Chapter 31 - 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


[Selected three men and went to Missouri to avenge the death of Rev. William POLK. - Got ammunition in Fredericktown. - Killed the German who informed on POLK. - Returned to Arkansas.]

    After recruiting our horses and making all necessary arrangements for the comfort and convenience of my family in my absence, I selected three men and started to Madison County, Missouri, for the express purpose of killing the German who reported on preacher POLK, and by whose instigation his murder, by the Union soldiers, had been brought about.

    That venerable Baptist minister, William POLK, was about seventy years of age, and had been preaching for about forty years. As a Christian of unquestionable piety no man ever stood higher; as a citizen his conduct was irreproachable, and as to his loyalty and patriotism it never before was brought into question. From his lips no word had ever dropped that could be construed into an expression of sympathy for the Southern rebellion.

    In the latter part of October, 1864, three Federal soldiers rode up to his house to rob him first and then kill him.

    They demanded his money which he gave up, amounting to twenty dollars; he told them that he had no more, at which they replied that twenty dollars was not enough to save his life.

    They took him out of the yard, when a Federal soldier by the name of Robert MANNING shot him through the head.

    Believing that the German informer was the most guilty one in this transaction, I was willing to attempt his capture even at this inclement season of the year.

    Camping out in the woods was disagreeable; stopping at the houses of our friends at night was extremely dangerous; and if a snow should happen to fall, thereby exposing our trail to the Federals we would be under the necessity of running a horse race for nearly two hundred miles.

Swollen St. Francis

    On reaching the St. Francis we found it considerably swollen from rains higher up the river. I proceeded at once to swim it, and arrived safely at the opposite bank, but my three men having entered the river too near together their horses crowded each other, which caused them to beat down with the current until one of my men named SWAN washed into a drift and came near being drowned before I could pull off my coat and boots and swim to his rescue. I got to him in time to pull him out on to a drift, but his horse washed under it and we saw him no more.

    After we had all got over we built a fire, dried our clothes and camped for the night.

    SWAN did not feel well the next morning; so he concluded to make an effort to get back to headquarters, while we proceeded on with our journey traveling only twenty or twenty-five miles per day, stopping with our friends on the way.

    On reaching Madison County we began to look out for Federal squads, as there were two or three hundred troops quartered in Fredericktown. My ammunition was getting very scarce and I felt as though I would be compelled to stop and see my old friends in town. We secreted ourselves and horses about a mile from the place, and as daylight was near at hand we had to lay over for the day; on the following night I made my way cautiously, and crawled into an alley near the residence of my friend, when a dog spied me and tried to make me retreat; I tried to negotiate with him, offering him as I thought everything that was fair, but to no purpose. About ten o’clock, all things being favorable, I went around to the opposite side of town and started in through an open street, walking leisurely, but keeping near the buildings. When I had got fairly into town I came suddenly on a Federal picket at the corner of a block, who accosted me by inquiring: "Where are you going, Bill?" I answered in a whisper "after some whisky;" "all right" said he, "bring a fellow a snort." By this time I was out of whispering distance, and soon came to a large saloon on the corner, passed around to the other side which was closed up, and amused myself several minutes in looking in at the window. I saw quite a number of the Federals, some playing cards, some amusing themselves in various ways, and all of them seemed to be enjoying themselves very well. I made my way to the house of my friend, climbed over the plank fence, and gave a peculiar wrap at the back door which was well understood. I got a lunch, some good brandy, plenty of ammunition, rations to last two days, and some very important information. I went out through the alleys as a matter of choice, the smaller dogs being posted in the alleys and the larger ones in the streets. As the night was half spent we made our way over to the German’s who was accused of laying the plot for the murder of Elder POLK.

    Dressed in Federal uniform, we rode up to his house as the sun was going down, were taken for Federal soldiers and received with a great deal of cordiality. We had talked to him but a short time when the subject of "Preacher POLK" was introduced. The German in a boastful manner gave us the history of his transactions in the matter, fully confirming his complicity in the murder. We marched him off into the woods near the farm of Mr. NORTH, where I talked all the Dutch language to him that I knew, and after giving him distinctly to understand that "hog killing time" had come, I shot him.

Rode to Fredericktown

    As soon as it was dark we rode back to the suburbs of Fredericktown for the purpose of silencing a Union citizen of that place who had made himself rather officious in reporting citizens for disloyalty, and for accusing certain ones of having fed "Sam HILDEBRAND."

    I left one of my men with the horses, and taking the other I went into town and knocked at the door, our call was answered by a lady who innocently told us that the man for whom we inquired had gone to St. Louis, at which we politely bid her good night and left the town. We hurried on to Castor creek to the house of a friend whose hospitalities we enjoyed for several days, while we were endeavoring by every means in our power to take in a certain man who lived in that neighborhood; but the excitement we had raised by squelching the German rendered our intended victim very shy. Finally we went to his house after dark one night and called for him, but his wife declared that he was not at home. We made a diligent search through every room, but not finding him we started for Cape Girardeau County for the purpose of obtaining some supplies for the winter. We succeeded in getting all that we could conveniently pack, and started for Arkansas. We saw but one squad of Federals on our homeward trip; we were passing through Stoddard County, east of Bloomfield, when a party of about ten came up behind us, but they fired upon us before they got near enough to do any harm, and by taking to the woods we made our escape. They might easily have compelled us to throw away our goods to facilitate our flight, if they had felt disposed to continue the pursuit. As it was they never got in sight of us any more, and although our horses were much jaded we made very good time until dark and then proceeded on more slowly. We swam the St. Francis without much trouble and landed home safely.

    I found my wife and children well, but Mr. SWAN, whom I had rescued from the turbid waters of the St. Francis had sickened and died during our absence, and had been buried a few hours before our arrival.