have unanimously concurred in the conclusion that there is no reasonable doubt as to the facts establishing your guilt. The evidence overwhelmingly sustains these verdicts.

“You, Floyd Allen, were in the custody of the law and ordered to jail when you uttered your defiance of authority. Without the least surprise or hesitation, your associates instantly began with you this deadly work; began with a promptness and pursued it with persistence and effectiveness.

“You have contended that the Chief Clerk of the Court, while you were in custody, opened fire on you. You failed to show any motive for such conduct and there is scarcely a scintilla of evidence to confirm this charge.

“It is the judgment of this court that you be taken to the prison and there on November 22, 1912, be put to death. Through your sincere repentance and mediation of our Saviour, may each of you receive mercy.” Copyright 2017 Jadon Gibson

Editor’s note: Mr. Gibson states the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency had a difficult task of finding and arresting the wanted men . Jadon Gibson is a widely read Appalachian writer from Harrogate, TN. His writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read periodically at Don’t miss a single segment!

A Voice for God – a voice for good

My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. I developed a scaly, itchy rash in the center of my upper chest toward the end of 1998. I saw a doctor, then another, but the prescribed medication didn’t help and the rash grew. It itched even more. I was recommended to see a specialist in Knoxville but his prescribed medications didn’t help either.

It spread to different parts of my body. It was especially bad on my hands, legs and feet. It was unbelievable. My feet split just like they had been sliced with a knife and in other places too. My legs still have faint scars in the area of my knees. The rash became widespread.

The itching was intense and incessant. I took all prescribed medications and tried numerous over the counter products, both topical and bathing solutions. Although it gave me some temporary comfort nothing seemed to help.

I couldn’t keep from scratching, especially while I was asleep. I rubbed the prescribed medication on my hands and body. The ointment evaporated or rubbed off my hands and would soon be gone. Chris, my wife, got latex gloves for my hands and it allowed the medication to last for a long time even though I was working.

Our corporation, Gibson Productions Inc., produced 214 shows with the top acts in bluegrass and a few of the top country artists. I always met the attendees at the ticket counter to “shake and howdy.” I wore the latex gloves of course. When it was time for me to introduce the band on stage I held the mic in one hand and raised the gloved hand and said something to the effect, “I’m not trying to impersonate Michael Jackson. The gloves are to keep my medication from rubbing off.” The reference to Michael Jackson brought chuckles from the crowd.

I saw Dr. Alexander in Pineville who had a great reputation for helping individuals with skin problems. After entering the examination room I had so much loose skin throughout my body it came off in mass with only a small rubbing. When the nurse came in to ask the preliminary questions she saw all of the skin on the floor and then looked up to the ceiling as though it may have come from there.

When an individual loses much of their skin they turn red. It looks as though they’ve been in the sun or tanning bed too long. I recall Chris and I having Sunday lunch at Pine Mountain State Park near Pineville, Ky, after church during that time period. Good friends Phil Odell and his wife were there. Rosanna couldn’t get over my redness and took a picture of Chris and I together. I’m very red in the pic.

Skin ailments of this nature are extremely dangerous. A person’s skin is one of their most important organs. Mine was in a terrible state. Drastic conditions probably require drastic treatment and Dr. Alexander gave me a series of methotrexate injections. Blood work was done throughout this time to monitor other body functions.

I had to drag my body around for a few days during the treatment. Losing my skin and the worry about it also caused me to grow very tired.  I recall being so beleagured after the late stages of our show with Russell Moore & Third Tyme Out, I just sat there with my eyes closed. On this one occasion my right hand man at our shows, Mitchell Cosby, followed us home and carried the show items inside. I was so tired I simply fell across our bed without changing clothes, turning down the sheets or even getting under them. Several restful hours later I woke up, donned my pjs and climbed under the covers

I know I prayed to God to intercede on my behalf. I have always done so at the most serious times in my life. This was certainly one of those. Then on a damp, foggy evening I received an omen from God.

The heavy clouds caused an early darkness in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park as we walked on the sidewalk from the Visitors Center toward Cumberland Mountain. My face was becoming damp from the foggy dew in the air. As I looked up I saw a large cross ahead. It was as clear as day and caused me to feel tremendously refreshed.

Let me say there is a lit cross on a nearby Middlesboro hillside. It looks down on the city and can be seen while driving eastward down Cumberland Avenue at night. It cannot be seen from the sidewalk where we were walking however yet I saw a large cross in the air.

I had an appointment with Dr. Alexander in Pineville the following morning. It was a nice, cool morning but the sun was bright. My mother was our neighbor and she lived about 100 yards away. As I passed her home she stepped onto her porch and gave me a beautiful caring smile. The Harrogate post office is about a mile from home and by the time I passed there at least 5 or more others could easily be seen from my vehicle conveying what seemed like Heavenly greetings. It was as though my prayers were being answered. Everything was perfect as I continued on to Pineville.

When Dr. Alexander examined me he immediately saw a vast improvement. He called it to my attention and when I looked at my chest I could readily see where my red, scaly skin was being overtaken by brand new baby skin. It was exactly the opposite of what happened to me a few months before. The improvement continued. Where I had terrible red, itchy, flaky skin it was replaced by new “baby-like skin.”

It was like a miracle. The skin is one of our most important organs and the break-down of mine could easily have led to my demise. Soon I was covered with the healthiest skin. I still have evidence of where my body split in some places but my new skin was new and supple.

Dr. Alexander said the problem could possibly recur but it’s been over 17 years now. Let’s knock on wood so perhaps it won’t. No, let’s not do that! That’s archaic… too much like giving credit for my improvement to black magic. Let’s give credit where it belongs… to my good Lord in Heaven. He has been so good to me! He will be good to you as well if you keep Him in your heart and thank Him for his graces. Thank you Lord!

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