Much of rural Virginia was filled with highwaymen, desperados, and outlaws in 1869. The collapse of authority following the Civil War became perceived as license for criminal acts. Lawrence Nutting was a U.S. Marshall in Southern Virginia. Despite widespread crime and the surge in bad men, Nutting’s primary focus was on a career desperado named Ruloff Allen. Allen wasn’t just any outlaw. He was a tremendous success who ran an organized operation. He owned stills throughout the region and was always one step ahead of the authorities.
Nutting worked at his desk one day when a strange man dressed in black entered his office. When the stranger handed him a cigar, he noticed two revolvers on his belt. He declared himself to be none other than Ruloff Allen. Nutting laughed. He knew what Allen looked like and the man before him was nothing remotely close. The stranger then removed a black wig, a false beard, and fake teeth. Nutting then caught a glimpse of a jagged scar across his chin and knew it was Allen.
The outlaw stated, “I’m armed, you aren’t, and I’m as desperate a man as you’ve heard.” Allen said he came to the office for a gentlemanly discussion and the disguise was mandatory. He asked for 15 minutes to escape after they finished the talk. Nutting, still shocked from the confrontation, consented. Allen removed the gun belt, “Your word is equal to mine. We’ll be unarmed. I would like to tell you a story.”
Allen discussed life as an immoral and dangerous man. He only lusted for money for five years and, unlike most of his associates, he achieved the dream. He was wealthy beyond anything he imagined, but the life of an outlaw wasn’t worth it. He just wanted normality and stability. He wanted to live his life as any other man.
He declared he would turn his stills over to the government if they just allowed him to live as a law-abiding man and not an outlaw. He would be responsible and productive. He added that he would gladly pay $5,000 for an official pardon, which would be over $87,630 today.
Nutting wouldn’t hear of it. He adamantly refused. Allen laughed and declared they were enemies. He hurriedly assumed his disguise and rushed from Nutting’s office. In his rush, however, he dropped a small metallic object. It went unnoticed until the next day, when a servant cleaned the floor and found it. It was a silver bullet. Nutting was fascinated by the object, but dismissed its importance.
The servant cautioned him. He said the devil cared for his own, and silver bullets were made with his help. The object was a “suicide bullet.” Allen must’ve carried it as a precaution. He said the silver bullets were only made in a cemetery at night. They were charmed so they couldn’t miss. Nutting loaded it in his pistol and joked about it being effective if he felt depressed. The servant remained grim and said, “It’ll only kill the person it’s made for.”
Nutting dismissed the claim. He put the gun in his desk and returned to work. His pursuit of Allen continued. He finally got a viable lead and prepared his men for the ambush. The night before their attack, he finished paperwork in his office.
An old woman unexpectedly entered his office, bent with age and infirmity. She said she was tired. The mountains had grown steep in the past 40 years. She said she had some business with him so he offered her the seat across from him. She told him her name was Bethsheby Allen, Ruloff’s mother. She knew they were raiding her son’s camp the next morning. She came to beg for her son’s life. Nutting again refused, and stated he’d committed too many crimes.
Mrs. Allen quieted a moment. She then asked what they would do with her son when caught. Nutting wouldn’t answer at first, unsure of how to respond. It was common knowledge that the sentence for Allen’s deeds would be hanging.
In an instant, the little woman took off her glasses and stood straight. Again, Ruloff stood before him. He had a gun pointed at Nutting. He declared he came to offer Nutting one last opportunity to accept his offer. He refused, and that made them enemies. He had 3 minutes to say his prayers and make his peace.
He recalled the gun he’d put away with the silver bullet. It was just lying in the open drawer below his hand. He asked Allen if he could smoke one last time. Ruloff agreed and lowered his weapon. Nutting grabbed the pistol and fired. Despite the bad aim and lack of time for steadiness, the bullet seemed to have a life of its own and went straight into Allen’s chest.
The outlaw was instantly killed.