Lobsters and the Carroll County shootout

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By John Barnhart

Lobsters and the Carroll County Courthouse shootout were topics of a Bedford Kiwanis Club meeting last week.

The two have nothing to do with each other. Scott Carter, of American National Bank, was on hand to present a $1,000 sponsorship check to the club for Lobsterfest.

April Messier, a club member, was there to talk about the shootout.

"We're going to talk about blazing guns," she said.

When Messier talks about blazing guns, she's usually talking about D-Day. She's the National D-Day Foundation's education director. However, she loves history. She has a master's degree in the subject and a great interest in Appalachian history. While working on her master's, she did research on the shootout, which took place in Hillsville in the early spring of 1912.

To this day, folks in Carroll County are still touchy about it. Stories about who did what are a bit confused.

Messier noted 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 a red ear 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 Messier.

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

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.

The shootout made national headlines and Messier said most of them portrayed the area in a highly inaccurate, negative way. Appalachian people were described as degenerate, uneducated ruffians. The Baltimore Evening News suggested that the only remedy was "education or extermination."

Some news articles described Floyd Allen as living in a shack. Actually, he was wealthy and lived in large house with fine woodwork and stained glass. It had electricity, running water and a telephone.

Sensationalist newspaper stories of the day portrayed the people of the area as ignorant and isolated, even though Carroll County had two high schools and 91 elementary schools at the time, providing a fair degree of literacy. Farmers used the Norfolk and Western Railroad to do business out of state. There were banks and telephones.

Messier said that newspaper stories created a perception of the Appalachian region that still persists today. It's still politically correct to poke fun at the region.

Along with a passion for history, Messier has another interest in the story. She is related to the Carroll County Allens through her mother.

"It think both sides are really to blame," she said.

As for the lobsters

Lobsterfest is scheduled for Oct. 4, from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. at the Welcome Center. According to John Messier, who serves as chairman of the Lobsterfest as well as April's husband, this is a major fundraiser for the club. Proceeds support local youth groups, including Safe Haven and the Bedford Community Resource Center's Christmas Station. Contact John Messier at 586-8855 for tickets or information about the Bedford Kiwanis Club. The club was founded in February, 2002, and now has 25 members. It meets at noon on the second and fourth Tuesday's of each month.