Chapter 27 - Sam Hildebrand's Confession


Legend of St. Francois County
Reprinted from the County Advertiser by Farmington News Printing Company
September 26, 1979

sam_hildebrand.jpg (11901 bytes)

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 nine men to St. Francois County. - Stopped in the Pike Run Hills. - Robbed the store of Christopher LEPP. - Hung Mr. KINDER’s negro. - Attacked by Federals. - Killed two and lost a man. - Shot two soldiers on a furlough. - The strange camp. ]

    I had not been at home long before I formed the acquaintance of a man by the name of GIBSON, who had come to our little Green County Confederacy for the purpose of joining the "bushwhacking department." GIBSON was a man possessing some superior advantages over most of Capt. BOLIN’s men; he had an accomplished education, and was endowed with a peculiar faculty of making all the men like him. He was the best marksman in our whole company, with one single exception; and that exception, I must modestly assert for the sake of truth, was myself.

    On the 16th day of July, I selected GIBSON and eight other men for another trip into St. Francois County. Having made so many failures in that quarter, I had some forebodings that I would again meet with disappointments; but I had long since resolved to let my old enemies have no peace while I labored under no greater disadvantages than I did. It is true that they were backed by a great nation of untold wealth, whose enemies actually in the field numbered more than one million and a half of armed men, and whose line of garrisoned territory extended one hundred and fifty miles south of their nest on Big River; yet while I thought that I was backed by the South with her armies of three hundred thousand men, I asked no better amusement than that of striking at my enemies under the ponderous wing of Federal protection.

    Unlike my enemies, I had no commissary department, no steam presses running night and day striking off greenbacks, no outlet to other nations by commercial treaties, no people at my back willing to be saddled with a debt of three or four thousand million of dollars merely to carry into effect a Utopian idea. My long marches had to be made in the night and with the utmost caution and secrecy. The woods was my home, the moon my orb of light, and the hooting owls my spectators.

    My enemies long since had learned to fear my name; the fear of retributive justice was sufficient to make them cower; their militia organization only assumed a tangible shape when I was absent; for on my approach they secreted themselves so securely that nothing short of the prolonged sound of Gabriel’s trumpet could ever be able to bring them forth.

    We passed quietly through Butler County, along the western line of Madison, then through St. Francois and across Big River to those native hills and hunting grounds of my boyhood, known as the Pike Run hills.

    The reader must bear in mind that these hills possess peculiar advantages over any other part of the country between St. Louis and the Arkansas line.

    They look like the fragments of a broken up world piled together in dread confusion, and terminating finally in an abrupt bluff on the margin of Big River, where nature has left a cavern half way up the perpendicular rock, now known as "The HILDEBRAND Cave," mouth to which cannot be seen either from the top or bottom.

sh_cave.jpg (23504 bytes)
Sam's Cave

Among these rugged hills, covered over by the dense forest and wild grape vines, are many yawning caverns known to some hunters, while they are doubtless many others never yet seen by the eye of man. We took up our abode in one of theses caverns during the inclemency of the weather, and as the ground was too soft to venture out on horseback, for fear of leaving a trail, I went around through the Big River neighborhood on foot, for the purpose of finding some of my enemies. The only one I saw was James CRAIG; I discovered him one day in the act of leaving home on foot, so I made a circuit through the woods and stationed myself in advance with the intention of arresting him. I wished to take him to my cavern that my comrades also might see him hung; but he never came along, and thus I missed my game entirely.

By this time my men were tired of inaction, so we started on our march and on going about fifteen miles we came to a place called the tunnel, on the Iron Mountain railroad.

Robs LEPP Store

From the store of Christopher LEPP, we supplied ourselves with all the articles that we could conveniently carry, took our back track to the crossing of Big River, near the ruins of the HILDEBRAND homestead, and made our way toward Castor creek, for the purpose of squelching a negro belonging to Mr. KINDER. This negro had become notorious for his meddlesome nature, and his propensity for reporting white men. On the night of our arrival there, we succeeded in finding him, and to satisfy ourselves thoroughly in regard to his meanness, we passed ourselves off for Federals, and questioned him concerning his old master. He very freely and exultingly proceeded to relate the many reasons he had for believing that he was disloyal. We asked him whether or not he was willing for us to kill the old man. He told us that he would kill him himself if we would see him out in it; that the soldiers had told him two or three months ago that if he would kill him that he should have the farm, but that as yet he had not succeeded in getting a good opportunity. At this we were satisfied that he would made good food for the buzzards, so we hung him up for that purpose, and started on our way.

    We were now traveling in the day time and pursuing our way very leisurely, when about four o’clock in the evening, we were trailed up and ran into by a company of Federals, who had probably been trailing us all day. They ran on to us in good earnest, and seemed very anxious for the honor of capturing or killing me. The manner of their attack is worthy of note. On getting within sight of us they held back until we were passing over the backbone of a ridge, then they made a rush, and on getting to the top of the hill were within one hundred yards of us. Their elevation caused them to over shoot all of us except one poor fellow, one of our new recruits, who was shot through the head. We dashed into the brush and went over the rough country about a mile at full speed; then giving up our horses to the other men with directions where to meet us, GIBSON, myself and two others started back on foot to "bushwhack" them. On getting within two hundred yards of where our dead man lay, we saw them exulting over their victory. I directed my men to make their way around and take their positions along the road where they could get a shot, while I took it upon myself to run them back. I crawled up within one hundred yards of the party, got a bead on one of them, and when I fired he fell from his horse within a few feet of where our dead man lay. This was all fired in turn, GIBSON brought one to the ground, but I think the other boys missed their aim although they insisted to the last that they wounded a man apiece.

    We secured the horses belonging to the two men we killed, and started on our journey, and on the following morning took up quarters within eight miles of Bloomfield.

    During the day, myself and Bill RUCKER, walked down to a plum thicket near the road, and while we were there eating plums, we discovered two Dutchmen dressed in citizens’ clothes passing by. We called to them to come and get some plums, which they readily consented to do. As we were dressed in Federal uniforms they seemed at once to take us for Union soldiers. We asked them to what command they belonged; who they were, and why they were not in the service. They said they belonged to LEEPER’s command, and were on furlough to see their uncle living at Mine La Motte, that they had on borrowed clothes and no arms in order to fool the Rebels, should they meet any. We found out a great deal about BOLIN’s and HILDEBRAND’s band of murderers and rapers," as they called us. We shot them both, and returned to camp. At night we started on, and in a few days arrived safely at our usual place of crossing the St. Francis.

We arrived on the bank of the river just after dark, and were startled by the appearance of a camp on the other side at the mouth of a little creek. We could easily perceive the reflection from several camp fires among the trees, and more than once we caught the sound of human voices.

Could it be possible that this was a camp of Federals? If so, why did they not place out their pickets? The more we studied about the matter the further we were from coming to any conclusion.

We rode back into the timbered bottom and continued our way down the country at some distance from the river, until we were about a mile below the strange looking camp, and there crossed the river by swimming it.

After continuing up the river a short distance we rode on to a high brushy point and dismounted. Then taking it on foot I proceeded to spy out the mysterious camp above us. I continued to approach cautiously, watching closely for the pickets, but I saw nothing of them. Finally I stood in the midst of perhaps a dozen little brush shanties and yet I saw not a single human being. I was more puzzled than ever. I peeped into one of the brush arbors and a lady’s voice cried out: Who is that? The alarm spread, and I heard the voices of women in every direction.

Presently I heard the voice of my wife, and on going to her I soon learned the particulars of the calamity that had befallen our community in our absence.