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Legend of St. Francois County
SAM HILDEBRANDS CONFESSION
Reprinted from the County Advertiser by Farmington News Printing Company
September 26, 1979
Confessions of Sam HILDEBRAND
TYPISTS 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
[Started with six men for Springfield, Missouri. - Deceived by a Federal Spy. - Was captured through mistake by Rebels. - Surprised on Panther Creek. - Returned home on foot.]
I was under obligation to assist some of my boys in a trip to the neighborhood from which they had been driven, in return for their services on several of my trips.
About the middle of September, after having only rested about a week, I started with six men from near Springfield, Missouri, to make a raid in the vicinity of that city. Not being acquainted with the country over which we designed traveling, I had but little to say in regard to the programme of our intended raid. After our plans were arranged, we started, taking with us "neither purse nor script," for we intended to rely altogether on our good fortune for our supplies.
From Green County, Ark., we traveled through Randolph and entered Missouri in Ripley County. Here we were detained, for one of my men had the misfortune to lose his horse. Having reached a part of the country known as the Irish Wilderness, we concluded to rest a day and hunt.
In the evening before we struck camp, a young man, dressed in citizens clothes, who claimed to be going to the Rebel army, joined us, and asked permission to stop with us until morning. He professed to be going to Arkansas, and we readily consented to entertain him as best we could.
After the confusion incident to striking camp, making fires, attending to our horses, etc., was over, our new companion began a series of interrogatories relative to the part of the country through which we had operated, since the beginning of the war. After having posted him thoroughly in regard to the field of our operations, we related to him many thrilling incidents and daring adventures connected with our history; to all of which he listened with intense interest, and at the amusing parts of our story he laughed most heartily. After we grew tired of relating our many dangerous feats and bloody deeds, he began his narrative of hair breadth escapes and heroic adventures. The field of his operations having been Kentucky, we were very pleasantly entertained by receiving the full accounts of several incidents of which we had heard some rumors.
Pleased With Companion
We had scarcely marked the transition from twilight to Egyptian darkness, so much we were pleased with our new companions pleasant stories, when one of my men remarked that "the last hour of the day was melting away into the eventful past." Our programme for the day following had been made by our new comrade and heartily approved by us all, that we would take an old fashioned deer hunt, among the wild hills surrounding us.
Our quiet slumbers were scarcely disturbed even by the intermission of rolling over, until "Old Sol" was looking us fair in the face, as if to read the guilt of our hearts.
Upon awakening, one word loudly spoken was sufficient to bring the whole squad to a half recumbent position; and as we went through the antiquated performance of rubbing our eyes, the attention of each one seemed to be turned to the spot where our new comrade had deposited himself for a sleep a few hours before. He was gone! The fragment of an old log, that had served him as a pillow, was all that was left of him or his bed. But this was not all; - one of our best horses was gone! We cared but little for the horse, so far as his real value was concerned, for we had some experience in "raising horses," and knew that we could get another on very easy terms, but we did not like the idea of having been gulled by a young adventurous loyalist, in the face of the fact, too, that we considered ourselves "shark proof."
Neither were we certain that our misfortunes would end here, for our "Sharper" had succeeded in getting our plans for the entire trip.
During the preparation of our morning meal, the subject of our misfortune was freely discussed, with many conjectures in regard to who our deceiver was, and the probable result of his acquired information.
A majority of the men were in favor of continuing our journey, while only one man joined me in opposing any further movement in the direction of Springfield.
However, as it was not my own trip, I did not feel at liberty to say much about it; not wishing to appear obstinate, I contented myself with making them a "humbug" speech, for I must confess that the recollection of our unfortunate adventure at the place, seemed as though it would haunt me to the grave. All my arguments, however, did no good, they would not be convinced against their own will; so I submitted cheerfully to the good old democratic rule of going with the majority.
During the day, myself and two others, rode over to the edge of the settlements to get a horse for our pedestrian "bushwhacker," and succeeded in finding one; but the owner was a noted Rebel; our only way to sustain ourselves in the act was to pass ourselves off for Union soldiers, this we did with a very good grace and got the horse without any resistance. In fact, he made but little objection, for he knew that the "Union savers" were terrible when irritated.
After going back two or three miles toward our camp in the Wilderness, I saw some deer on the side of an adjoining hill, and fearing that the boys in camp had failed to kill meat for our supper, selected a nice buck and shot him dead on the spot.
After having dressed the meat preparatory to carrying it into camp, we concluded to build a fire and broil some of it for our dinner. While we were thus busily engaged, all squatted around the fire, we were suddenly saluted by a remarkably boisterous mandate of "surrender!" at which we sprang to our feet with our revolvers in our hands to find ourselves confronted by five of Capt. BOLINs men, who had left Green county, Arkansas, a few days before us, and were on a visit to see some friends in the neighborhood, from one of whom we had taken the horse. We had anything else rather than a fight, for we quickly recognized each other, and a general congratulation was the only military demonstration between us.
The five "bushwhackers" were concealed near the house of the old Rebel from whom we had taken the horse, and who had really regarded us as Federals. As soon as we had left his house, he reported us to Capt. BOLINs men, who took our trail and tracked us to the wild solitudes of the Irish Wilderness. We at once decided on changing our quarters. I sent my two comrades to the camp and had the boys to move over to the edge of the settlements. The old Rebel, from whom we had taken the horse, was our best friend; we gave it back to him, and got another in that neighborhood on the following night.
The reader, without making any very extravagant draw upon his imagination, can conclude that we had a jolly time when we all got together.
Our adventure with the sharper, my attempt to steal the old Rebels horse, and our unconditional surrender in the Wilderness while broiling the venison, were the subjects discussed. From the boys, we learned something more of our adventurous Yankee detective. He had been in that neighborhood a week or two, repeating the same story he had told us. He evidently thought that the bushwhackers were rather thick in that neighborhood, and concluded to leave it as quick as possible.
On the following morning, our whole party, with myself, took up our march for Springfield, and in the evening of the same day we reached the vicinity of Thomasville, in Oregon County. We were warned against traveling in the day time, unless we were hunting for a fight; we assured our friends that a fight was the least of our desire at the present time, the object of our trip being solely for the purpose of enabling some of our boys to avenge certain wrongs received at the hands of Union men in Greene County, Missouri.
After making a tolerable heavy draw on some of our Rebel friends for provisions and horse feed, we again resumed our journey, and the following morning found us in the woods, quartered for the day, near a small town in Howell county, called Lost Camp, where we remained all day.
A substantial old friend living near by, brought us two or three bottles of "burst-head," which produced the effect of making some of the boys believe that they had fought a great battle, and that the United States government had taken refuge in a deep cavern, the mouth of which they had stopped with a large flat rock, on top of which the boys were dancing. The only question with them seemed to be what they would do with their twenty million of prisoners.
Near Vera Cruz
When sable light again clad the wicked world in half mourning, we resumed our journey, and on approach of day, we were in the beautiful little town of Vera Cruz, in Douglas County; on the next night we reached Panther Creek, in Webster County. One of our men who professed to be acquainted in that neighborhood, went to a pretended Rebel friend to get supplies, but the old fellow flatly refused to give him anything. I was a little amused at the disappointment of the boys, and at the dilemma in which they were placed. I could not help thinking how different I would have acted on a raid of my own.
About ten oclock in the forenoon we were surprised by a party of Federal soldiers, numbering perhaps about sixty men. Before we were aware of their presence they charged upon us at a most furious rate, yelling and shooting at us most fearfully. A mere glance at the party was sufficient to convince me that an attempt at resistance would be worse than folly. I sprang to my feet, yelled out to the boys to run; but having no time to mount our horses. We had to depend upon our own fleetness of our escape. In our retreat through the dense forest, we had the advantage over our enemies; I and four others managed to keep together for about a mile; not seeing any pursuers, we took our position on a high hill, and remained there until late in the evening. While keeping a vigilant watch over the surrounding country, we discovered one of our men emerging cautiously from a dense thicket in the valley at the foot of the hill.
He seemed terribly frightened. I made my way down the hill to within a hundred yards of him, and then called him by name; but it was some time before he recognized me. Fortunately for us, this man was acquainted with the country through which we would have to pass in making our way back to Arkansas. The tops of the highest hills were yet basking in the suns last lingering rays, when we started on our perilous journey of two hundred miles on foot, without any blankets, provisions, or anything else, except our pistols and one gun, for I had made my escape with old "Kill-devil" in my hand. The next morning about daylight, we ran into a gang of sheep, succeeded in catching one, and made our way down into a deep ravine, where we could not be discovered. There we built a fire and fared sumptuously. We continued on during the night, and the next day I killed a deer. On the following night we reached our friend near Vera Cruz, and here we met another one of our boys, but he was no better posted in regard to the fate of our company than myself.
I will not weary the patience of my reader by detailing the many privations incident to our trip; suffice it to say that we did get back to Arkansas; and that fortunate for me I never received an invitation to take another trip to Springfield under the command of an unexperienced leather-head.
About a week after arriving in camp, another one of the boys came in, looking somewhat subjugated. I afterwards learned that two of our men were killed when we were routed, and that the others were taken prisoners, none of whom ever returned during the war.
I have cautioned the boys never again to imagine themselves dancing on the flat rock covering the prison door of the defunct Yankee nation, lest they might unexpectedly find some of them yet running at large.
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