by Betty Pepper Craiglow
Grapevine, Texas, USA
My grandmother and I were on the back porch at my parents’ home in Louisiana where the extended family was gathered for Sunday dinner. Suddenly, we heard cries from the back yard. We ran outside, looking frantically for the source, and discovered a newly opened-up hole in the ground, about 28 inches across, where grass growing across the top hid a spring-fed well underneath. For years my father had been filling in the unused well with dirt and debris. Down this awful hole we could see only the head of my 20-month-old nephew, David, above the leaf mold, muck and water in the well.
I ran to the back door of the house and yelled inside, “David’s fallen in a well!” My husband and David’s father were right behind me as I ran back to David. Looking around the yard for something to use to reach him, about 15 feet down in the well, I saw an old garden hose but dismissed it as being too weak to hold anyone’s weight. My grandmother and I must have been making a terrible noise because the next door neighbor came running over. He immediately assessed the situation and took command of the
rescue. Ivy Gibson, a wiry, unassuming, slightly built 31-year-old drag-line operator, told us to bring the hose, double it, and lower him into the small opening.
Ivy quickly removed his shoes while we readied the hose. Then David’s father Paul, my husband John, and I lowered him into the well. It was too narrow for him to bend over so he hooked his feet under David’s arms then ordered us to start pulling them up s-l-o-w-l-y! About half way up he hollered “Stop!” — he was losing his grip. He wedged David against the side of the well to get another grip, and was able to hold on until they reached the surface so we could grab them.
David’s face, head and body were completely covered with thick muck. By this time David’s mother Loretta, expecting her second baby any minute, was in shock. It took me an hour to painstakingly clean all the trash and mud out of David’s little eyes and body. During this entire ordeal David did not cry and endured the cleansing without a whimper. David and his mother were taken to a hospital in Shreveport where David was pronounced in good shape — and Loretta delivered a baby girl the next day.
The natural springs had kept the well from filling in over the years as planned. After the rescue, it was plumbed to see how deep it was but was found to be too deep to measure. Ivy Gibson told us that David had been sinking fast in the muck, and didn’t have long before he would have been completely covered. It’s a good thing Ivy was there, and was able to think and act quickly, since David might not have been able to hold on long enough for a rescue team to arrive.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.
6 thoughts on “Courageous Feet”
It’s a wonder this child was saved, David must have been very slippery and hard to grip. This method of filling in an old well is very familiar to me, and though today we would do it very differently, it was quite acceptable “back in the day”. The thing to focus on here is the resourcefulness and quick thinking of Ivy, not to mention the personal risk. I hope I could have done the same, despite an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia just thinking about it. We all have the potential to be heroes in the right circumstance.
Ivy was a quick thinking hero. Very inspiring story.
WOW – how fortunate to have someone who was ready, willing and able to do what it took to rescue David. What a terrific story.
While we give quick thinking and courage the praise they deserve, they are tragically often not enough. We do better to consider why they become necessary, because prevention is far more effective than trust in an unlikely combination of skill, courage, and luck such as this story illustrates. The father was shockingly negligent, ignoring the significance of years of unsuccessful filling.
If this was published originally in 1999 that means David has to at least be in high school by now. I wonder if he has a “when I was a kid I almost died” story he tells his friends.
This reminds me of an incident which happened in the 6os when I worked as a teacher in Zambia. I was visiting a rural school when a woman came shrieking and crying that her baby had fallen down a chimbusu, which is a toilet consisting of nothing more than a deep hole in the ground. At the time there were some convicts doing work around the school, this was quite common as ‘hard labour’ there meant just that. Without a word one of the convicts, a huge surly man ran to the pit and climbed down inside. No ropes or ladders were available so he had to brace himself across the pit and work his way some 15 feet down to the child. He picked him up, and laying him across his body, climbed back up out of the pit. When he got to the top he and the child were covered in brown human excreta. The child was cleaned down and was none the worse for his adventure. After being thanked by the grateful mother, he cleaned himself down, picked up his shovel and went back to work. He got an extra pack of cigarettes that night for his efforts.
I learned later that his name was Michael and he had been imprisoned for life for killing a man in a beer house brawl. In future when I had occasion to need convicts to work at a school I always asked that Michael be included in the work team. We became as near friends as possible for a white teacher and a black convict. He was in his forties then, so is probably dead now, but I often think of him.