New courthouse tragedy items on display at Carroll Museum

By Allen Worrell

March 14, 2014

The suit juror Augustus Fowler was wearing when he was shot on March 14, 1912 during the Carroll County Courthouse Tragedy is one of several items currently on loan to Carroll County Historical Society Museum.

Floyd Allen’s saddle bag, Wesley Edwards’ hat, and an old jail lock are among other items on loan at the Hillsville museum during the duration of local playwright Frank Levering’s “Thunder in the Hills” play, which concludes April 6. The story focuses on the main characters involved in the events that led to the tragic shootout in the courthouse on March 14, 1912 and their families in the aftermath of that fateful day.

What began as Floyd Allen’s trial for illegally taking his two nephews from the custody of deputies turned into a bloodbath that day after Allen was sentenced to a year in jail. ‘Gentlemen, I just ain’t a going,’ Allen reportedly said that day before the gunfight broke out.

Among those killed were Judge Thorton Massie, Sheriff Lewis Webb, Commonwealth’s Attorney William Foster, Fowler, and Betty Ayers, a witness. Floyd Allen and his son, Claude, were executed a year later, while Floyd’s brother, Sidna Allen, was sentenced to 35 years in prison. The two nephews that triggered the events leading up to the episode, Sidna and Wesley Edwards, and another nephew, Friel Allen, were all sentenced to lengthy prison terms as well.

Key among the items on loan is the suit Fowler was wearing on March 14, 1912 when he was shot. He died two days later. The display includes Fowler’s suspenders, hat, coat, pants, a vest and a pocketknife. Also on loan are Wesley Edward’s hat, Floyd Allen’s saddle bag, and the old jailhouse lock removed from the local jail by the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency when they rode into Hillsville looking for those involved in the shootout.

“One of the first things T.L. Felts did when he arrived in Hillsville was change the locks on the jailhouse door for security reasons,” the display reads. “A few years prior to the courthouse shooting, Floyd Allen had been a deputy sheriff.”

While all 13 performances of Thunder in the Hills are sold out, the loaned items add to an impressive collection of artifacts related to the infamous courthouse tragedy, including intricate furniture wood-workings and carvings made by Sidna Allen while he was in prison. Also on display are a model of the inside of the courthouse depicting the tragedy’s events, an amazing handmade model of the Sidna Allen home made by Ed Zimmerman of Pennsylvania recently, and a gold medal presented to Jezebel Goad, daughter of Dexter Goad, by the governor’s wife, Mrs. William Hodges Mann, for her bravery in the courthouse shootings.

“These pieces are so interesting,” said Shelby Inscore-Puckett, a long-time Carroll County historian who has played a large role in putting on the play. “The Augustus Fowler ones, I think, are particularly interesting. I have never seen that suit. And we’ve had a very successful play. We started out with 10 performances scheduled and we had to add three more. All 13 sold out with a long waiting list for people to come. It’s something people are interested in and I hope they will figure a way to make this an ongoing thing in the county.”

Another new item, a jewelry box made and signed by Wesley Edwards, was recently given to the Carroll Museum by Chris Brooke. Puckett explained that Brooke owned the house the belonged to Swanson Shockley in the upper end of Hillsville. There, Brooke found a collection Shockley and his wife had collected over the years related to the courthouse tragedy.

“One of the things he found was this box from Wesley Edwards. Chris is getting ready to move out of state and he said as much as he treasured that box, he thought it should stay in Carroll County with the story,” Puckett said. “Ron Hall said one way to authenticate Wesley Edwards’ boxes is he always had two hands clasped in friendship, and one would usually be in what they call prison gray. This one has that.”

While serving a 27-year prison sentence for two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder for involvement in the Carroll County Courthouse Tragedy, Edwards made several decorative jewelry boxes. The example donated by Brooke is believed to have been made for Henry Kyle Lindsey of Carroll County, a juror the day of the tragedy.

Puckett said t-shirts are also for sale at the museum with photos of the Sidna Allen Home in Fancy Gap. The shirts are available in gray, pink and gold.

“Proceeds go to the Allen House Restoration Fund. We are calling it Rescuing a Dream because Sidna Allen refers in his book multiple times to building his dream house,” Puckett said.

Short sleeve shirts are available for $10, while long-sleeved shirts are $15. Postcards featuring the Allen Home have been donated by Tom Bell and are also available for purchase, with proceeds going to the house project.

Allen Worrell can be reached by calling (276) 728-7311 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN