Chapter 26 - 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


[Started to St. Francois County, Missouri. - Hung VOGUS and ZIMMER. - Hung George HART. - Concealed in Pike Run Hills. - Started back. - Hung Mr. METTS’ negro, and another one. - Took two deserters back and hung them. ]

    After remaining a few days with my family, I yielded to the solicitation of Captain BOWMAN to take a trip to St. Francois County, Missouri for the purpose of capturing a young man by the name of George HART, who, on a scout with some militia, had killed Captain BOWMAN’s brother in order to get a very fine horse that he rode.

    Our company, consisting of nine men, started on the 20th day of June, 1864; we traveled altogether in the night, and on the morning of the 26th we camped for the day on Wolf Creek, about six miles from Farmington. During the day one of my men clad himself in citizens’ clothes which we always carried along for such emergencies, and went into Farmington to see the sights and to get a bottle of good old "tangle-foot."

    When night came our man had not made his appearance; we immediately arrested a couple of Dutchmen for the purpose of eliciting information from them concerning the military force in town thinking that probably my man had been taken in by the soldiers as a spy. The men we arrested were Henry VOGUS and John ZIMMER, who stated that there were no forces in town at that time, and that there had been no soldiers there for nearly a month. They affirmed that they had been there that day, and that if we did not believe them they would go with us to town and prove the matter. At this juncture my man came in and reported a company of soldiers in the town who had been there for some time. It was now evident to our minds that the Dutchmen were aiming to trap us. I will here state that during the whole war the Dutch went further, tried harder and risked more for my capture than any other people. A very short consultation was sufficient to seal the fate of our two prisoners on the present occasion; we hung them and went on our way rejoicing. Passing a short distance east of Farmington, we stopped at the house of Ross JELKYL, who was at that time Provost Marshal, and took such things as we needed. Some of my men were anxious to kill him, but he had befriended me on one occasion, and I would not permit them to do so.

Seeks Out Horse Thief

    From there we went to the residence of Charles HART, where we found his son George, whom we were after. We stationed men at the back door and demanded admittance at the front; the old man in a short time opened the door, and in obedience to our orders struck a light. On demanding George HART he made his appearance, looking very much condemned. On asking him about the horse he had taken when he murdered young BOWMAN, he stated that he had traded him off, and that he was out of the country. We then told him that he must go with us, to which he made no objection, but was very anxious to know what we wished to do with him; we told him to wait and see. Before we had taken him far, he became satisfied that he would be killed, and made us some offers for his life, which Captain BOWMAN silenced in a few words by asking him if he thought he was able to pay for the life of young BOWMAN whom he had murdered in cold blood. We traveled about eight miles with our prisoner, during which time he made a complete confession.

    Daylight began to appear; we were now about a mile from Big River Mills, and not wishing to be encumbered by a prisoner, we took some hickory bark and hung him to a dogwood sapling. One of his feet touched the ground, so we placed it in the fork of a bush, which completed the process of hanging.

    The main object of our trip having been accomplished, our next move was to get supplies of summer clothing for our families, which we decided on taking from an old meddlesome Union German in Jefferson County by the name of LEPP, who had a store on a small creek called Swashen. We accordingly proceeded to the place and found the old man in his store; he was closefisted and not in the habit of crediting, but we succeeded in getting all we wanted at very low figures, and after promising him our patronage in the future we started back.

    Knowing that our operations about Farmington would create a great excitement, that the forces at Pilot Knob, Farmington, Potosi, Fredericktown and the Iron Mountain with the irrepressible Big River Militia, would all be put on our trail, we decided to travel by night and to get out of the country as soon as possible. But we were overruled by a power higher than our own, and our plans were in some measure thwarted.

    On our way to rob LEPP’s store, one of my men complained of feeling unwell, and by the time we had rode ten miles on our return he became too sick to sit upon his horse. We retreated to a cave in the Pike Run hills where we could conceal ourselves, our horses and our goods while administering to the wants of our sick comrade. Our situation here was indeed a very critical one, and had it not been for the kindness of a true Southern friend, who supplied us at night with provisions and horse feed, we undoubtedly would have suffered; he risked his own life to save us, and in addition to his other acts of kindness he procured the services of a physician, who checked the disease in a few days.

    It is needless to state that during all this time the country was literally flooded with Federal soldiers who hunted for me on their same old plan, of riding along the road, threatening women and children, and killing chickens.

    After remaining at the Pike Run hills seven or eight days, our comrade was sufficiently recovered to mount his horse. As he was yet quite weak we thought it best to travel during daylight at the commencement of our trip. We rode slowly through the woods, and avoided the soldiers by keeping out of the public roads, and by shunning all places where liquor could be obtained. On reaching the vicinity of my brothers-in-law, on Flat River, we met old Isaac, a negro belonging to Mr. METTS, carrying a bridle around his shoulder. As we were dressed in Federal uniform he mistook us for Union soldiers, and in answer to our inquiries, made a lengthy report against the Southern men in that neighborhood, clearly implicating the SIMMS family as well as the SHANNONs and SWEENEYs. He said he would have reported sooner, but that he was afraid they would suspicion him and get Sam HILDEBRAND to put him out of the way.

Hears Report About Self

    The report he made to us, if told to a squad of Federals, was sufficient to have consigned those Southern men to an ignominious death without any further evidence. The charge was this: that in his opinion "if Sam HILDEBRAND was to call at their houses and ask for something to eat, that they would feed him until he was as plump as a stuffed turkey." Some of my boys wanted to shoot him to prevent him from making that awful revelation to the Federal authorities; but I objected, because the sound of a gun might lead to our discovery. We quietly lashed him to a horse which we were leading, took him among the hills toward Westover’s mill and hung him. On searching his pockets for a knife I found a pocket book containing sixty-four dollars. Some of the boys proposed that as they seemed to have money we should take in a few negroes until our pockets were replenished. On the next day we came suddenly across one in the woods; as we were traveling slowly it was necessary that we should get through the country without being reported. Having no spare rope, we hung the negro with hickory bark; but on searching his pockets we found nothing but a cob pipe.

    Nothing else worthy of note occurred until we reached the vicinity of Greenville. While camped for the day on a high elevation, we discovered two men coming up the hill toward us. They came leisurely up the hill, walking as if they were very tired, and got within fifteen steps of our camp before they discovered it. Their first impulse was to run, but we ordered them to surrender, and they abandoned all idea of being able to make their escape. They proved to be deserters from the Federal army at Ironton, who were making their way to their homes at New Madrid. One of my men knew them well, and to him they are indebted to this day for their lives. We kept them with us until night and then permitted them to continue their journey.

    We were no little amused at the many horrible tales of pillage and bloodshed that they said were reported daily at the Federal camps about my depredations. The strangest part of it was that many of those enormities were committed on the same day and in localities very remote from each other.

    When night came the rest of the company proceeded on to Arkansas; but Captain BOWMAN, TRASTER and myself concluded to go into Shannon County after a couple of deserters who, in the early part of the war, had belonged to Captain BOLIN’s command. While with us, however, they were of no service, being too cowardly to fight and too lazy to steal; but since their desertion they were constantly reporting every squad of rebels who visited that section of country, and were in the habit of annoying Southern citizens in that neighborhood.

    On reaching the neighborhood where they lived we learned that they had gone to Ironton, and the supposition was that they had gone there for the purpose of joining the Union army. But on the next day they returned; we quietly arrested them, got them out of the country without creating any alarm and marched them back to Green County, Arkansas, where we hung them in the presence of the command.