Congressman Griffith’s Weekly E-Newsletter 4.29.24

Thunder in the Hills

Recently I attended “Thunder in the Hills”, a play based off the infamous 1912 Carroll County Courthouse shootout, performed at the Courthouse.


Carroll County and the nation were rocked by the March 14, 1912 shootout. Newspapermen from all across the country flocked to the region to cover events. Until the sinking of the Titanic, this was the nation’s top story.


“The Courthouse Tragedy” emanated from a trial involving Floyd Allen, a descendant of one of the oldest families of Carroll County. Floyd had accosted a Carroll County Deputy officer attempting to turn in two of Floyd’s nephews.


Upon Allen’s conviction, bedlam erupted in the Carroll County Courthouse. Dozens of bullets flew inside the courtroom. The community and the Commonwealth could not believe what had happened.


The shootout claimed five lives, including a Judge, the Commonwealth’s Attorney and Sheriff.


Some members of the so-called “Allen Clan” were taken into custody quickly and tried. Sidna Allen and his nephew would be captured six months later in Iowa. Floyd and his son, Claude, were executed.  Sidna Allen was sentenced to thirty-five years (in 1926, he was pardoned).


To this day, people from all over Virginia and the country remain interested in the incident. Families on both sides are still sensitive about the disputed events. At the memorial service I attended in 2012, some surviving family members of those who died in this tragedy traveled to Hillsville from as far away as New England. 


My connection comes from my great-grandmother of Rockbridge County.  She and her Bible study group traveled to Richmond to pray with inmates at Libby prison, including Sidna Allen.


While in prison, Sidna focused on woodworking and building furniture in order to sell items to support his family.


During my great-grandmother’s visit, she purchased a box made by Allen.  Written inside is, ‘Made by J. Sidna Allen, $5.’


My grandmother handed the box down to me a few years before she died.


Since elected to Congress, I have displayed the box in my DC office.


The Carroll County Historical Society Museum features a collection of Sidna Allen’s work: tables, treasure and jewelry boxes. His woodworking style reflected folk marquetry, creating intricate designs in his wooden objects.


As we look back on this incident, it’s important to remember that we learn little about the past by attempting to apply modern law and mores.  Romance, politics, power, and family honor all merged to become a lethal powder keg in this tragic event.


The play was extremely well done. I was mesmerized by the performance. This same group has performed “Thunder in the Hills” every few years since 2012.


They say this is it. But I for one hope they will do it again or that maybe the Barter Theatre will pick up the production in the future.


Amongst the excellent cast was my former colleague in the Virginia House of Delegates, Tom Jackson. He played Floyd Allen and was superb. After the play, he showed me both Floyd Allen’s pocket watch which he carried throughout the performance, and the lawbooks in the old courthouse’s library which belonged to Commonwealth Attorney William Foster, who was killed in the shootout, and Dexter Goad, the Circuit Court Clerk, who was injured.


I should also mention that Martha Goad was played by Cynthia Jackson, Tom’s wife, who was at Emory & Henry College while I was there. There were many outstanding performances and I do not believe I have ever seen a better cast.


As the play shows, the story has always been complicated. At Sidna Allen’s death, the Lynchburg Newspaper wrote, “The Allens have just about proved their theory of their defense.  That they were not all fundamentally bad men, but men for whom fate, in a bad hour, set a vicious stage.” 


In a like manner, Carroll County is a good place that more than 100 years ago found itself thrust by fate, in a bad hour, into a vicious set of circumstances.  Let us hope that this may never occur again.


Sidna’s old house in Carroll County remains today. Located just outside Fancy Gap, the Queen Anne style house is an iconic Carroll landmark. In 1974, the house was designated for the National Register of Historic Places.


A portion of the play’s ticket sales go to the J. Sidna Allen House Restoration project. Contributions can be sent to the charitable organization at:


J. Sidna Allen Home

c/o Carroll County Historical Society and Museum

P.O. Box 937

Hillsville, VA 24343.


You may also visit to make an online donation via PayPal.


If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671.  To reach my office via email, please visit my website at



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