Chapter 2 - 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

[Early History of the HILDEBRAND family. - Settled in St. Francois county, Missouri. - Sam
HILDEBRAND born. - Troublesome Neighbors. - Union Sentiments.]

    In regard to the early history of the HILDEBRAND family.  I can only state what tradition has handed down from one generation to another.  As I have no education, and can neither read  in English nor Dutch, I am not able to give any of the outlines of history bearing upon the origin or acts of the HILDEBRANDs in remote ages.  This task I leave for others, with this remark, that tradition connects our family with the HILDEBRANDs who figured in the German history up to the very origin of the Dutch language.  The branch of the family to which I belong were driven from Bavaria into Netherlands two hundred years ago, where they remained about forty years,
and then emigrated to Pennsylvania at the first settlement of that portion of America.

A Race of “Backwoodsmen”

    They were a hardy race of people and always shunned a city life, or being cooped up in thickly settled districts; they kept on the outskirts of aggressive civilization as it pressed the redman still back into the wild solitudes of the West, thus occupying the middle ground or twilight of refinement.  Hence, they continually breathed the pure, fresh air of our country’s morning, trod through the dewy vales of pioneer life, and drank at Freedom’s shady fountains among the unclaimed hills.

    They were literally a race of backwoodsmen inured to hardship, and delighted in nothing so much as a wild adventure and personal danger.  They explored the hills rather than the dull pages of history, pursued the wild deer instead of tame literature, and enjoyed their own thoughts rather than the dreamy notions eminating from the feverish brain of philosophy.

    In 1832 my father and mother, George and Rebecca HILDEBRAND, settled in St. Francois county, Missouri, on a stream called Big River, one of the tributaries of the Meramec which empties into the Mississippi about twenty miles below St. Louis.

    The bottom lands on Big River are remarkably fertile and my father was so fortunate as to secure one of the best bodies of land in that county.  Timber grew in abundance, both on the hills and in the valleys, consequently, it took a great deal of hard labor to open a farm; but after a few years of close attention, father, by the assistance of his boys who were growing up, succeeded in opening a very large one.  He built a large stone dwelling home two stories high, and finished it off in beautiful style, besides other buildings - barns, cribs and stables necessary on every well regulated farm.

Father and mother raised a family of ten children, consisting of seven boys and three girls. I was the fifth one in the family, and was born at the old homestead on Big River, St. Francois county, Missouri, on the 6th day of January, 1836.

School and The Majestic Bluffs

    The facilities for acquiring an education in that neighborhood were very slim indeed, besides I never felt inclined to go to school even when I had a chance; I was too fond of hunting and fishing, or playing around the majestic bluffs that wall in one side or the other of Big River, the whole length of that crooked and very romantic stream. One day’s schooling was all that I ever got in my life; that day was sufficient for me, it gave me a distaste to the very sight of a school house.  I only learned the names of two letters, one shaped like the gable end of a house roof, and the other shaped like an ox yoke standing on end.  At recess in the afternoon the boys got to picking at me while the teacher was gone to dinner, and I had them every one to whip.  When the old tyrant came back from dinner and commenced talking saucy, I gave him a good cursing and broke for home.  My father very generously gave me my choice, either to go to school or to work on the farm.  I gladly accepted the latter, redoubled my energy and always afterwards took particular pains to please my father in all things, because he was so kind as to not compel me to attend school.  A threat to send me to school was all the whipping that I ever required to insure obedience;  I was more afraid of that than I was of old “Raw-head-and bloody-bones” or even the old scratch himself.

    In 1850, my father died, but I still remained at the homestead, working for the support of my mother and the rest of the family, until I had reached the age of nineteen years, then, on the 30th day of October, 1854, I married Miss Margaret HAMPTON, the daughter of a highly esteemed citizen of St. Francois county.  I built a neat log house, opened a farm for myself, within half a mile of the old homestead, and we went to housekeeping for ourselves.

    From the time that my father first settled on Big River, we had an abundance of stock, and especially hogs.  The range was always good , and as the uplands and hills constituted an endless forest of oaks, the enexhaustible supply of acorns afforded all the food that our hogs required; they roamed in the woods, and of course, many of them became as wild as deer; the wild ones remained among the hills and increased until they became very numerous.  Whenever they were fat enough for pork, we were in the habit of going into the woods with our guns and dogs and killing as many of them as we could.

    A few years after my father had settled there, a colony of Pennsylvania Dutch had established themselves in our neighborhood; they were very numerous and constituted about two-thirds of the population of our township.  They soon set up “wild hog claims,” declaring that some of their hogs had also run wild; this led to disputes and quarrels, and to some “fist and skull fighting,” in which my brothers and myself soon won the reputation of “bullies.”  Finding that they had no show at this game, they next resorted to the law, and we had many little law suits before our justice of the peace.  The Dutch out swore us, and we soon found the HILDEBRAND family branded by them with the very unjust and unpleasant epithet of “hog thieves,” but we went in on the muscle and still held the woods. 

The Mutterings of The War

    As our part of the country became more thickly settled and new neighbors came in, they in turn were prejudiced against us; and the rising generation seemed to cling to the same idea, that the HILDEBRANDs seemed to love pork a little too well and needed watching.  Unfortunately for me, my old neighbors were union men; all my sympathies too, were decidedly for the union.  I heard with alarm the mutterings of was in the distance, like the deep tones of thunder beyond the frowning hills.  I had never made politics my study; I had no education whatever, and had to rely exclusively on what others told me.  Of course, I was easily imposed upon by political tricksters, yet from my heart I deplored the necessity of a resort to arms, if such a necessity did exist, and whether it did or not was more than I could divine. 

    While my union neighbors and enemies were making the necessary preparations for leaving their families in comfortable circumstances before taking up arms in defense of their country, there were a few shrewd southern men around to magnify and distort the grievances of the southern people.  In many cases the men whom they obtained had nothing in the world at stake, no useful object in view, no visible means of acquiring an honest livelihood, and were even without a house to ride.  This, however, only afforded them a pretext for practicing what they called “pressing horses,” which was done on a large scale.  Neither political principles, patriotic motives, nor love of country prompted this abominable system of horse stealing.  It was not confined to either party, and it was a remarkable co-incident how invariably the political sentiments of a horse-pressing renegade would differ from the neighbor who happened to have the fastest horses.