Chapter 3 - 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

[Determination to take no part in the War. - Mr. RINGER killed by Rebels. - The cunning device
of Allen ROAN. - Vigilance Committee organized. - The baseness of Mobocracy. - Attacked by
the Mob. - Escape to Flat Woods.]

    In the spring of 1861, the war of the Great Rebellion was inaugurated, and during the following summer was carried on in great fury in many places, but I shall only speak of those occurrences which had a particular bearing upon myself. 

    I called on some good citizens who were not republicans, and whom I knew to be well posted in the current events of the day, to ask them what course it was best for me to pursue during the unnatural struggle.  They advised me to stay at home and attend to my own business.  This I determined to do, so I paid no further attention to what was going on, put in my crop of corn at the usual season and cultivated it during the summer.

    On the 9th day of August the popular excitement in St. Francois county was greatly increased by the killing of Mr. RINGER  a union man, who was shot at his own house for no other cause than his political principals.  He was killed, as I afterwards learned, by Allen ROAN and Tom COOPER.  It should be borne in mind that ROAN was a relative of mine with whom I was on friendly terms.  I was not implicated in the death of RINGER in any manner, shape, or form, but suspicion rested upon me; the “HILDEBRAND gang” were branded with the murder.


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Allen Roan

    I could not check ROAN in the rash course he was pursuing; but in all sincerity, I determined to follow the advice given me by a certain union friend, who told me to take no part in the cause that would in the end bring disaster upon myself.  It was good advice; why then did I not follow it?  In the presence of that Being who shall judge the quick and the dead, I shall truthfully and in a few words explain the whole matter.  I had no sooner made up my mind fully what course to pursue, than I was caught in a cunningly devised trap that settled my destiny forever. 

Horse Trading and Hardship

    One evening, Allen ROAN came to my field where I was plowing and proposed swapping horses with me; the horse which he said he had bought was a better one than my own, so I consented to make the exchange; finding afterwards that the horse would not work in harness, I swapped him off the next day to Mr. ROGERS.

    Prior to this time my neighbors had organized themselves into what they called a Vigilance Committee, and were moving in squads night and day to put down horse stealing. Only a few of the committee were dangerous men, but Firman McILVAINE, who was put at the head of the gang was influenced by the worst element in the community; it became a political machine for oppression and bloodshed under the guidance of James CRAIG, John HOUSE, Joe McGAHAN, John DUNWOODY, William PATTON, and others, who were swearing death to
every man implicated in any way with the southern recruits who were pressing horses.

    The horse I had traded for from Allen ROAN and which ROGERS obtained from me, proved to be the property of DUNWOODY.  I was apprised of the fact by a friend at night, and told also that they had threatened me and my brother Frank with death if they could find us, and notwithstanding our entire innocence in the matter, we were compelled to hide out.  We knew that when the law is wrested from the civil authorities by such men as they were, that anything like a trial would not be permitted.  We secreted ourselves in the woods, hoping that matters would take a different turn in a short time; each night I was posted in regard to their threats.  I would willingly have surrendered myself to the civil authorities with a guarantee of a fair trial; but to fall into the hands of an unscrupulous mob who were acting in violation of law, particularly when law and order was broken up by the heavy tramp of war, was what we were compelled by all means to avoid.  We had no alternative but to elude their search.

    It is a fact well known, that in the upheaval of popular passion for the overthrow of law and order under any pretext whatever, a nucleus is formed, around which the most vile, the most turbulent, and the most cowardly instinctively flee.  Cowardly villains invariably join in with every mob that comes within their reach; personal enmity and spite is frequently their controlling motive, the possible opportunity of redressing some supposed grievance without incurring danger to themselves is their incentive for swelling the mob.  A person guilty of any particular crime, to avoid suspicion, is always the most clamorous for blood when some one else stands accused of the same offense.  In the Vigilance Committee were found the same materials existing in all mobs.  No brave man was ever a tyrant, but no coward ever failed to be one when he had the power.  They still kept up the search for me and my brother with an energy worthy of a better cause.

    It was not October, the nights were cold and we suffered much for the want of blankets and even for food.  We were both unaccustomed to sleeping out at night and were chilled by the cold wind that whistled through the trees.  After we had thus continued in the woods about three weeks, I concluded to venture in one night to see my family and to get something to eat, and some bed clothes to keep me more comfortable at night.

    I had heard no unusual noise in the woods that day, had seen no one pass, nor heard the tramp of horses feet in any direction.     It was about eleven o’clock at night when I got within sight of the house, no light was burning within; I heard no noise of any kind, and believing that all was right I crept up to the house and whispered “Margaret” through a crack.  My wife heard me, and recognizing my voice she noiselessly opened the door and let me in.  We talked only in whispers and in a few minutes she placed my supper upon the table.  Just as I was going to eat I heard the top rail fall off my yard fence.  The noise did not suit me, so I took my gun in one hand; a loaf of corn bread in the other, and instantly stepped out into the yard by a back door.

    McILVAINE and his vigilantes were also in the yard, and were approaching the house from all sides in a regular line.  In an instant I detected a gap in their ranks and dashed though it. As they commenced firing I dodged behind a molasses mill that fortunately stood in the yard, it caught nine of their bullets and without doubt saved my life.  After the first volley I struck for the woods, a distance of about two hundred yards. Though their firing did not cease, I stopped midway to shoot at their fire of flame, but a thought struck me that it would too well indicate my whereabouts in the open field, so I hastened on until I had gained the edge of the woods, and there I sat down to listen at what was going on at the house.  I heard Firman McILVAINE’s name called several times, and very distinctly heard his replies and knew his voice.  This satisfied me beyond all doubt that the marauders were none other than the self-styled Vigilance Committee. 

Escape Fortunate

    I was fortunate in my escape, and had a deep sense of gratitude to heaven for my miraculous preservation.  Though I had not made my condition much better by my visit, yet I gnawed away, at intervals, upon my loaf of corn bread, and tried to reconcile myself as much as possible to the terrible state of affairs then existing.  I saw very plainly that my enemies would not permit me to remain in that vicinity; but the idea of being compelled to leave my dear home where I was born and raised, and strike out into the unknown world with my family without a
dollar in my pocket,  without anything except one horse and the clothing we had upon our backs, was anything in the world but cheering.  However, I had no alternative; to take care of my dependent and suffering family, was the motive uppermost in my mind at all times. 

    After the mob had apparently left, my wife came out to me in the woods.  Our plans were soon formed; after dressing the children, five in number, as quietly and speedily as possible, she brought them to me at a designated point among the hills in the dark forest.  She returned to the house alone, and with as little noise as possible saddled up my horse, and after packing him with what bed clothing and provisions she conveniently could, she circled around among the hills and rejoined me at a place I had named in the deep forest about five miles from our once happy home.  Daylight soon made its appearance and enabled me to pick out a place of tolerable security.

    We remained concealed until the re-appearance of night and then proceeded on our cheerless wandering.  In silence we trudged along in the woods as best we could, avoiding the mud and occasional pools of water.  I carried my gun on my shoulder and one of the children on my hip; my wife, packing the baby in her arms, walked quietly by my side.  I never was before so deeply impressed with the faith, energy and confiding spirit of woman.  As the moon would occasionally peep forth from the drifting clouds and strike upon the pale features of my uncomplaining wife, I thought I could detect a look of cheerfulness in her countenance, and more than once I thought I heard a suppressed titter when either of us got tangled up in the brush.  

    When daylight appeared we were on Wolf creek, a few miles south of Farmington; here we stopped in the woods to cook our breakfast and to rest a while.  During the day we proceeded on to what is called Flat Woods, eight miles from Farmington, in the southern part of St. Francois county, and about ten miles north from Fredericktown.  From Mr. GRIFFIN  I obtained the use of a log cabin in a retired locality, and in a few minutes we were duly installed in our new house.