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In Memoriam

The Murder of Deputy Joe Nichols of Orange County

Nichols remembrance-4366.jpg

General Information

Deputy Nichols, 44, was shot and killed on September 9, 1904.

With the help of researchers and librarians at the Orange County Library in Hillsborough, the Government and Heritage Library in Raleigh, and Wilson Library in Chapel Hill, we were able to gather many articles about the death of Deputy Nichols, and some ancestry information about his family. The articles appear below.

 In short, Deputy Nichols was shot by James Knapp Horner, 58, when Nichols went to serve a warrant on him. The warrant alleged that Knapp whipped his daughter-in-law. Nichols was shot in the arm in the process of serving the warrant. He was with a man, A.W. Breeze, who tried to stop the bleeding with a pair of suspenders. Deputy Nichols knew he was going to die, but wanted to make it home to see his children. However, an artery had been severed and he died before he reached his home at the Caldwell Institute.

A posse gathered and Horner was captured on September 12. He was shot in his right side during his capture, but the wounds were not fatal and apparently did not require hospitalization. He spent one night in the Orange jail where a guard was posted because the jail was not secure. It was feared he would be rescued by his friends from the “tougher class.” He was transferred to Durham to await trial the next day.

Knapp was tried in 1905, convicted of second degree murder, and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Information about Joe Nichols and his Family

Most news articles refer to Deputy Nichols as Joe, although some call him D. Joseph or Joseph Duncan.  A native of Orange County, Deputy Nichols was born on January 5, 1860. William Allen Nichols (1835-1912) and Martha E. Nichols (1843-1931) were his parents.  William and Martha were still living at the time of their son’s death.

Records indicate Deputy Nichols had 11 younger brothers and sisters:

  • William Nelson Nichols (1861-1934),

  • John E. Nichols (1863-1885)

  • Mariah Elizabeth Nichols (1865-1949)

  • Mary A. Nichols (1865-1870)

  • Claudia Ellen Nichols(1872-1929)*

  • Robert Piercy Nichols (1872-1961)*

  • Ida Young Nichols Cook (1874-1938)

  • Obelia Virginia Nichols Kenyon (1878-1956)

  • Thomas Stone Nichols (1879-1960)

  • Charlie Ulysses Nichols (1883-1962)

  • Ira Shaw Nichols (1886-1951).

When Joe Nichols died, nine of his siblings were still alive.


Deputy Duncan married Pattie (sometimes reported as Pallie) Martha Miller on December 21, 1884, just before his 25th birthday. She was 23. Although some sources say Deputy Nichols and Pattie had four or five children, three daughters are documented: Lois Estelle Nichols Tilley (Nov 10, 1885 - July 17, 1946), Mary Frances Garris (July 14, 1889 – Dec. 1, 1979), and Claudia Ethel Nichols (Aug 20, 1901- Jan. 20, 1994).  Claudia was just a few weeks past her third birthday when her father died. She died 25 years ago this past January.

According to the Raleigh Morning Pst (September 13, 1904) , at the time of Deputy Nichol’s death, Pattie’s brother, Samuel Miller, was the Republican party nominee for the sheriff of Orange County. Mr. Miller and one or two of his brothers were said to be among the posse of men who captured Knapp Horner. However, a list of the Sheriffs of Orange County notes Sheriff John Knox Hughes ended his tenure as sheriff on September 5, 1904 and S.W. Andrews began his on the same date, just four days before Nichols died.


Pattie and Joe were married more than 19 years. The 20th anniversary of their wedding was about three and a half months after he died. Pattie died at age 80 on July 29, 1942, living almost 38 years without her husband.


Deputy Nichols’ grave is in the Little River Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Hurdle Mills.

Note: Research is needed to confirm or clarify the birth dates of Claudia Ellen Nichols and Robert Piercy Nichols. They were both reportedly born in 1872, but they were not twins and they have birth dates only months apart. Claudia was born Jan 6 and Robert’s birth is recorded as April 8.

Alicia Stemper

May 15, 2019

News Articles from 1904

The articles here were transcribed from the source articles using the spelling and conventions therein.

Clipping from Durham Paper Sept 9, 1904

Durham, NC., Sept. 9. – Special.

Deputy Sheriff Joe Nichols of Orange was killed by a white man named Knapp Horner this morning just before noon in the northern part of Orange county, 12 miles from Hillsboro. Horner made his escape.


Nichols had gone to arrest Warner, with a warrant charging him with whipping his daughter-in-law. When he went to serve the warrant, Horner shot him with a shotgun, inflicting wounds from which Nichols died in about an hour. Nichols had occasion to arrest Horner before and the latter had declared he would kill the deputy if he ever tried to arrest him again.


Horner is a man between 55 and 60 years of age, with black eyes, hair, mustache and goatee. He is a blockader and is known as a desperate character. Several times he has figured in the federal court. He has an impediment in his speech, is illiterate, but very smart.

Clipping from Charlotte Observer Sept 11, 1904

From a longer article titled:

Durham Tobacco Market

The Board of Trade Organizes on a new footing-The Murder of Deputy Sheriff Nichols a Cold-Blooded Affair – A Mild Sensation. [Parts not related to Deputy Nichols redacted.]


Special to the Observer.

 Durham, September 10. -

 …The murder of Deputy Sheriff Joe Nichols, in Orange county, yesterday, was a most foul and cold-blooded crime. The killing was done about noon, but the particulars were not received in Hillsboro until last night. A messenger then brought the fact that the officer was killed, but did not know the details. At midnight last night the officers of Orange flashed the facts to officers over the State and a close watch is being kept for the murderer. It is said that Horner had said that he would killed (sic) Nichols if he ever came to arrest him. His threat was carried out yesterday, when the officer went to his home with a warrant charging him with whipping his son’s wife. A double-barrel shotgun was used with terrible effect. The murder is described as being a desperate character, who has been a Federal prisoner several times. He was about 55 years of age. Up to this afternoon nothing had been heard from him, although officers here and in various parts of the State are looking for him. It is thought that he is still hid in the woods in the northern part of Orange county.

Clipping from News and Observer Sept 11, 1904


Met His Fate in Attempting to Serve a Warrant


(Special to News and Observer.)


Durham, N.C.  Sept. 9 - About 10 o’clock this morning Deputy Sheriff Joe Nichols was killed in the northern part of Orange county by a white desperado named Knapp Horner. The section in which the crime occurred is about twelve miles from Hillsboro, and is known as the Pine Knot territory.


Details of the fatal encounter are far from full, but this much is known. Nichols held a warrant for Horner’s arrest. This warrant charged Horner with beating his daughter-in-law. Nichols set out for Horner’s home to serve the paper. Horner saw him approaching and knowing his errand, met him with a double-barreled shotgun. The weapon flashed and the deputy sheriff fell.


Horner at once sought safety in flight, while messages flew first to Sheriff Hughes at Hillsboro and later all over the county, telling of the tragedy and urging pursuit and capture of the criminal. As yet, however, the man has succeeded in keeping beyond the ken of his would be captors.


The messages contain a partial description of Horner. He is portrayed as between fifty-five and sixty years of age, a man of dark complexion with black hair, eyes and mustache. He bears a sinister reputation and has been haled before Federal judges on several occasions for blockading. He has an impediment in his speech and is illiterate, but is a man of much natural ability.


The murdered man lived at Caldwell Institute. He leaves a wife and several children.

Clipping from Raleigh Morning Post  Sept 13, 1904

Slayer of Nichols Caught and Taken to Durham

Fears of Violence in Hillsboro – Horner’s Wounds Not Serious –

Says He Ought Not to Have Killed Nichols –Latter Shot at Him


  Durham, N. C.,  Sept 12.-Special.

Knapp Horner, murder of Deputy Sheriff Joe Nichols, was brought here from Orange County this afternoon for safe keeping. It was feared he would be lynched tonight. Quite a number of Nichols’ neighbors had gathered in Hillsboro and vengeance was feared.


The prisoner was seen in jail immediately after reaching here. He said some six or seven shots were fired at him yesterday when he was arrested. The officers who brought him here say only two shots were fired. He is wounded on the right side from head to foot, but his wounds are not serious.


When asked about the killing, he said: “I ought not to have killed him, but he shot at me. Guess they will hang me, but I am now 58 years old and they cannot get me out of more than 10 years at most. I am sorry I cannot gather my corn crop."


Horner is quite weak on account of his wounds. He is still vicious, however, and when asked about killing a man several years ago he said: "Yes, I killed him while defending myself. I have never yet taken the last lick.”


He will be tried in Hillsboro at the term of court beginning October 17.


Knapp Horner, who last Friday killed Deputy Sheriff Joe Nichols in Orange County, was captured yesterday. He was taken within a few hundred yards of his home in the northern part of Orange county, and a section known as Pine Knot. This is some 12 miles north of Hillsboro.


It became known Saturday that Horner had not left the county. Some forty men went out to look for him, all being armed with guns. Early in the morning he was seen by some parties to enter his home. They attempted to close in on him, when he escaped and went to the woods, getting away from the posse. The posse was then enlarged and at the time of capture it is stated that they were fully forty-five men scattered about the piece of woods in which he was thought to be hiding.


While they were searching for him, Horner was seen making his way through his cornfield toward his home. The crowd closed in on him and called him to a halt. He kept on his way towards his home, and when they saw he would get into the house the firing began. He did not have a gun and made no resistance.


The capture of the murderer was made soon after the noon hour and the prisoner was carried to Hillsboro, arriving there last night at about 8 o’clock. He was placed in jail and on account of the prison being unsecured a guard was placed about the jail last night. The officers did not fear a lynching, but the prisoner has a number of friends among the tougher class, who live in the northern part of the county, and it was feared that he would be rescued us left there without a guard.


The killing of deputy sheriff Nichols was a cold blooded murder and aroused the people of Orange county.


The dead officer was a good citizen and a fearless officer. He had been warned by Horner that he would be killed if he ever attempted his arrest again. When the warrant was placed in his hands for the arrest of Horner for whipping his son’s wife the officer did not hesitate, but proceeded to the home of Horner. He found his man at home and when he went into the yard to arrest him Horner raised his gun and fired two loads of large shot into his left side, the wound being such that he bled to death before a physician could be secured. He lived at Caldwell Institute, had a wife and four or five children. His remains were interred on Saturday. The officer married a sister of Samuel Miller, who is now the nominee of the Republican Party for the sheriff of Orange county. It is said that Miller and one or two of his brothers were in the party who captured Horner.


The murderer was known as a terrible man, with a bad character. He was a blockader and made blockade stills for the moonshiners in that section, so it is learned here. He has been in trouble a number of times in both the state and federal courts. He has a wife and several children.

Clipping from Statesville Record and Landmark Sept 13, 1904

Deputy Sheriff Killed in Orange.

Durham special 9th, to Raleigh Post.


 Deputy Sheriff Joe Nichols, of Orange, was killed by a white man named Knapp Horner this morning just before noon in the northern part of Orange county, 12 miles from Hillsboro. Horner made his escape.


 Nichols had gone to arrest Horner, with a warrant charging him with whipping his daughter-in-law. When he went to serve the warrant, Horner shot him with a shotgun, inflicting wounds from which Nichols died in about an hour. Nichols had occasion to arrest Horner before and the latter had declared he would kill the deputy if he ever tried to arrest him again.


[Horner has been arrested. He was shot by the posse but not dangerously wounded. There were threats of lynching and Horner was taken to Durham Jail.]

Clipping from Orange County Observer Sept 15, 1904

Deputy Sheriff D. Joseph Nichols Killed While Attempting to Serve a Warrant on Knapp Horner.


About midday Friday, September 9th, deputy sheriff D. Joseph Nichols was shot and killed in the northern part of this county by a white man named James Knapp Horner. The section in which the crime occurred is about 12 miles from Hillsboro, and known as “Pine Knot. “


Nichols went to Horner’s house to serve a warrant on him. The warrant was issued by Jos W. Terry, Esq , of little River township, and charged Horner with having with his son Tom’s wife. Horner resisted arrest and warned Deputy Nichols not to attempt to arrest him. Nichols went off and summoned Mr. A. W. Breeze to assist him in making the arrest. The two men then drove to Horner’s house in a buggy. When they reached there Nichols got out of the buggy and told Breeze if you needed him he would call him. Pretty soon Nichols called out to Breeze to come on. Horner was walking off with a single barrelled shot gun in his hand and Nichols following trying to get Horner to promise to appear before Squire Terry the next day. Suddenly Horner turned and shot Nichols in the left arm severing an artery. Nichols fired his pistol at Horner but without affect. Breeze bandaged Nichols arm with a pair of suspenders and putting Nichols in a one horse wagon started for him home. While on the way to his home Nichols said he knew that he was going to die, but expressed a desire to get home and see his children. He died before he reached home from the loss of blood.


Immediately after he shot Nichols the murderer fled and was not seen again until Sunday about mid-day when he was discovered by the posse of citizens who had been searching for him, in a corn patch near his house. He was ordered to halt and throw up his hands, and failing to do so, he was fired upon and painfully wounded in his left arm and side. Deputy Sheriff K. A. Hughes and several of the posse brought Horner to Hillsboro Sunday night and lodged him in jail.


The murdered man was 44 years of age. He married a daughter of the late Charles R. Miller and lived at Caldwell Institute. He leaves a wife and four daughters. He was an efficient officer and lost his life in the discharge of his duty.


The poor unfortunate man, the murderer, Knapp Horner, bad man as he is said to be, is about 62 years of age. He has a wife and one son.


A warrant was sworn out Monday before Joseph A. Harris, J.P., charging Horner with the killing of D. J. Nichols. The prisoner heard the warrant read and waving an examination was committed without bail to the Durham county jail until the next term of Orange Superior Court which convenes October 17.


Horner was taken to Durham by deputy sheriff Hughes Monday afternoon.

Clipping Orange County Observer November 10, 1904

(no headline)


- A petition was presented to the Board of County Commissioners at the meeting Monday asking the Board to recommend to the Governor the ordering of a special term of Orange Superior Court for the trial of Knapp Horner, the man who murdered Deputy Sheriff Joe Nichols. The Board refused to do so, and the case of The State vs. Horner will not be tried until March term 1905.

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