Chapter 10 - Sam Hildebrand's Confession


Legend of St. Francois County
Reprinted from the County Advertiser by Farmington News Printing Company
September 26, 1979

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Confessions of Sam HILDEBRAND

TYPIST’S NOTE: I have not altered the manuscript at all, including all spelling and punctuation.  The ONLY change I have made is to capitalize all surnames. - BethK


[Trip with two men. - Killed STOKES for informing on him. - Secreted in a cave on Big River. - Vows of vengeance. - Watched for McGAHAN. - Tom HAILE pleas for Franklin MURPHY. - Tongue-lashed and whipped out by a woman.]

    After remaining a few days at headquarters I commenced making preparations for another trip against my enemies on Big River. I was yet ignorant of the murder of my brother, Henry, and knew nothing about the burning of my mother’s house, except what I saw at the distance of a miles, a few hours before I started back to Arkansas. I was now fully determined to use the same weapons upon some of my enemies, and to retaliate by any and all means placed in my power. I told the boys my plan. Among those who were present was Thomas HAILE, or "devilish Tom," as he was called, and as usual, he was spinning some of his laughable yarns; but when I spoke the name of Franklin MURPHY as probably connected with the house burning, he stopped short in his conversation, and after a moment’s reflection he proposed to go with me to see some of his old friends. To this I readily consented, and after selecting another man, we started on our way. We passed through Stoddard and then into Wayne county after a man by name of STOKES. He had fed me on my previous trips, inducing me to believe that he was a substantial Southern man; I learned shortly afterwards that he was laying plans for my capture, and had, more than once, put the Federals on my trail. Notwithstanding I had these statements from good authority, I was unwilling to take his life until I knew to my own certain knowledge that he was guilty. I did not wish to fall into the error, so common among the Federals, of killing an innocent man to gratify the personal enmity of some informer.

    Just after dark I went to his house alone, he greeted me in a very cordial manner and remarked:

    "Well, Mr. HILDEBRAND, I’m glad to see you - hope you are well - and are yet too smart for the Feds."

    "Are there any Feds in Greenville?"

    "None, sir, none at all; I was there today, the place is entirely clear of the scamps. By the way Mr. HILDEBRAND, are you alone?"

    "Oh yes; I am taking this trip by myself."

    "Glad to assist you, Sir, you must stay with me tonight. I’ll hide you tomorrow in a safe place; can go on tomorrow night if you like; would like for you to stay longer."

Stay At Neighbor’s

    I thanked him for his proffered assistance, but told him that as I had troubled him so often, I would go to a neighbor’s about a mile off and stay until the next night. I went back a short distance to where my men were and waited about an hour.

    My two men after putting on the Federal uniform, rode around the place and approached the house from another direction; they rode up in a great hurry and called Mr. STOKES out. Tom HAILE in a very confidential tone commenced:

    "Well sir! we are on the hot track of Sam HILDEBRAND! he is here again; he robbed a man down on the Greenville road, five miles below here, about sunset; he came in this direction, and we concluded to ride down to your house thinking that you might have seen or heard something to him!"

    "I reckon I have, by George! Sam HILDEBRAND was here not more than an hour ago, and I tried to detain him; he was alone and said he was going to stay until tomorrow night at a certain house; I know the place; hold on a minute! I’ll get my gun and coat and will go with you - we’ve got him this time, sure!"

    "All right," said Tom, "come along; we are always glad to meet a man of your stripe."

    He marched along with the boys until they came to where I was waiting for them; STOKES had forgotten to ask many questions, but on coming up to me in the dim moonlight he asked, "how many men have you?" one of my men answered "twelve." He at once began laying plans for my capture, and related what he had done on previous occasions "to capture Sam HILDEBRAND, but that Sam was too sharp for him." When I thought that he had said enough I stopped him with the remark - "I am Sam HILDEBRAND myself!" and emptied old "Kill-devil" into his bosom.

    We then proceeded on, traveling altogether in the night, until about day-break; one morning we got near the ruins of the old HILDEBRAND homestead, and called at the house of a friend. Knowing that we were in an enemy’s country and liable to be trailed, we could not sleep. Nor could we travel in the day-time, considering the fact that if our enemies got after us we would have to run about one hundred and fifty miles to get out of their lines, and that the government had no less than four thousand men in active employment all the time for the special purpose of capturing me. We secreted our horses in a thicket under a bluff and entered a cave near by, which was afterwards called by my name. Our friend remained in the cave a few minutes with us, and it was from him I learned the particulars of the atrocities committed by the Federal troops, in the murder of my poor innocent brother Henry.

All Brothers Slain

    I shall not attempt to describe my feelings, when the truth flashed across my mind that all my brothers had been slain in cold blood - Frank, first, and now the other two - leaving me not a brother upon earth except my brother William, who was in the Federal army, but whose well known loyalty was not sufficient to shield his natural brothers from an indiscriminate butchery. For several hours I remained quietly in the cave, studying the matter over; but finally my mind was made up. I determined to sell my life as dearly as possible, and from that moment wage a war of fire and blood against my persecutors, while one should last, or until I was numbered with the dead.

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Sam Hildebrand's Hideout Cave

    I hastily gathered my arms; only one word escaped my lips: "Revenge!" sounded and reechoed from the deepest recesses of the cavern, and with one wild rush I made for the mouth of the cave; but my men happening to be there, sprang to their feet and choked up the passage; but near it was another outlet - I dashed through it, and down the steep declivity I hastily made my way, and mounted my horse. But HAILE was close after me, and before I could pass around a fallen tree he had my horse by the bridle.

    "Hold on, Sam! Don’t be a fool, If you are going to throw your life away, you cannot expect to kill a dozen; if you take your own time you may kill a thousand! If I go back without you, what could I tell your wife and children? Come, Sam, you must not forget your duty to them. See how they have clung to you! ‘Light now, and go with me to the cave."

    I have but a faint recollection of going back to our retreat; but when I awoke it was nearly sunset, and Tom soon had me laughing in spite of myself.

    When night came we moved our position about five miles, to the residence of William PATTON, as he was a man whom I particularly wanted; but we were unsuccessful; he was at home when we first went there, but by some means he succeeded in eluding our grasp. We left there, and before daylight we had secreted our horses in a thicket on Turkey Run, a small creek emptying into Big River above Addison MURPHY’s, and had stationed ourselves near the residence of Joe McGAHAN, on the different roads leading to his house. About eight o’clock in the morning I concluded that it was fruitless to watch for him any longer; so I proposed to repair to Franklin MURPHY’s residence, which was not more than a mile from where we were; but Tom suggested that we must now return to our horses and consult as to our future movements.

    We found our horses all right; but when I expressed a desire to stir up Franklin MURPHY for being present at the burning of my mother’s house, and several other little incidents that led me to think strangely of his conduct, Tom HAILE replied:

    "I do not believe that he sanctioned, in any manner, the outrages of which you speak; he could not rescue your brother from the hands of a mob who seemed to have the sanction of public opinion; he could not prevent an army of soldiers, acting under the command of another man, from burning the house, nor from killing your brother Henry. Once for all, let me tell you that it will never do for you to attempt to harm that man. He is a member of a certain Order, that dates back for thousands of years; the members are bound together by an obligation to watch over each other’s interests, and to shield each other, as much as possible, from any impending danger."

    Tom was so sincere, and looked so serious - which was not common with him - that I told him I would never harm one of them, if I knew it, unless it was in self-defense.

On to Arkansas

    We now thought it best to make our way back to Arkansas. We passed through Farmington and Fredericktown on the following night, and then camped in the woods until evening. We started before night, in order to capture some fresh horses.

    Dressed in Federal uniforms, we were riding along the road in Madison county, when on passing a farm, I saw a fine looking horse in a lot near the house. I halted my men, dismounted and went up to the horse to catch him, but he was a little shy, and kept his head as far from me as possible.

    While I was thus trying to get a halter on the spirited animal, a woman stepped onto the porch and bawled out:

    "See here! What are you trying to do?"

    "I’m trying to catch this horse."

    "Let him alone, you good-for-nothing! Don’t you look pretty, you miserable scamp, trying to steal my only horse?"

    "Yes, madam, but I’m afraid you are a rebel."

    "I am a rebel, sir, and I’m proud of it! I have two sons in the rebel army, and if I had six more they should all be in it. You white-livered, insignificant scum of creation! you had better let him alone. Why, you are worse than Sam HILDEBRAND! He wouldn’t take the last horse from a poor widow woman!"

    By this time I had caught the hose, but as soon as the woman made that last remark, I pulled the halter off, begged her pardon and left.

    On getting to headquarters, Tom never let me rest about that adventure.