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2013 marks centennial of tragic flood

By Christine Foster

 Journal Reporter

  On Dec. 2, 1913, Nolan Creek flooded. Evidently, the river’s rising waters were not a concern to the residents of Belton as the river often rose to high levels and then gradually receded. On this particular day, however, as the river rushed over the porch of the William and Yettie Polk home, William Polk became concerned and advised his wife to take the children and move to higher ground.  According to Jeff Woolley, the Polk’s great grandson, Yettie did not feel this was a dangerous situation as she had seen the water flowing over their porch many times.

 William Polk, fearing that this scenario was of a greater magnitude than previous flooding threats, took William Polk, Jr. with him to the barn that was on higher ground (in what is now Yettie Polk Park,  dedicated in 1919, the barn was located where the American Legion building can be found today) to secure the animals.  Yettie, standing on the porch with the other four children, watched her husband and 11-year-old son head to the barn.  As she watched them go, she corralled the other children and with lantern in hand proceeded back into the house.

 According to the history facts and the information from Woolley, a 30-foot wall of water gushed down Nolan Creek taking several homes including the Polks’ (their home was located where the bandstand is today). Yettie and four of her five children were swept into the rushing river where they drowned.  The children ranged in age from infant Dau to 14-year-old Florence. William Polk mounted his horse and raced back to their home only to find that it was completely gone and his family with it.

 Yettie’s body, according to Woolley, was spotted soon after the flood with her hair caught in some barbed wire. Unsuccessful attempts were made to rescue Yettie at that time but it was not until three days later that her body was carried out of the swollen river.  Her body was eventually recovered 1.5 miles beyond Belton.

 Yettie and the children’s funerals marked a tragic note in Belton history.  The streets  were lined with people and the businesses closed for several hours.

 Yettie, who was the daughter of the prominent jeweler Julius Tobler, was honored with a park named in her honor in central Belton. The land for this park, 8.5 acres, was sold to the city on May 15, 1945, for the sum of $6,250.

The Polk family is buried in the North Belton Cemetery.  William Polk went on to remarry and have five additional children.  These children were raised in the new family home on high ground at 3 Rivers where the Leon and Lampasas Rivers and Salado Creek converge to form Little Creek.