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Death row sculpture

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Local man has artwork of man convicted in Carroll County Courthouse shootout

By John Barnhart

hat do you do when you’re on death row, waiting to take your seat in the electric chair?

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    If you were Floyd Allen, one of two men convicted and executed for murder in what’s sometimes known as the Hillsville massacre or Carroll County Courthouse shootout, you made a fairly elaborate wooden sculpture.

    R. H. Nance, a Bedford County resident, recently purchased this sculpture from a man in Lynchburg he has known for years. This man, according to Nance, has had the sculpture for 40 years. The shooting, which occurred in 1912, is of deep interest to him because his great-aunt, Maggie McManaway, was a courthouse employee there.

    “She was a small woman, never weighed more than 90 pounds all her life,” Nance said.

    McManaway was 22 back then. Nance said that she was seated right behind Sheriff Lewis Webb when Allen shot him between the eyes. She took cover beneath a table until the shooting stopped.

    Nance said the event so terrified her that she never held a public job again. According to Nance, when the Allens went on trial in Wytheville, she dodged a summons to court. Her family would see the sheriff coming at a distance, hustle her out the back of the house and hide her in the woods.

    “She was scared it would happen again,” he said.

    She did, however, collect every newspaper clipping she could find on the shooting and saved it in a scrapbook. Nance said that, in later years, she stayed with his grandmother.

    “When I was young, and went up there, there was nobody to play with,” he said. “I’d take out the scrap books and read them.”

    She died in 1957 when Nance was 20.

    In 2007,  April Cheek-Messier made a presentation on the shooting to the Bedford Kiwanis Club.  Cheek-Messier has a master’s degree in history from Virginia Tech and researched the shooting while working on her degree.

     Cheek-Messier said that it all started with a red ear of corn. According to a tradition, the person who found a red ear of corn at a corn shucking got to kiss the girl of his choice. A young man found one and kissed a girl who happened to be the girlfriend of another young man. This, in turn, led to a brawl involving six young men outside a church on a Sunday morning. Two, Wesley and Sidna Edwards were charged with disturbing a church service.

    They were nephews of Floyd Allen, a prominent man in Carroll County. Allen told them to cross the state line, while he took care of things. However, there had been a history of animosity between the Allen family and the county court administration dating back 20  years. Furthermore, the Allens were Democrats and the court administration was controlled by Republicans. Court officials sent deputies who arrested the two young men and brought them back to Carroll County.

    Once in Carroll County, they took the young men on an indirect route to the jail, passing in front of Allen’s home. This appeared to be a deliberate attempt to humiliate the Allen family and Floyd Allen came out of his house and, after a confrontation with the deputies, took his nephews to jail himself.

    Allen was charged with interfering with officers. He was found guilty and on March 14, 1912, the day of his sentencing, the courtroom was packed.

    “Everybody, and I mean everybody, carried weapons,” said  Cheek-Messier.

    Allen was sentenced to a year in jail and was refused bond. A shot rang out.

    Cheek-Messier said that nobody present that day knew who fired the first shot, but everybody went for their weapon. The judge, whose seat placed him in the middle of the ensuing firefight, was shot six times and died.  Five in all were killed, including two people who were there for another case. Seven were wounded.

    Floyd and other members of the Allen family present fled, but were later captured. Floyd and Claude Allen ultimately became the first two electrocuted in “Old Sparky” in Richmond. Others got long prison sentences.

    Nance says that he was told Floyd fired the first shot — rising, wheeling around and shooting the sheriff, who he thought was the only one with a gun. He said that the Allens had sent home for guns that night and it turned out that all court employees had guns that day.

    Nance has a couple of ideas of what the sculpture was meant to represent. One possibility  is Floyd’s house. Floyd Allen had a substantial, two story house with fine woodwork, and the staircase in the sculpture looks like the staircase in Allen’s house. Nance has also suggested that it may represent the courthouse.

    By the way,  Maggie McManaway’s family sided with the Allens in the dispute.