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Ottillia Scott Bell Credited With Saving Lives In The Flood

This article first appeared in issue 14, and was written by Geniece Leftwich Marcum.

By Geniece Leftwich Marcum

as told to her daughter Linda

I remember hearing all my growing up years about my Great Aunt Ott who had been credited by witnesses as having saved lives the night of the 1907 Gradyville flood. Great Aunt Ott (short for Ottilia) was a sister to my father's mother, Caroline Isabelle Scott, wife of John Robert Leftwich. The sisters were among the children of Robert Winfield Scott of Metcalfe County.

Aunt Ott married Clayton Bell and they lived in Gradyville, a thriving community in the western edge of Adair County, about fifteen miles east of Edmonton where Walter Scott and Addie Turner Leftwich raised me.

My family's memories of her heroism were confirmed by an account I read some years ago of Creel Nell Harris's memories - a 'great lady' as remembered by my Adair County son-law - and a woman who referred to my Aunt Ottillia as 'cousin'. Mrs. Harris' words tied directly to the legend handed down through my family and it turned out she had been one of the little girls saved that night by Aunt Ottillia Scott Bell.

In her article she noted that Aunt Ott invited both Creel and her sister, Katherine Nell, to spend the night with her since Clayton was away on a business trip.

Stop at Dr. Nell's home would save a life

On their way to Aunt Ott's, they stopped at the home of Dr. L.C. Nell to get permission for their cousin, Christine, to go also. In her memories, Mrs. Harris wrote of the beautiful sunny day and of crossing Big Creek, a tiny stream so shallow they could jump from one big rock to another without getting their feet wet' when crossing it.

Much pleading had taken place in order to get Christine Nell's mother to let her go with them to Aunt Ott's house for the night and in the end, Lula Yates Nell's 'yes' was the decision that allowed Christine to be the only remaining family of Dr. L.C. Nell who would survive the night.

They had a good beginning to their overnight visit. Aunt Ott and the three little girls were joined by Arvest Hill and his cousin Maggie Bragg, neighbors.

Near bedtime a mammoth electrical storm began to rage and lightening soon allowed them to see that Big Creek was out of its banks and up into the corner of the yard. Aunt Ott led them all to the barn to get a horse. She told them that if they could get up the hill to Cousin Charlie Yates' home they'd all be safe.

However by the time Arvest had the horse saddled, they were standing in water already swirling around their ankles and could see a wall of water rushing 'dangerously close'. Aunt Ott sent Arvest and Maggie on the horse to try to cross the stream behind the house and get to the Yates's, then gathered the children to her and held them while they breathlessly watched the couple venture into the muddy water.

The 'water was from Richards Branch which was forced by Big Creek into the low ground at the foot of the hill.' The current was too strong for the horse to swim and Arvest and Maggie returned as the water crept upwards to knee deep on the children.

Aunt Ott then directed them back into the house where she had them place the heavy kitchen table on top of the bed. She lifted the two smallest girls up onto the table and had the rest stand on the bed surrounding them, holding onto the table.

It isn't known how long they stayed like that but in another account by a Mrs. Bertha Shirley Montgomery, it was recalled that Aunt Ott had hung a lantern in the window so the mothers of the children could see that the house was still there, and she stood by the bed and held onto that table singing hymns and praying all through the night. Between two and three in the morning, the water had receded enough for Willie Hill and Logan Hagan to make their way there to warn them to stay inside the house because the raging creek had uprooted trees and rocks making it dangerous to try to move around outside in the darkness.

Early the next morning Charlie Yates arrived on horseback and advised them it was safe to cross the creek. In her account, the late Mrs. Creel Nell Harris recalled, "I was put on the horse behind Uncle Charlie and with much fright and misgivings on my part, we crossed safely. He then returned for Katherine and Christine. The three of us walked through the field to our home. Many friends and neighbors were there. We three children had no idea of the extent of the damage wrought that night."

This story was posted on 1997-06-15 12:01:01
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