Chapter 19 - 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


[Took eight men. - Attacked a Federal camp near Bollinger’s Mill at night. - Lost two men killed and one wounded. - His men returned to Arkansas. - He went alone to St. Francois County. - Watched the farm of R.M. COLE to kill him. - Was checked by conscience.]

   I remained two weeks at home plowing, and then went on a scout to the vicinity of Mingo Swamp with eight men. We watched around for several days to capture some infamous scamps in that country who had been giving our friends trouble from the beginning of the war. Being too cowardly to go into the army, they were staying at home and were constantly annoying peaceable citizens by making false reports against them of every kind.

    Having failed to get any of them, we concluded to make another trip over onto Castor Creek, for my men were always anxious to go to parts of the country frequented by the Federals. We had been on Castor but one day and night when a party of Federals came along, making their way through the country, and camping within a short distance of Bollinger’s Mill. We were quietly enjoying ourselves in the nook of rocky range of brushy hills, when a runner came to inform us of the fact. Of the exact number of Federals he did not know.

    It was with some difficulty that I restrained my men to wait until a proper hour of the night before making the attack, but finally about ten o’clock I gave the word to get ready, which was done in a very few minutes. Going around the hills we struck the main road about a mile from their camp. We rode very slowly until we routed the pickets, then dashed on and crowded them into camp; but the locality of their camp and the position in which they had taken up quarters, had not been stated to us correctly; consequently we came out somewhat worsted.

    They had chosen a narrow place in the road, and had turned their wagons across it, so that in our attempt to dash through their camp, as was our custom, we found our progress suddenly stopped; this bothered us so badly that they opened a heavy fire on us, killing two of my men and wounding another slightly before we had time to retreat. We were not certain of having killed any of them, but were afterwards told by a citizen that we wounded three, one of whom died next morning. After this unfortunate mistake my remaining men wanted to go back to Green County, Arkansas, where our wounded companions could be properly cared for; to which I consented, and bidding them adieu I started alone to St. Francois County, Missouri.

    I now thought this a favorable opportunity to take vengeance upon R.M. COLE for the course he had taken at the time my brother Frank was hung by the Big River mob. That matter had never yet been redressed, and my mind was yet harrassed by conflicting impressions concerning his guilt or innocence in the matter. That he was a Southern man I very well knew, but that it was his duty, as a civil officer, to wrest my brother from the clutches of a merciless mob I knew equally well. I will here remark that all my evil impressions concerning his complicity in the hanging of my brother have long since been entirely removed from my mind; but at time of which I am now writing, I finally adopted the unwelcome conclusion that he was evidently guilty. I escaped the vigilance of my enemies, and of the hundreds of soldiers whose especial duty it was to watch out for me; and unobserved by any one who would be likely to inform against me, I succeeded in reaching his farm, on Flat River, and found to my joy that he had not yet finished plowing. I went around to the back part of the farm, hitched old Charley to a sapling in the woods, and taking old "Kill-devil" in my hand, I cautiously approached the cornfield where I had seen him plowing from a distance, and about sunset I secreted myself in a fence corner about ten rows from where he had plowed the last furrow. I waited until I became satisfied that he had taken out for the night. It was now about dark.

    I went back to where I had hitched my horse, unsaddled him and went in search of feed. I soon found an abundance of oats already cut in the field. On my way back I chanced to cross a splendid melon patch; on the ripe melons I made out my supper, feeling thankful for my good luck so far.

    My only chance now was to wait until morning, which I did, making myself as comfortable as possible during the night.

    In the morning I took my station again in the fence corner with old "Kill-devil" already cocked. After a long delay, as I thought it, he made his appearance, following along behind the plow and singing most merrily. I was a little flustered by his merry mood, and a strange weakness kept me from firing. I thought I would let him plow one more round. I chuckled to myself as he walked deliberately away from me as if nothing was about to go wrong with him. He came around again as merrily as before. I once more raised old "Kill-devil" to my face and was in the act of pulling the trigger, when I heard a stick crack in the woods just as he was turning. This and some other imaginary noises caused me to delay until he was too far off to make a sure shot. Here was a good chance lost. This I thought would never do, for I was becoming quite nervous; I bit my fingers as I usually do to stop what hunters call the "buck ague," but it seemed to do me no good.

    The more I thought of the matter, the more nervous I got, and I must acknowledge that I never felt that way before when I was in a just cause, and a thought struck me that there might be something wrong in this matter after all. I knew that it would never do to remain squatting in the fence corner any longer; that I must either shoot or leave.

    Can it be possible that he is innocent of the charge brought against him by my friends, and that my suspicions are groundless?

    It may be so! I began to think about letting the man live; but the thought of riding several hundred miles for the express purpose of killing a man, and then go back without doing it, after having had such a good chance was a thought that I did not like.

    While these thoughts were revolving in my mind I still set as quietly as a mouse. Once I would have got up and left, but the man was now making his third round, and was too close for me to do so without being seen. I deliberately raised my gun and took a bead on him to make my decision while he was completely in my power - "live on, sir! live on!" was my decision, and as soon as I thought he was out of sight among the corn I rode away, and never before in my life did I feel so happy as I did when I passed opposite the row he was in. I bade him silent farewell, and mentally told him to rest easy, for that he never should be hurt by my hand.

    On my homeward trip I stopped in the vicinity of Bloomfield (which was still in the hands of the Federals in order to pay my respects to Captain HICKS. He was the commander of the company which followed me and my family to the St. Francis River; and boasted that he was the man who shot me at Flat Woods. Not being disposed to rob him of his honors, I was willing to admit that he did the act, and to govern myself accordingly.

    I lay around his residence four days and nights, getting my provisions out of his smokehouse, before he made his appearance.

    On the evening of the fourth day he rode up to his house, and in a few minutes walked out with his wife into the garden.

    I walked up to the garden fence and spoke to him; he seemed agitated and started toward the house; I raised my gun, halted him, and told him to come to me as I wanted to talk a little to him. He halted and with some reluctance walked toward me, and on getting within a few paces he asked me who I was. I told him that I was Sam HILDEBRAND; that I understood he had been hunting for me for some time, and I thought I would come by and see what he wanted. At this he made a lick at me with a hoe which he held in his hand, and came very near hitting me; but in a moment I ended his existence by shooting him. I eluded all search and effected my escape to Arkansas.