Public Memory, Historical Silence, and Appalachia's Most Notorious Shoot-Out
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Imprint: The University Press of Kentucky
Sales Date: 04/11/2023
"What did happen here there have been so many tales and outright lies told. It has been hard to see through the smoke to see the truth. Now memory, memory is like a loaded pistol it can turn again who's a-holdin' it."—J. Sidna Allen in Thunder in the Hills by Frank Levering
On March 14, 1912, Hillsville, Virginia, native Floyd Allen (1856–1913) was convicted of three criminal charges: assault, maiming, and the rescue of prisoners in custody. What had begun as a scuffle between Allen's nephews over a young woman ended with him being charged as the guilty party after he allegedly hit a deputy in the head with a pistol. When the jury returned with the verdict, Allen stood up and announced, "Gentleman, I ain't a-goin." A gunfight ensued in the crowded courtroom which claimed the lives of the judge, prosecuting attorney, sheriff, a juror, and a witness, and wounded seven other people. The men of the Allen family fled the scene, but detectives from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency apprehended the men two months later. The state of Virginia put Floyd and Claude Allen to death by electrocution the following spring.
Within days of the shoot-out, local and national media sensationalized the event, maligning the Allen men as rough, uncouth residents of impoverished Appalachia. More than a century later, the "Hillsville Massacre"—as it was dubbed—continues to impact the citizens and communities of the area as local newspapers recirculate the sordid story and give credence to annual public reenactments that continue to negatively impact the national perception of the region.
Hillsville Remembered: Public Memory, Historical Silence, and Appalachia's Most Notorious Shoot-Out is the first book-length scholarly review of the Hillsville Massacre. This comprehensive study examines a variety of sources written about and inspired by the event and casts light on how the incident helped reinforce the nation's conception of the region through depictions of this sensational moment in history. Author Travis A. Rountree uses rhetorical analyses to trace and reflect on the texts and contexts surrounding the events that have been reported, preserved, interpreted, and reinterpreted with different voices in various formats. In all, this book provides an extensive analysis of the Hillsville Massacre and reveals new understandings of the production of memories and stories that evolved from the event.
1. 'The Many Untruths': Newspaper Accounts of the Hillsville Shoot-Out
2. Performing Hillsville: Rhetorical Discourse on the Allen Ballads
3. Performing Hillsville: A Rhetorical Update of Frank Levering's Shoot-Out Plays
4. 'Feelings Are Still Very Strong': Sites of Public Memory in Hillsville, Virginia
5. 'I Wish You Had Not Thought to Come Here': Feminine Silences, Pleas, and Community Rhetorics from the 1912 Hillsville, Virginia Courthouse Shoot-Out
6. Conclusion: Hillsville Remembered
Rountree has written a timely, nuanced consideration of how we remember and pass on our histories. This book my focus on the Hillsville courthouse shoot-out, but its examination is relevant to any event that makes its way into the cultural imagination. Rountree makes the case that history shapes us, not just because of what happens but because of how those stories get told—and why we tell them the ways that we do.~Amanda Hayes, Associate Professor of English, Kent State University at Tuscarawas
Until now, serious academic research on the notorious Hillsville shoot-out of 1912 has been sparse. Rountree's work makes an important, worthwhile contribution to the field of Appalachian studies by separating and compartmentalizing the competing, and often contradictory, rhetoric(s) of remembering. Fiercely argued and brilliantly crafted, this book is a must for those interested in rhetoric's connection to Appalachian history.~Todd D. Snyder, author of The Rhetoric of Appalachian Identity and 12 Rounds in Lo's Gym: Boxing and Manhood in Appalachia
In Hillsville Remembered, Travis A. Rountree examines the public memory of the 'Hillsville Massacre,' a gun battle that left five dead in a courtroom in Carroll County, Virginia, in 1912. Sparked by local politics and personal rivalries, the shoot-out briefly became a national sensation, with newspapers treating the killings as evidence of the supposed backwardness of rural white communities in southern Appalachia. Rountree analyzes multiple representations of the event, from folk ballads to contemporary museum exhibits and a remarkable community play performed in the courtroom where the shootings took place. In vivid detail, he shows how both locals and outsiders have engaged with images of Appalachian violence. These acts of memory have often amplified debilitating stereotypes of the region from the era when Americans first defined Appalachia as Other. Yet, as Rountree demonstrates, when remembering is rooted in community experience, these performances also hold the promise of transcendence and healing.~Andrew Denson, author of Monuments to Absence: Cherokee Removal and the Contest over Southern Memory