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Legend of St. Francois County
SAM HILDEBRAND’S CONFESSION
Reprinted from the County Advertiser by Farmington News Printing Company
September 26, 1979
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
[Started with four men. - Surrounded in a thicket near Fredericktown. - Escaped with the loss of three horses. - Stole horses from the Federals at night. -Killed two Federal soldiers. - Suffered from hunger. - Killed FOWLER. - Got a horse from G.W. MURPHY. - Went to Mingo Swamp. - Killed COOTS for betraying him. - Killed a soldier and lost two men.]
I selected four good men and started on another trip to St. Francois County, Missouri on the 10th of November. We traveled altogether in the night; arriving in the vicinity of Fredericktown about midnight, we stopped at the house of a well-known friend, who expressed a great deal of surprise at seeing us there, stating that the cry of "HILDEBRAND," had been raised in the community about ten days previous, and that the Federals, with the assistance of citizens, had been scouting the woods between that place and Farmington ever since. He was no little amused when we told him that the report was utterly false, and that we were on a scout out westward at the time.
The report of my having been in that part of the country ten days previous, I was satisfied would work favorably to the success of our present enterprise, for it was not probable that they would make another search so soon after having made one so thoroughly.
From there we went to a dense thicket near the residence of Mr. NORTH, and being very tired and sleepy, we lay down, and slept very soundly until the morning sun was looking down upon our quiet retreat. Our old friend had supplied us with two days’ rations and some shelled corn for our horses, so we had a complete outfit for a good rest.
Whilst lying lazily around our horses, planning the future of our trip, we were suddenly startled by the sound of a gun near by, which was evidently discharged at one of us. A moment, however, was sufficient to satisfy me in regard to the nature of the case; we had been spied out, our horses tracked up, and our thicket surrounded. At a bound I lit in my saddle and was soon out of the thicket in an opposite direction from where the gun was fired. On reaching the open ground, I discovered the Federals coming around the woods, not having yet completed their circle. They fired on me, but the distance was too great, and I remained unhurt. My men had not taken time to mount their horses, but as they followed me on foot, one of them received a bruise on his back from a spent ball. In a few minutes our complete escape was effected, with no damage but the loss of four good horses. The Federals followed us closely for about a mile, when we got far enough ahead to give them the dodge by turning at right angles into the St. Francis River bottom. We made our back to within a mile of Fredericktown, where we remained the rest of the day. When night came we went in quest of our pursuers; we found them camped in a lane about six miles northwest from Fredericktown.
Object To Get Horses
Our object now was to get horses. We made our way on foot toward them but found that the end of the lane was guarded; we went around to the other end and found it guarded also, while the horses were in the middle, tied to one of the fences. We then went around through the field, laying down the outside fence very carefully, and approached the lane fence on the opposite side from where the horses were tied. The night was very dark, but we could distinctly see a sentinel slowly walking his beat of about fifty yards, ourselves being at the end of the beat. When his back was turned, I lay the fence down easily; we sprang to a horse a piece, cut the halters, mounted and were off at full speed before he turned on the other end of his beat.
Our hasty flight of course raised an alarm in the camp, but we saw no more of the Federals that night. Being again mounted, we resolved to give them employment for a few days in hunting us, and for that purpose we took up our quarters in a place least expected, by going within a mile of Fredericktown onto a certain eminence, after having made a circuit around the side of a hill.
On the following day we slept by turns; I killed a pig with my knife near the house of a farmer, and cooked it in a deep ravine where the fire could not be observed; during the previous night we had stolen a sufficiency of feed for our horses. I concluded to go into Fredericktown to get a supply of ammunition which I did about ten o’clock in the night, by meeting with an old friend there who bountifully supplied us with all we needed.
We moved seven or eight miles in the direction of Pilot Knob, supplying ourselves with horse feed and provisions on the move.
When morning again made its appearance, I left my men in charge of the horses, and after instructing them where to meet me again in case of trouble, I went to the gravel road for the purpose of killing a Federal or two. I concealed myself near the road, and about 10 o’clock in the day, two came along and I let old "Kill-devil" off at one of them. They wheeled suddenly around and started back in the direction of Pilot Knob; the one I shot was badly wounded and bled freely. Only an hour afterwards a squad of perhaps ten came from the direction of Fredericktown. I was a quandary in my mind whether it was best to take a pop at them, or not, a feeling of revenge settled the matter. I fired, and one fell; at this they put their horses to full speed. Soon after they were out of sight, another came along in a very great hurry as if he was endeavoring to overtake the others; on coming up to the dead man he made a momentary halt, of which I took advantage and shot him through. I now concluded that I had done enough for the day, or enough, at least, to raise an excitement, so I went back to my men and we moved about twelve miles in the direction of Farmington, and near the St. Francis River on a high bluff, which afforded us peculiar advantages in the event of a fight, where we were compelled to remain several days.
HILDEBRAND Searched For
My comrade, who had received a bruise on the spine, had by this time become so disabled by that slight injury, that he could not ride. The little amusement that I had taken on the gravel road was now creating quite a stir in military circles, and their search for us was carried on with a zeal worthy of a better cause.
Having called out the forces at Pilot Knob, Fredericktown and Farmington, with a large majority of the citizens, the search was made thoroughly and in earnest. Squads frequently passed in sight of us, and within easy gunshot, but none of them ascended the high bluff we occupied. On the evening of the third day our provisions and horse-feed gave out, and each night I went out in search of more. Obtaining provender for our horses was a very easy matter, but getting provisions for ourselves was not only very difficult but extremely dangerous. I knew but few men in the neighborhood, and on approaching their houses I invariably found our well-known signal of danger - a towel hung on a nail outside the door. We could easily have killed a hog or a sheep, but we could not run the risk of making a fire to cook it. After our provisions gave entirely out, we were twenty-four hours without any food. During the second night I found some bacon in somebody’s smoke-house. I knew not whether he was a friend or foe, and cared still less, but I took two hams to camp, which we ate raw.
On the sixth night our comrade was able to ride, and we moved about fifteen miles, stopping south of Fredericktown. Here a friend supplied us with the necessities of life and even brought food to our camp ready cooked for our use.
Our wounded companion, who was too much disabled to take any part in a raid, now obtained leave to return to Arkansas alone, while I and my other men started on a trip to St. Francois County.
While living at Flat Woods, I became acquainted with a man named John FOWLER. He professed to be a strong Southern man, and having perfect confidence in his veracity, I entrusted him with many things in regard to my plans, that I withheld from the rest of my neighbors; but about the time that I was run off from there by the Federals, my friend FOWLER joined the Union army.
On receiving this intelligence, I felt much mortified, and concluded at once that he had betrayed me, notwithstanding he sent me word on several occasions that I need not fear him. His duplicity, however, was so apparent that I determined to kill him on sight; this I had some hope of doing, as he seemed to enjoy some liberties, and often came into the neighborhood, but generally in company with other soldiers. On every visit he came to my house and conversed pleasantly with my wife, but I regarded him rather as a spy.
As we were traveling along on the present occasion, I ran suddenly on him about five miles southwest from Fredericktown. We met in a narrow path, and before he hardly had time to recognize me, I shot and killed him instantly.
I will here state that I had cause to regret this act afterwards, for I ascertained that he had deserted the Federals, and was on his way South to join the "Bushwhacking department" of the Southern army.
After passing Fredericktown in the night, we learned that several companies of Federals, Home Guards and Militia, were hunting for me in every direction. In fact, we came near being discovered by several squads during the night. We hastened on into St. Francois County; Tom HAILE and myself being in front, we took Farmington without firing a gun long before my other men came up. As we rode in, the streets were full of people, but we only had time to take a second look when the place seemed to be entirely deserted. Not a man, woman or child could be found, at which Tom laughed heartily, and remarked that he thought cellar rent ought to be very high in that place. When my other men came up Tom told them that we had found a beautiful town not claimed by anybody, "just laying around loose," and that he was sorry we could not take it along with us until we found an owner. We did not haunt the town very long with our unholy presence, but after going into a grocery, where we had to help ourselves, we took a hearty drink of some good old liquor that had been left by the generation that once lived there; then mounting our horses we left the lonesome place. Tom remarked that as we had no wounded man to leave there to garrison the town we had better leave for the "settlements." We went on to Big River to look after out old enemies but their consciousness of having committed such a catalogue of crimes against me made them the hardest men in the world to find.
Business of Killing Enemies
In our business of killing enemies, we met with good success everywhere but on Big River. Up to the time of the present writing, a majority of those miscreants, with hands dripping with the blood of my brothers, are yet permitted to live. For several days and nights we watched around the houses of my old enemies, but to no purpose; it was impossible to find them. One of my men made his way around through the neighborhood to ascertain their whereabouts, and reported that they were all from home except Franklin MURPHY; but Tom HAILE was determined that I should not kill him. He exacted a promise from me long ago that I never would molest him or any of his property. HAILE was a man who wielded an influence over every one with whom he came in contact. He was ever in a perfect good humor; the clouds of adversity never seemed to throw a shadow on his brow; his heart was all sunshine, and his feet ever trod in the vales of mirth and gladness.
I plainly saw that so far as killing my old enemies was concerned my present trip was a failure. During all the incidents of my previous trips to Missouri, I never for once lost sight of that one leading object of my mind. The killing of Federals, in which I had taken such an active part, only afforded me pleasure by the reflection that they were a part and parcel of the same stripe, and in sympathy with the Big River vigilance mob.
I was now much in need of a good horse, and after talking the matter over with my men, Tom HAILE and myself concluded to demand a good horse, bridle and saddle, from G.W. MURPHY, a man whose nature it was to be quiet and inoffensive, and who had attended strictly to his own business during all the struggle.
He was abundantly able to assist us in the matter, and we considered that he ought to contribute that much toward the Southern cause. We were raised close together from boyhood, and I had nothing against him; but as he was well able to spare me a horse, I made the demand. He complied with the request after emerging (as I believe) from a barrel of feathers. His novel appearance caused Tom HAILE, who was always fond of a joke, to tell him that he must not let Jim CRAIG see him in that condition, or he might capture him for a spotted mule, which MURPHY, in his good humored way, passed off very well. We also took a horse from Orville McILVAINE, who lived on the place known as the BAKER farm. I had some anxiety to see him in order to make him break his well-known rule of never parting with a green back after it got into his safe; but his retiring nature prompted him to conceal himself in the garret until we departed. We now rejoined the other boys and started back by way of Mingo Swamp. Before we reached that place we were warned by our friends that the Federals were thick in that locality. About midnight we arrived at the house of William COOTS (well-known as old Bill COOTS), who had heretofore invariably represented himself as a Rebel of unusual bitterness. In answer to our inquiries, he told us that there were no Federals in the neighborhood, neither had there been any for more than a month. He also told us that the men we wished to find were then at home. I felt very much gratified on hearing statements so favorable to the success of our enterprise, and requested him to supply us with a few days’ rations and provender for our horses, while we camped at a certain point not more than half a mile distant.
Invitation To Breakfast
He readily consented, and gave us a very pressing invitation to come and take breakfast with him about sun up. To this we agreed, and at the time designated, we all left our camp and repaired to the house of our generous host, who received us with a great deal of what might be termed "Arkansas courtesy." It may be readily supposed that the scanty fattening process we had gone through while on the St. Francis bluff had produced a streak of lean running the whole length of our mortal bodies; and that the odor from the kitchen, of coffee, ham and eggs, with other ingredients intermixed with spices, made us for a time forget all other things on these mundane shores. When breakfast was announced and we were about to seat ourselves at the table, old COOTS remarked: "Here, gentlemen, you can lay your arms on the bed," but it was not our custom to take off our arms at any time, so we seated ourselves at the table with them on. We were perhaps about half done eating when a ragged looking Federal stepped up to the door, and in an exulting tone said: "Well COOTS, you got them, did you?" and bawled out "surrender," at which I sprang from the table, drew my revolver and shot COOTS, seized my gun which I had left near the door, and cleared the door by about fifteen feet; I shot a Federal with my revolver which I still held in my right hand, and in a few bounds gained the woods unhurt, save a slight wound on the back of my head. My men attempted to follow without their guns, two of them were killed in their attempt to escape, while the remaining one (Tom HAILE) soon got with me and we made our way to our horses. Fortunately the Federals had not found them. We tarried awhile for our comrades, but as they did not come up we were fearful that they were slain. Mounting our horses and leading theirs, we made our way to a canebrake about a mile off, and sent a citizen back to ascertain the real state of affairs. After taking an old bridle in his hand, he made his way over, inquiring of each person he met for a grey mare and a black colt.
On passing the house of old Bill COOTS he was halted, at which he did not seem to be the least alarmed, but expressed the utmost surprise when the whole tragedy was related to him. The worst part of the whole affair was that two of my men were killed and were lying at the time in front of the house. On receiving this news we started home to get a force sufficient to clean out the Federals, but on arriving in Green county, Arkansas, nearly all of our men were out on scouting excursions, principally toward the west.
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