Chapter 25 - 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. - Started to Missouri with nine men. - Killed a soldier near Dallas. - Went to St. Francois County. - Watched for WALLS and BAKER. - Watched near Big River Mills for McGAHAN. - Came near shooting Mr. SHARP. - Robbed BURGES, HUGHES, and KELLEY of their horses. - Robbed ALBRIGHT’s store. - Captured some Federals on White Water. ]

    As we all belonged to the "Independent Bushwhacking Department of the Confederate States of America," and were entirely dependent on our own exertions for a livelihood, it was necessary now that we should put in our crops.

    For nearly two months, Crowley’s Ridge on which we lived, and the adjacent country, looked as if it contained an industrious little community of "honest farmers."

    The axe was heard in every direction; the smoke from burning brush was curling up from a thousand fires, and at night the little boys and girls were making bright fires until midnight, under the impression hinted at by their fathers that it was "such fun." All day long the women were out in full force with their hoes and their rakes, unmindful of the music of crying babies heard at nearly every cabin. Mothers were nearly always deaf while planting out onions; it is a little season of orphanage through which most children in the country have to pass once a year. We have all passed through that bitter day with red eyes, and it is no wonder that the sight of an onion in after life is so apt to bring tears in our eyes.

    I put in a good crop of corn, and my wife made an excellent garden with no help but the children. I am very much tempted to brag a little on my excellent wife, but if I were to assert that I had the best wife in the world, each one of my male readers who are married would want me to except his own; this would render the exceptions so numerous that my wife would come nearly last, so I will say nothing about it, and keep my own opinion to myself.

Another Missouri Trip

    After plowing my crop over once I made preparations for another trip to Missouri, but we had all got into such a good humor while busily engaged in farming, that we were nearly two days recounting our grievances before we were mad enough to think of snatching our enemies into eternity.

    Taking nine men, one of whom had served under QUANTREL, we started on the 25th day of May, 1864, for another raid into Missouri. Crossing the St. Francis River at the southwest corner of Stoddard county, we went into Scott county and watched three days and nights to catch some men we were after, but failing in this we went in the direction of Dallas, the county seat of Bollinger.

    My men wanted to return, as nothing of an exciting interest had transpired so far; but at my earnest solicitation they agreed to go with me one more day. The next morning we were traveling in day time, and had not proceeded more than four or five miles when we discovered a party of Federals, seven in number, who had discovered us and were under full speed toward the town of Dallas, which was at that time garrisoned by about one hundred Dutch soldiers. We dashed on after them; the race was a very exciting one. When we had gone about six miles we began to gain on them, and when we got within a mile of the garrison one of their horses fell, giving the rider a thump on the ground that knocked him senseless until we were upon him. We disarmed him, and as his horse had not left, we made him mount and go with us about two miles in the woods.

    The Dutchman seemed very much alarmed, and gave us enough broken English for a good sized volume; but as soon as we arrived in a thick timbered hollow between the hills, we quietly sent his spirit back to the Rhine where it never should have left. In a few hours we called at the house of a friend, fed our horses, and got some refreshments for ourselves.

    To the Flat Woods, in St. Francois county, we then made our way, and remained there about twenty-four hours, after which we went to extreme northern part of the county and concealed ourselves among the Pike Run hills. Those hills are perhaps the most rugged part of the whole State, and are covered with a dense thicket of underbrush, making it a wild, uninhabited wilderness. These hills not being far from Big River, they afforded me a secure place for my temporary headquarters while searching around for my enemies.

    Early in the morning I engaged the services of a well known friend, who feigned business in several parts of the neighborhood, who returned at night and reported that only two of my persecutors were at home, whose names were James WALLS and John BAKER.

    On the following morning when the light of day again pierced through the gloom of our retreat I went and stationed myself near the house where they both resided.

    I did not watch long before WALLS came out onto the porch. But I had failed to get a position sufficiently near for me to kill him at the house; I was watching for them to come to the wood pile, which would only have been about one hundred yards. I could always hit a spot as large as a man’s hand at that distance with old "Kill-devil."

    About ten o’clock two men rode up to the house, alighted and went in; they came out again in half an hour followed by both WALLS and BAKER, who started off in an opposite direction from where I lay. I then changed my position to the opposite side of the house, thinking they probably would return soon.

    I remained quietly until the sun had dipped behind the western hills, then I returned to camp where I again found my friend who had acted as a spy for me. He told me that he had seen BAKER and WALLS going in the direction of DeSoto with two other men, one of whom stated to him that "Sam HILDEBRAND was thought to be in the country, from the fact that strange and very rough looking men had been seen at several public places, and that they were thought to be HILDEBRAND’s men."

Frequent Scares

    The reader will here understand that these unwarrantable scares were very frequent in this vicinity; one poor ragged stranger making his appearance in the neighborhood was sufficient at any time to raise the cry of "HILDEBRAND," at which all who had wronged me would squat like young quails.

    Knowing that any further efforts to kill either WALLS or BAKER would be fruitless, I concluded to run the risk of watching the town of Big River Mills, which was at that time a place of rendezvous for the Militia, where they generally collected before starting out against me.

    I accordingly took my station on a bluff overlooking the main road leading from the settlement of my old enemies to that place, being about a quarter of a mile below the town and fifty yards from the road. At daylight I was on the bluff and ready for business. During the day people passed the road at intervals of from fifteen minutes to half and hour; but none of them were the men I wanted to kill. From the position I occupied I could easily recognize the features of any one with whom I was formerly acquainted.

    In the evening, about an hour by sun, I discovered a man riding slowly and alone toward the town, whom I recognized as Joe McGAHAN. A thrill of intense satisfaction pervaded my whole system, which it would be folly in me to attempt to describe. The English language from its high standard of dignity to its inexhaustible mind of seething invective would be inadequate to describe the supreme contempt I felt for that man. When I reflected that one of the men who had dipped his hands in the blood of my brothers was now within the range of my gun, my feelings of joy, mingled with a hope of success was indescribable. Nearer and nearer he came, unconscious that retributive justice was hanging over his head; and as he approached the desired point I raised my trusty rifle to my face, placed my finger on the trigger, and was nearly in the act of pulling when the man turned his face a little toward me, when I discovered the sad and almost fatal mistake, that instead of being McGAHAN it was a man by the name of SHARP. He was a Union man living near by, but was a worthy man and highly esteemed by all who knew him. I almost involuntarily hailed him in order to explain and apologize, but was checked instantly by the return of reason. As he passed slowly out of sight my eyes were riveted on him until a point of the bluff around which he had passed broke the spell. I was deeply absorbed in thought, and the question naturally arose in my mind, why I should have been so often thwarted in my attempts to meet out justice to one who was a scourge to the land that gave him birth, and who had not even the magnanimity of the rattlesnake whose alarm is heard before the blow is struck.

    I arrived finally to the conclusion that his Satanic Majesty, who still ruled the infernal regions without a rival, was jealous of his protege upon earth where he still needed his services, and that he wished to delay the period when he would be compelled to doff his crown to a superior.

Retreat On Pike Run Hill

    I did not remain long in ambush after I had come so near committing a terrible error; but hastened through the woods, back to my retreat among the Pike Run hills, and found my men awaiting my return with anxious impatience. As soon as it was dark we started south, and after midnight reached the pinery, southwest from Farmington, and slept there until late in the morning. Our horses were much fagged, we saw that it was best to swap them off before proceeding on our journey.

    During the day we stationed ourselves near the plank road between Farmington and Pilot Knob, to watch for an opportunity of exchanging horses. A large company of Federals passed by, but they were too numerous for our purpose. Toward evening we saw three men approaching who were mounted upon fine looking horses. The names of the men were BURGES, HUGHES and KELLEY. We lost no time in capturing the party, and to prevent them from reporting us too soon, we made them go with us several miles over the rugged hills and deep ravines.

    Not understanding this movement, they seemed much alarmed, thinking probably that we designed "barking" them.

    Old man BURGES begged manfully for his life, and shed an occasional tear; but I told them that as they were not Federal soldiers, and that as I had no personal animosity against them, it would be barbarous in the extreme for us to harm them. We took their horses, gave them our own and then released them. We certainly had no right to complain.

    We kept near the road leading to Pilot Knob until near sunset, when we came to ALBRIGHT’s store. ALBRIGHT was a good Union Dutchman, and was not in the habit of crediting bushwhackers, so we robbed his store of all we wanted and then taking to the woods we changed our course.

    Night soon overtook us, and we traveled eastward until we got into the neighborhood where Mr. BESS resided, on White Water. It was now late in the morning, and we took our position on the top of a high hill where we had a fine view of the surrounding country, and especially of the main road along which the Federals were in the habit of passing from Cape Girardeau to Fredericktown.

    In the evening, while most of us were sleeping, my pickets discovered a small squad of soldiers about a half a mile off, making their way Westward. On being awakened I directed my men to follow me, went down to the road which was skirted by very thick undergrowth, where we secreted ourselves in two parties about fifty yards apart, giving orders not to fire on the Federals unless they showed fight or attempted to run. When they got near the second squad we stepped out into the road and demanded them to surrender. Our appearance was so sudden that they had no time to draw their weapons. Several of them wheeled their horses for a run, but on discovering themselves faced on that side also they threw up their hands in token of a willingness to surrender.

    I made them dismount and stack their arms against a tree; after which we marched them into the woods to where our horses were and proceeded to question them.

    Then I told them who I was, at which they seemed rather pleased, and remarked that they had often heard of me, and although they had no desire to fall into my hands as prisoners of war, yet they always wished to see me.

    I asked them if they had not heard of me as being a bushwhacker and withal a very bad man, and that I was in the habit of killing all my prisoners. "Oh yes!" said their leader, "we have heard that you did not regard the life of a personal enemy as of any value, but we have seen several men whom you had released who told us that you were quite a different man from the fabulous blood-thirsty HILDEBRAND we had heard so much about in timid circles."

Neither McNEAL’s or LEEPER’s Men

    Upon producing papers which satisfied us that they were neither McNEAL’s or LEEPER’s men, but belonged to the command of Col. BEVERAGE of Cape Girardeau, we released them unarmed and afoot. We went on toward Bollinger’s Mill, but when in that vicinity on the next morning about sunrise, we met two Federals in the road, who instantly wheeled their horses and dashed through the woods at full speed.

    Being burdened with the horses and the arms we had taken from our prisoners on the day previous, all of us could not engage in pursuit. Captain SNAP, myself and two men started after them at full speed, and caught them in less than half a mile. They stopped and threw up their hands before we were within two hundred yards of them. I was almost tempted to shoot them for being cowards.

    After taking them back to our boys, we went on the top of an adjacent hill and camped for the day. We ascertained from the prisoners that they were new recruits, which was corroborated by some letters from their friends which they happened to have in their pockets.

    Knowing that they had not been in the army long enough to have committed many depredations, we decided to release them; but as we were already burdened with horses we took them along with us to assist with our stock until we had passed Mingo Swamp, and then released them. A few days afterwards we arrived safely in Green County, Arkansas.