Chapter 36 - 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

[Imprisoned in Jacksonport jail. - Mrs. HILDEBRAND returns to Missouri. - Escape from
prison. - Final settlement in Ste. Genevieve county.  - St. Louis detectives make their first trip. -
The Governor’s reward. - Wounded by PETERSON. - Removed to his uncle’s. - Fight at John
WILLIAMS’. - Kills James McLAINE. - Hides in a cave.]

    Early in the spring of 1868 I put in a good crop of corn, and devoted much of my time to gardening; my prospects looked flattering indeed, and I fancied that I was getting along as well as any of my neighbors, and better than most of them.   My negro man worked cheerfully, and I put in much of my time in”overseeing.”   I claim that I was the last slaveholder in the United States.

    A circumstance now took place that destroyed my future prospect, and cast a shadow over the happiness of my family.  It is a circumstance that I deeply deplore, and one, too, that I could easily have avoided, at the expense, perhaps, of losing one friend.

    Early in the month of April one of my old war associates, with whom I had passed many a hardship, came to my house and stated that he had received bad news from home; that his sister had been deserted by her husband without any cause, and that the fellow had taken up with a negro woman, and was living with her not more than ten miles off.  He requested that I should aid him in taking the couple out and giving them a good flogging.     The matter was talked over, and one of us might have made the remark that they deserved to be tied together.   This conversation was heard by the wife of my friend; two or three days after which the guilty pair were taken from a mill pond, drowned, and still tied together.  After the first excitement was over, nothing more was heard about the matter for nearly six weeks.  My friend’s wife told all about the conversation, and suspicion rested upon us.

Secured By Handcuffs

    We were secured by handcuffs and by ball and chain.  In this condition it soon became apparent to us that our escape was impossible.  Negroes frequently passed our prison, and told us that we would be hung by a mob.

    We were loaded with chains, and so strongly guarded that I began to doubt the ability of our friends to release us, even if they should attempt it; in fact I began very strongly to doubt the probability of their ever coming at all.

    In June, my brother William, who had served during the war in the Union army, came down to Arkansas, where my family was, for the purpose of taking them back to Big River, in Missouri; for the probabilities were that my wife would soon be left a widow.  She sold the crop as it stood on the ground for what she could get, and hired a teamster to haul the family to Big River.

    She made the trip in safety; arriving at the old homestead, she lived with my mother and brother William.  My prison life every day became more intolerable.  I had been in jail for four months, and had almost abandoned all hopes of being released.

    On the last day of August, as I lay brooding over my helpless condition, some one, about dark, whispered in through the grates, telling me to be of good cheer for that on the following night his friends were going to make an attempt to release me.

    Fortunately for us, as our friends lay in wait on the next night, a boat landed at the wharf, which attracted the attention of all those who were yet up, and we were let out without any disturbance whatever.

    I was so overjoyed at the idea of being free once more, that I leaped off the platform in the dark and sprained my ankle.  I was in a bad fix for traveling, but we were soon out of danger.

    I rode until daylight; then we all scattered and each one took his own course.  I hobbled on this way, living on nothing but May-apples until I made about thirty-five miles, to the house of an old friend, where I remained until I recruited up, and then I started to where my family was, in Missouri.   I found them at my mother’s residence, on Big River; but after remaining a few weeks, finding that my presence was anything but pleasing to my old enemies, I removed to Illinois and settled on the Mississippi, about forty miles below St. Louis.  Here I went to chopping cordwood for a livelihood, not intending to molest anyone, as the war was over, and fully determined to withhold my hand from the commission of any act that would indicate anything else than that I was a peaceable and law-abiding citizen.

    In January, 1869, I moved across the river on to the Missouri side, at a place called Rush Tower, and continued cutting wood until the first of April, at which time I rented a small farm of Samuel B. HERROD, on the Three Rivers, in Ste. Genevieve county, near the county line of St. Francois and about four miles from Big River Mills.  To this place I moved my family.  My oldest boy was twelve years old, and on him devolved most of the labor on the farm.

    My arrival seemed to create a panic among those who had robbed me, killed my brothers, and persecuted my family.  They still had a fear of retributive justice, and though I had no such designs, they secretly went to work to effect my destruction.

    Joe McGAHAN, as I am informed, took several trips to influence the Governor of Missouri to crush me out of existence.  Gov. McCLURG instructed Col. MYERS, Police Commissioner of St. Louis, to send out men for my arrest.  In May, 1869, he sent McQUEEN and Col. BOWEN, who were met at Irondale by Joe McGAHAN; to pilot them to the scene of operations.  On going about ten miles, however, daylight overtook them, and McGAHAN, after informing them that to be seen there in daylight would be death to him, went on home and never returned.  At the approach of night the detectives were obliged to proceed without a guide, on foot, and in a strange neighborhood.  After wandering around all night, wading Big River at a deep ford, they were obliged to pass another day in the woods.  As they could not find my house without some further information, one of them, disguised as a rude countryman in search of employment, got all the information he wanted.  It appears that those two detectives watched around my house for eight days and nights.  Their provisions then gave out, and not being able to get away from my enemies, they started back to Irondale at ten o’clock at night and from there took cars for St. Louis.  While this was going on I was working at the mouth of Isle Bois on the Mississippi.

Reward Offered For Capture

    It appears that some time during the war Governor FLETCHER had offered a reward of three hundred dollars for my capture.

    Some persons wrote to Governor McCLURG to ascertain whether the reward was still valid; on being answered in the affirmative, they determined, even for that paltry sum, to attempt my assassination.  James McLAINE, as he afterwards boasted, prowled around my house for one whole month for that purpose.

    On the night of June 6th, 1869, I ventured up to my house at a late hour to see my family, and remained with them all night.  In the morning I stepped out into the yard, when I heard the report of a gun from a cluster of hazel brush about eighty yards off.  I went into the house for my gun, and discovered that I had been shot through the fleshy part of my thigh.

    On going out I could discover no one, the person having left as soon as he fired, so I went into Mr. PRATT’s stable, a short distance off.  Presently McLAINE passed by with his gun; after going up to my house, he came back and passed along the road not far from the stable.  Believing him to be the assassin, I would have shot him, but was prevented by Mr. PRATT.

    I was hauled to the house of William M. HIGHLEY, who went after a physician to have my wound dressed.  The wound proved to be a very serious one, and disabled me for a long time in such a manner that I was unable to walk.  I was next hauled to Samuel GOSSOM’s, and then to the residence of my uncle, John WILLIAMS.  As this became the scene of a furious battle a few days afterwards, I shall be a little minute in my description.  My uncle’s family consisted of himself, Aunt Mary and a granddaughter about six years of age.  His house is among the hills in
the western part of St. Francois county, five miles from Big River Mills, and one mile due south from the stone house formerly occupied by Dick BERRYMAN.  My uncle’s premises consisted of one log house, one story high, and containing but one room.  In the yard west of the house stood an old dilapidated cabin with the chimney torn down, near which stood the smoke-house and a cluster of young cherry trees.  Opposite the south end of the house, at a distance of about eighty yards was the spring house.

    I suffered much from my wound; and as my well known crippled condition emboldened parties afterwards to attempt my arrest, under the assumption that I was just about dead, I attribute all my sufferings and privations during the three months that followed to the attempted assassination.  For many months afterwards I believed that it was James McLAINE was did the deed, but I will here state that the man who shot me, as I am informed, was Cyrus A. PETERSON, Fredericktown, and that Walter E. EVANS was along with him.

    Neither of those two men did I ever harm; PETERSON   I did not know, and EVANS   I had met a few weeks before, and shook hands with him.

    The EVANS family resided on Big River, and we were raised up within a few miles of each other.  The widow and her daughter remained at home in perfect safety during the whole war, although the family was known to be Union (with one or two exceptions), and two of her boys, Ellis G. and William C. EVANS, were known to be two of the most uncompromising Unionists in the State.  I heard Dick BERRYMAN once tell his men, after calling them all up in a line, that he would not suffer them to interfere with the widow EVANS, or with any property that she possessed.   This order I sanctioned, and governed myself accordingly.

    The three hundred dollar reward of Gov. FLETCHER was the price of blood - an inducement held out for assassination!  Men can be found who, for a certain reward, will shoot any man down whom a Governor may designate.

    Thank God, I have never come to that yet!   I have killed many men, but it has always been either in self-defense, or for the purpose of redressing some terrible wrong.  While I still lay at my uncle’s confined to my bed, Sheriff BRECKINRIDGE and a party of about six men concluded that they would secure the reward offered by the Governor without any personal danger, as it was thought by some that I had died of my wounds.

    During the night he went with his party to Mr. HIGHLEY’s and got near the house by keeping behind a gate-post.  Mr. HIGHLEY was called out, and when he assured them that I was not there they made a valiant charge upon the house, and entered it just as Mrs. HIGHLEY was endeavoring to put on her dress.   The gallant BRECKINRIDGE thrust his gun against her dress and threw it to the other side of the room, denoting thereby that cowardice and ruffianism are blended together.   From here they went on the balance of the night in search of “Sam
HILDEBRAND” - and they found him!

    They reached Uncle WILLIAM’s about daylight.  Finding him at the crib they made a breastwork of him, by making the old man walk in front, while they marched on behind with their guns presented.  I fastened the front door and refused to open it.  The back door, however, was only latched, and a child could have opened it.  I pulled a little rag out of a crack near the jamb, and as they attempted to pass I fired four shots at them before they fired at all; one tumbled up behind the ash-hopper, and others dashed back around the corner to the front side of the house.  They fired several shots through the door, which struck the wall at the back of the house a few inches over the bed where the little girl lay.   She raised a terrible yell; Aunt Mary ran to her, supposing that she had been shot.   “Come away with her,” said I, “and both of you stand in yon corner; break her a piece of pie to stop her crying, so that I can hear what is going on.”   I got two more shots through the crack near the chimney, one of which was at Noah WILLIAMS; he got in the chimney corner, and was hunting for a crack, but I found it first, and sent a shot after him that raked across his breast, and tore his clothes in such a manner that he left in disgust.  They kept firing through the door; the beds were literally riddled; aunt got a shot on her chin; a whole volley was now fired through the door; one little shot struck her on the head, and five holes were shot through her dress.

    They now marched the old man in front of them to the door; he stood with his right hand against the door-facing, and cried out: “Sam, open the door or they will kill me!”

    “Hold on, Uncle,” I replied, “and step out of the way.”

    Just then I opened the door, and crossing my arms I fired to the right and left with my pistols.  Uncle’s hand being in the way, I could only shoot BRECKINRIDGE through the groin, and another man through the shoulder.

    Andy BEAN broke to run, and jumped the fence by a walnut tree just as a shot passed through his fiery red whiskers, grazing his face sufficiently to saturate them, and to make him believe that they were one huge stream of blood.    The whole party now broke, and on leaping the fence fired off their guns, some of their shots piercing the door, one passed through my uncle’s wrist, some struck the house, and some missed creation.

Man Wounded in Shoulder

    The man wounded in the shoulder was taken to the spring to have water poured on his wound.  BRECKINRIDGE to Frank SIMMS to have his life written, and Andy BEAN to Irondale to have the arteries of his whiskers taken up.  Aunt Mary now brought me a bucket of water and left, after telling me that there were provisions enough in the house to last a week.

    Telegraphic dispatches were sent to St. Louis, Potosi and Farmington for more men.  James McLAINE and Dennis O’LEARY came from Farmington, and Captain Todd HUNTER with eight or ten men came from Potosi and Irondale, and from a hill two hundred yards off, kept up an occasional fire at the house during the balance of the day.  The party behind the spring house were compelled to remain there on account of my shots; they, however, kept up a random fire, to show to their anxious companions that they were not yet dead.  They once held a hat around the corner of the spring house, and instantly got a hole shot through it.

    While the firing still continued, I tried my hand at cooking my dinner.  After eating a hearty meal and resting myself a little, I went on duty again.

    About sunset McLAINE climbed upon the old cabin near the house, but as there were three walls between us, the cracks did not range right for me to shoot him.  After he had kindled a fire on the roof he came down and stood near the door on the far side of the cabin.  I got a glimpse of his body, and by a lucky chance I shot him dead.

    This created such an excitement that, as they crowded around his body, which they carried a short distance, I opened the back door, and unperceived by any of them, crawled out through the weeds and through the fence.   Here I had to leave my gun, as I could not carry it, for I could not walk a step on account of my wounded leg.  I crawled through the woods about two miles, for darkness now favored my escape, and arriving at the house of a friend, I obtained a horse and rode to my sister’s (Mrs. ADAMS), living near the old homestead of the HILDEBRAND family.

    It was necessary that I should keep in a cool place on account of my wound, so I went into my cave in the Big River bluff, half a mile north from the residence of G.W. MURPHY, and near the Pike Run hills, where I remained some time, my provisions being brought to me every day by my sister.  My wife and children still remained on the HERROD place, where they were watched so closely that they could not come to my assistance.