Chapter 17 - 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

[Put in a crop. - Took another trip to Missouri with six men. - Surrounded in a tobacco barn. -
Killed two men in escaping. - Killed WAMMACK for informing on him. - Captures some
Federals and releases them on conditions. - Went to Big River Mills. - Robbed HIGHLEY’s and
BEAN’s stores.]

    Having succeeded in getting my family to Green County, Arkansas, I settled on a piece of land whose owner had left for parts unknown, intending to hold the same until the owner should return.  During the month of April, 1863, I was an “honest farmer,” and by the 10th of May I finished planting a field of corn, while at the same time my wife put in a large garden.

    At this occupation I enjoyed myself very well for a while; I got some chickens, a few pigs, and a milk cow, so that my family could get along without materially interfering with my main object in life - that of killing my enemies.

    The boys were now anxious to make another trip to Missouri, so I took six men and started for Castor Creek, in Madison County, after some notorious scamps who had been giving us trouble on previous trips, by putting the Federals on our trail, besides the constant annoyance they gave Southern citizens in that county, by reporting them to the Federals.

    We passed west of Bloomfield through the Southern part of Madison County, arriving in the neighborhood about daylight on the morning of the fourth day from home, secreted our horses, leaving three men to guard them, while myself and the others proceeded to spy out the men for whom we had come in search.   We did not succeed in finding any of them, and after returning to our camp in the woods at sunset, we went to an old friend’s about three miles distant, where we could get a night’s sleep, and something to eat for ourselves and horses.

Ambushed At Barn

    On arriving, our old friend received us kindly, but told us that as he was not well we would be under the necessity of taking care of our own horses in a neighboring thicket; but as the weather was rather inclement, we repaired to an old tobacco barn for shelter; it was about one hundred yards from the woods on one side, and about two hundred on the other.  Here we slept soundly, keeping one man on watch all the time, but as we had not slept more than one hour in each twenty-four since starting, our sentinel fell asleep.  In the morning I went out to take a peep at the weather, and was saluted by a shot that struck a board just above my head.  I sprang into the barn, raised the alarm, and took a peep at the position of our enemies.   They were about thirty strong, and had completely surrounded the barn, posting themselves behind stumps and old trees, but at a distance of about one hundred and fifty yards.

    The extent of their circle made their lines very weak, and perceiving that they were much the strongest in front of the barn, I ordered my men to remove the underpinning from one place in the rear of the house.   We crept through this aperture, and lay on the ground at the back of the building, being protected from observation by a pile of rubbish.  I proposed taking the lead, and directed my men to follow in a straight line, but to keep twenty or thirty feet apart.   I arose and started at full speed; but before I got fifty yards, all the Federals who were in sight of me, fired off their guns; yet I was not killed, but felt a stinging sensation on the point of my shoulder, which afterwards proved to be a slight abrasion, caused by a musket ball.  On reaching the line, I shot the two men with my revolver who were guarding that point, without making the least halt; but I could not help feeling a thrill of pity for them and wished that they were again alive and on my side, for they were brave men and faced the music nobly, but missed their aim.

    My men followed me through to the woods unhurt, save one poor fellow, who was pierced by a musket ball just as he reached the edge of the timber.

    On reaching the woods, which were very thick, we felt much relieved, and were quite at home.  We reached our horses, and fearing that the Federals might find them, we mounted and rode back to give them a little brush; but finding them all gone, we made our way around to our friend in whose barn we had slept, but found that the Federals had killed him, and had committed many other depredations about the place before leaving.  Our kind lady, who had thus so unexpectedly been made a widow, was suffering the pangs of uncontrolled sorrow, but from her broken sentences we learned that a citizen by the name of WAMMACK was with the soldiers, and was probably the informant at whose instigation the whole tragedy had been brought about, and that as the soldiers left in the direction of Fredericktown, he took the road toward his house.  We concluded to try, and if possible, to get WAMMACK.   I ordered three of my men to take the horses out of the neighborhood, to travel over ground where they would occasionally make plain tracks, until they got to a certain creek, eight or ten miles off, then to turn back, keeping in the creek some distance, and then to secret themselves in the bushes near the residence of one Mr. HONN.  Our arrangements having been completed, we separated; myself and my two men had not proceeded far, keeping all the time near the road, before we discovered three men coming from the direction of WAMMACK’s house.  When they were near us, we hailed them, and leaving our guns, we stepped out into the road where they were and inquired the way to Cape Girardeau.  We told them that we had obtained furloughs at Ironton the day before, and were on our way to Illinois to see our families, but that a few miles back we met some soldiers, who
stated that they had got into a skirmish with the bushwhackers and were going to Fredericktown to bring out the whole force; so we concluded to hide in the woods until they returned.

Mistaken Identity

    They mistook us for Federal soldiers, sure enough, and one of them related the whole circumstance in a very jubilant manner, stating that he was with the soldiers at the time, that they had killed four of the bushwhackers and the old Rebel who had harbored them, and that if he had his way he would burn up the whole premises.  I suggested that we had better go to the main road and wait until the force came; but he objected, for the reason that he wished to see who buried the dead bushwhackers.

    By this time I thought I could venture to ask him his name, and after telling me that his name was WAMMACK, and that he was “all right,” he made a motion to proceed, at which we drew our revolvers and told him that he was a prisoner.  The other two having answered a sign which I made while talking to WAMMACK, I saw that they were “all right” instead of him.  I told them that they could go, but requested them to bury the dead, which they cheerfully agreed to do.

    Just as this conversation ended, WAMMACK suddenly jerked out his revolver and attempted to shoot one of the men and broke to run; the movement was so sudden and so unexpected that he got nearly forty yards before we succeeded in killing him.

    `We then left that part of the country and went to Wayne County; while stopping there for supper at the house of an old Rebel, a young man came in and stated that about five miles from there, on Lost creek, he saw some Federals putting up for the night; on receiving this pleasing information, we determined to go and take them “out of the wet,” as one of my boys expressed it, and after feeding our horses and taking our rations, we were soon on our way for that purpose.

    We found the place without much difficulty, made our way to the house and knocked at the door.  The man of the house came, and in answer to our questions, stated that there were five Federals sleeping in the stable loft, and that their horses were in the stable.  After telling the old man who we were, and ordering him not to leave the house, we proceeded to surround the stable, which stood in the middle of a lot of perhaps about half an acre.  Our positions having been taken I set fire to a hay stack that stood in the corner of the lot, nearly in front of the stable door.  When the hay blazed up, the light shone so suddenly on the Federals that they sprang to their arms in great fright.  I hailed them, demanding their surrender, and told them that I was Sam HILDEBRAND, and that I and my twenty men had them completely in our clutches, but that if they would surrender without firing a gun, I would let them off on easy terms.  To this they gladly acceded, and coming down from the loft, they piled their arms in the lot.  I ordered two of my men to extinguish the fire that had caught in the fence, and then proceeded to negotiate with
our prisoners, which was done in a friendly and satisfactory manner.  Rough jokes were passed back and forth with perfect freedom, and they repeated some of the many tales of blood circulated in camps about me, in which I was represented as a hero more daring and dreadful than “Jack the Giant Killer.”

Trade Lives For Prisoners

    At this time there were two of Capt. BOLIN’s men in prison at Ironton who had been captured while on a scout up Black River in Reynolds county, Missouri; and as my prisoners belonged to the command stationed at that place, I proposed to them that if they would pledge themselves that by some means or other they would manage to let the two boys escape, we would release them, and permit each one to retain his private property.  To this they agreed; they retained their pistols, but gave up their guns and horses.

    We all stayed until morning, took breakfast together with the old man, who seemed highly pleased at the turn matters had taken, and occasionally contributed to our fun by some of his timely jokes.

    After breakfast we separated, the Federals making their way on foot, carrying a pass from me, written by one of my men, to prevent any of our boys from molesting them on their way, should they happen to fall into their hands.

    After a short consultation with my men, we concluded that it was about time to make our enemies in St. Francois County pay their taxes to the Southern Confederacy.  On the evening of the last day of May, we rode into the little town at Big River Mills, and made a haul on the store of John B. HIGHLEY, but not being certain of his politics, we were very light on him.  We then went six miles further to John BEAN’s store on Flat River, arriving there about 11 o’clock in the night.  We knew him to be a strong Union man, and we knew also that one of his sons belonged to the Big River mob.  We supplied ourselves with such articles as were needed by the families at Capt. BOLIN’s camp.

    In a few days after our arrival in Green County, the two boys who had been in prison at Ironton, came in, and related to us that the guards who permitted them to escape, told them all about the contract they had entered into with me.  Those Federals deserve much credit for keeping their word.