William D. Nichols, 35, car builder, died saving Lee Huffman, 40, blacksmith’s helper, from suffocation, Lenoir City, Tennessee, September 29, 1921. Huffman was overcome by gas in a well 45 feet deep. After two men had attempted to rescue Huffman, Nichols, in a box tied to a rope, was lowered into the well. The rope was not strong, and Nichols detached it and put it around Huffman, who was drawn to the surface. Nichols was then overcome. After he had been in the well an hour and a half, a man descended, wearing a gas mask, and put a rope around Nichols. He was raised to the surface but could not be revived. Huffman recovered. 21863-1705
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Fully a thousand men, women, and children of this city and vicinity attended the funeral of their late heroic citizen, Will D. Nichols, who gave his life in order to save his friend and neighbor. From his humble home in the Highland Park section, there was a string of automobiles, buggies and pedestrians that extended almost a mile back toward Lenoir City (Tenn.). Not for many years has there been a death in this community that so affected the people, such admiration and sorrow being manifested by them. Ever since the fatal hour, the people have gathered at his little two-room cottage to extend their sympathy and give of their means to the widowed wife and five small daughters.
Mr. Nichols was an employee of the Lenoir Car Works, which has announced its intention of resuming operations at an early date, and while waiting a call to work, was helping his neighbor, Mr. Lee Huffman, dig a well on the Huffman place.
They were at work, being assisted by Harvey Wyrick, it being their custom for each man to take turn about. Mr. Huffman was the first to descend into the well, being let down in a box fastened with a rope. Huffman had hardly begun work when he felt the effects of the carbonic gas and called for the rope that he might ascend. The rope was let down to him, but by the time, he was helpless from the gas and could not tie the rope around himself. Seeing that Mr. Huffman was helpless, Wyrick, being light in weight, descended to a depth of about 40 feet and was compelled to ascend before he reached Huffman. By this time another neighbor, P.D. Johnson, appeared on the scene and he also endeavored to descend, but like Wyrick, was forced to retreat on account of the gas.
In the meantime, Mr. Huffman had become limp and unconscious. Mr. Nichols, on account of his weighing about 200 pounds, had allowed the two lighter men to precede him in the attempt to save Huffman. When they failed, he said, “Boys, we can’t let the man die; fix the rope and I’ll go after him.” Nichols went down as the two men watched, gasping for breath. As he approached Huffman at the bottom of the well, 46 feet below, Nichols was seen exerting all his weakened strength in tying the rope around Huffman, having fallen to his knees after tying the last knot and uttering his last words, “Hurry, boys.” Huffman was then brought to the top in an almost lifeless condition. By this time, quite a crowd had gathered and someone suggested that a gas mask might be used in an attempt to save Nichols. Finally, a mask was obtained, being put on by Frank Nelson, who went into the well and brought Nichols out, apparently dead. Drs. Leeper, Padget, and Mourfield worked faithfully for an hour and a half but in vain.
The funeral was conducted at the Muddy Creek Church by the Rev. W.R. Gates. The church was filled to overflowing with the sorrowing relatives and friends of the brave young man.
He was a Christian, and at the service the Sunday before his death, he made the statement that he was ready to go when his Master called him.
He now sleeps beneath the honeysuckles surrounded by the cedars and mighty oak on the eastern slope of Muddy Creek Cemetery, which shall stand as monuments to the man who gave his life for a friend, in compliance with his Master’s desire. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend.”
(Note: The primary information is from a story, headlined “Hundreds Attend Funeral of Hero,” provided by a family member. The newspaper and its publication date were not provided. A family member further stated that Nichols’s World War I draft registration form listed him as a farmer. A stocky man for his time, he had been proclaimed the “Stoutest Man in Loudon County.”)