Chapter 29 - 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


[Took a raid into Missouri with four men. - Killed a Federal . - Killed two of Capt. MILK’s men. - Started to DeSoto. - Routed by the Federals. -Adventure with a German. - Killed three Federals on Black River.]

    In the latter part of August, 1864, I selected four men and started after some of my old enemies on Big River.

    At this period they had all disappeared except three or four who still ventured to call their old residences their homes, but they stayed most of their time around the Federal camps anxiously waiting for the time to come when the Federal authorities would succeed, either in killing or capturing me, when a new era of peace and quiet would again bless them in the pursuit of theft and murder.

    Those of the old mob who had left their homes and were now dwelling, as they supposed, in utter obscurity, were not lost sight of by me, for I kept myself posted in regard to all their movements, The especial object of this trip was to penetrate the enemies country as far as DeSoto, Jefferson County, Missouri, and surprise a couple of the old mob who now lived in that vicinity, and before the authorities were aware of our unholy presence, to have our little mission of vengeance completed. On passing Bloomfield it might truthfully be said that we were within the Federal lines. A heavy military force was stationed at Pilot Knob at the beginning of the war, and smaller forces were stationed at the county seats of the various counties in Southeast Missouri; they were inactive so far as the national war was concerned, but amused themselves by marauding through the country, and occasionally killing some unarmed citizens, or indulging in the characteristics of Ben BUTLER.

    On gaining the vicinity of Fredericktown, we obtained important information from our friends in that quarter relative to the distribution of the Federal forces, which aided us materially in shaping our course. From this place we went east of Mine La Motte, and took up our quarters for the day in an unfrequented part of the country, about three miles south of the Cross Roads, in St. Francois County, where we remained unmolested until in the evening, when we discovered a man in Federal uniform tracking our horses slowly across an adjoining ridge. We felt very sorry for him in his lonely condition; I went down the hill a little distance toward him, and when he came within a hundred yards of me, and commenced making his circuit toward our camp I turned old "Kill-devil" loose upon him; but owing to his stooping posture as he was looking for tracks I shot him too low and broke him down in the back. He set up a hideous yelling, which was very annoying to us just at this time; so I hastened to his relief, and soon dispatched him with my revolver. Being a little fearful that we had attracted the attention of the people in the neighborhood, and that perhaps a Union force was on our track, of which the lone Federal might have been one of the number, we concluded to move. Directing our way through the most thickly wooded parts of the country during the balance of the day, we reached Wolf Creek about midnight at the plank road leading from Farmington to Ste. Genevieve.

Fatigued and Sleepless

    Feeling much fatigued, and having lost much sleep, we decided on camping until the following night, having with us a sufficiency of provisions and horse feed. We slept soundly until daylight, and then did picket duty by turns until late in the evening, when I discovered two Federal soldiers in the valley below us, going toward Farmington. I at once took my position with one of my men, and as they came up talking very merrily, we surprised them by presenting our pistols in a few feet of their faces and demanding a surrender, at which they seem somewhat alarmed but made no resistance.

    After dismounting and disarming them we took them to our quiet nook in the woods, and upon inquiry we found that they belonged to a company at Ste. Genevieve under Capt. MILKS.

    We felt very much rejoiced at getting two of this company who had formerly been stationed at Farmington, and after harassing and robbing the peaceable citizens in that community for several months they were removed to Ste. Genevieve.

    On one of their scouts through the country they arrested Charles BURKS, county Judge of Ste. Genevieve for compelling the Provost Marshal to deliver up some horses belonging to the judge whom the marshal had unjustly seized. The old man was taken a few miles after his arrest by MILKs’ men and shot without any questions being asked, and without even a charge of disloyalty ever having been brought against him. On another occasion they arrested Irvin M. HAILE, one of the most peaceable men in St. Francois County, under a charge made by some sneaking informer, that on one occasion he had fed me and my men. This was the whole of the accusation brought against him. He was allowed no trial, no defense; but two inhuman monsters took him a few miles, shot him through the head, then taking his horse they left his body in the woods, where it was afterwards found.

    The recollection of these and some other acts of atrocity committed by that company sealed the fate of my two prisoners; in the name of justice and humanity I shot them both through the head with my revolver, and ordered my men to cast them in a deep hole of water in Wolf Creek, with stones tied to their feet.

    As soon as it was dark we went to the house of a friend to get some feed for ourselves and horses, but on arriving there we saw a party of perhaps twenty persons who were just mounting their horses in front of the gate, and in a few minutes they rode off and were lost to us in the dim starlight. We approached the house cautiously, but found no one there except the kind lady who told us that the cause of the excitement was that "Sam HILDEBRAND was supposed to be in the country;" that some soldiers from Fredericktown had come up and stated positively that my trail had been followed in that direction, and that the citizens were ordered out to assist in the search.

Getting Something To Eat

    After getting something to eat and feed for our horses we started on, and by daylight the next morning we were safely housed in a cave among the Pike Run hills, in the northern part of St. Francois county.

    Here we remained but one day; as soon as darkness approached we proceeded on into Jefferson county until ten o’clock, when we stopped at the house of a friend who gave us our suppers and treated us so well that the night was half spent before we started on. Our friend warned us very pressingly against going any further in the direction of DeSoto, but we determined not to retreat until real danger was apparent. But unfortunately we had consumed too much time, and did not reach the part of the country where we designed taking up quarters for the day, and while making a forced march between daylight and sunrise on an old unfrequented road near the top of a ridge where we designed taking up quarters, we suddenly ran into a company of Federal soldiers who were coming toward us.

    They charged us on sight and in good earnest, firing a volley at us, but we miraculously escaped unhurt, but several of us carried off some respectable holes in our clothing. Their charge was really furious, and caused us to scatter in every direction, and after a hasty and precipitate retreat of perhaps a mile and a half, I ventured to stop and take a look at my surroundings; the last fifteen minutes of my life passed off in such a "whiz" that I hardly knew where I was, and I felt very well over the fact that there were no Federal soldiers in sight.

    I was not long in planning my course; a place had been designated by me in the Pike Run Hills for us to meet in an emergency of this kind, and I at once struck out for the spot, traveling very cautiously and keeping in the thickest timbered country all the time.

    Arriving at the place late in the evening, I found one of my men who had gained the spot a short time before me. Here we remained waiting in anxious suspense until after dark, and had almost come to the conclusion that the other men had been captured or killed when they came up. They had got together soon after the stampede, and not being very well acquainted with the country they had been lost, and when night overtook them they pressed a pilot into their service whom they discovered passing along the road, and compelled him to accompany them to the place. The pilot I knew very well, and after deceiving him in regard to the course we designed taking, we released him under the promise that he would not report us.

    As we were now destined to be hunted down like the wild beasts of the forest, we resolved to get out of the country as quickly as possible and over some country not traveled by us heretofore. We started in a westwardly direction, and after traveling a few miles stopped at the house of a friend for our suppers.

    Crossing the Iron Mountain railroad south of Blackwell’s Station, we gained the vicinity of the Old Mines, in Washington county, before it was yet light, where we took up quarters for the day. One of my men being acquainted in the neighborhood, we had no trouble in getting our necessary provisions and horse feed.

Vicinity of Old Mines

    While we made our brief sojourn in this locality an incident worth relating occurred, which was very amusing to us, and may not be uninteresting to the reader. About ten o’clock in the forenoon, while it was my turn to stand on picket I sauntered through the thick brush down to the main road, distant about two hundred yards, and suddenly ran on to a German who was sitting near the road side, sheltered from the sun by some brush. I discovered him before he saw me. He held in his hand an old double-barreled shot gun. As he had on an old suit of Federal uniform, my first impulse was to draw my revolver, which I did in an instant. As soon as the German saw me he sprang to his feet, let his old gun fall to the ground and threw up his hands. Seeing that I was dressed in Federal uniform he immediately cried out that he was "all right," and began in a hurried, broken gibberish to give an account of himself; that he was from DeSoto and was going to a saw mill west of Potosi; that he was a discharged Union soldier; that Sam HILDEBRAND was in the country about DeSoto, and that he was afraid to stay there on that account. At this I advanced toward him and extended my hand, saying as I did so that I was really a little frightened, that I thought he was Sam HILDEBRAND himself when I first saw him; that I would not hurt him if he was a Union man, but that I came very near shooting him under the mistaken idea that he was HILDEBRAND. He laughed heartily at the coincident and was quite merry over the happy turn that the affair had taken.

    I told him that I had some men stationed back in the woods on one of HILDEBRAND’s old trails, and that he could go with me and form one of my party for the day, to which he gladly consented, manifesting a great deal of gratitude. As we made our way cautiously to the camp through the thick brush I told him that he was running a great risk in traveling through that portion of country, for it was one of HILDEBRAND’s main passways.

    On coming up to the boys in camp he did not wait for an introduction, but stepped in ahead of me and shook hands with them all in the greatest glee, telling as he did so a great many things he knew about "Sam HILDEBRAND."

    The boys seemed to understand the matter perfectly well without any explanations from me, and humored the joke very well by asking the most absurd questions about my barbarity; but none of the questions were too hard, for he answered them all, making it appear that I was a bloodthirsty barbarian, without an equal in the world’s history.

    It was not until sometime during the afternoon that we undeceived him in regard to the true nature of things; it was sometime before he could comprehend the sudden change, or be made to believe that he was really in my hands. But as he gradually became convinced of the fact he began a series of lies that would have shamed "Baron MUNCHAUSEN" himself. We stopped him short, however, and told him that if would not report us for one month we would let him go, at which he sprang at me, seizing my hand with both of his, he pledged himself and swore by all that was holy and righteous that he never would report us while he lived. He shook hands with us all and started, looking back every ten feet until he was out of sight, then he seemed to double his speed until he was out of hearing.

    While the sun was yet an hour high we started on our way, keeping in the woods until dark, then passing west of Potosi, by traveling all night, we reached a point near the town of Centerville, in Reynolds County, where we obtained feed for ourselves and horses.

    In traveling down Black River late one evening we ran into a squad of Federals, six in number, whom we charged in a furious manner, firing on them with our revolvers. They did not return our fie, but ran most gloriously. We killed one and captured two more; those we captured stated that they belonged to LEEPER’s command; this being the case of course we shot them.

    We took their horses and arms, made another night’s journey, and arrived safely in Green County, Arkansas. There I found a dispatch for me from Gen. Sterling PRICE, requesting me to take charge of the advance guard of his army, as he was "going up to possess Missouri," to which I most gladly consented on conditions that I would be released as soon as we should reach the vicinity of my old home on Big River.