Tag Archives: Floyd Allen

Mythology of the Allen Clan

Photo of Claude Allen from the Times-Dispatch Dec. 12, 1912

As the date of execution of Floyd and Claude Allen approached, public support for the doomed men grew. Many people believed Floyd and Claude were no guiltier than the other Allens involved in the courthouse shooting and thought execution an unfair punishment.  It was also brought to light that other people in the courtroom, like Dexter Goad, were probably just as responsible for the five deaths as any of the Allen men. Petitions pleading for executive clemency were submitted to the governor with tens of thousands of signatures. Richard Byrd, Reverend George W. McDaniel and US Senator Claude A. Swanson joined the fight to stop the executions, but Governor Mann, a steadfast supporter of capital punishment, was unsympathetic to the condemned men.

The date of execution was set for March 28, 1913; however on March 27, 1913 a strange turn of events occurred that almost prevented it. While Governor Mann was traveling to New Jersey, the Allen defense team asked Lieutenant Governor J. Ellyson to act as chief executive in Mann’s absence to commute the sentences. Ellyson conferred with Attorney General Samuel Williams and postponed the execution in order to settle the question on the constitutionality of commutation in Mann’s absence. When Mann heard the news of what was going on back in Virginia, he headed back on the first train and ordered the execution be carried out that afternoon. On March 28, 1913 at around 1:30 p.m. Floyd was executed in Virginia’s electric chair. According to the Rice Belt Journal, Floyd Allen “still limping from the wounds he received in the Hillsville court house battle, said the last tearful farewell to his boy and went with the prison guards to the death chamber. A groan escaped him while … read more »


“Hillsville Massacre” in the News

The New York World March 14, 1912

The dramatic courtroom incident, coined variously the “Hillsville Massacre” and the “Courthouse Tragedy,” immediately became a huge news story and newspapers nationwide covered it in colorful, and often inaccurate, detail. For several weeks after the courthouse shooting, front pages in Virginia dailies like the Times Dispatch and the Rockingham Daily Record obsessively covered events surrounding the Allen clan with large photos and in depth articles on their front pages.

Allen Gang photo from the Day Book April 29, 1912

A story like the “Hillsville Massacre” was perfect fodder for contemporary newspapers, as the early twentieth century papers were undergoing a dramatic transformation from their staid precursors. As the nineteenth century came to a close, advanced industrialization and better public education created an exponentially growing audience of newspaper readers. Publishers realized newspapers could be a lucrative medium not only to inform, but also to entertain. At this time two important newspaper men, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, catered to this ever growing audience through new journalistic techniques still used in newspapers today. The fierce competition between Pulitzer’s World and Hearst‘s New York Journal led to innovations to attract readers such as the heavy use of photographs and illustrations, bold headlines and dramatic coverage of often gruesome and spectacular events. In many cases, facts were altered to make stories more sensational.

The Floyd Allen story was perfectly suited for the newspapers of 1912, both for how it read and for its abundant visual offerings so it is no surprise that the court room shoot out was heavily publicized in newspapers across the nation.  The nature of the crime, the story’s setting, its aftermath and the men involved offered a tantalizing ongoing saga to curious newspaper readers.  Undeniably, it was attention-grabbing that such a … read more »


100 Years Ago — Law and Disorder

This month marks the 100th anniversary of events surrounding the Allen family and the infamous “Hillsville Massacre.” The sensational coverage and gripping photos of the characters and events surrounding the courtroom shooting captured America’s imagination in 1912 and until the sinking of the Titanic a month later, the “Hillsville Massacre” took up a good deal of front page copy in newspapers across the country.  In the coming days, to mark the anniversary, the Virginia Newspaper Project will feature entries on the events and people involved accompanied by front pages, articles and photos from newspapers in the collection of the Library of Virginia and from the digital newspaper resource, Chronicling America.

To find out more about the “Hillsville Massacre,” please visit Out of the Box, the official blog of the  Archives Division at the Library of Virginia.

The front pages shown below represent only a small sample of the newspapers that covered the story across the nation, many of them reporting on the massacre the same day it happened. These pages can be found at Chronicling America.

Carroll County Virginia

In 1912, Carroll County, Virginia was a sparsely populated Appalachian farming region with few modern conveniences. Located in the southwestern part of the state and bordering North Carolina, it had no paved roads and only a single phone line connecting Hillsville, its county seat, to nearby Galax, Virginia. Its remote location and lack of modern convenience made it a world unto itself.  On March 14, 1912, however, tragedy propelled this small farming community into the national spotlight when Carroll County native Floyd Allen, a prominent businessman and large land owner, became the central character in a controversial courtroom shooting that left five dead and seven wounded.

Events leading up to the courtroom shooting had taken place more … read more »