Chapter 37 - 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

[Military operations for his capture. - Col. BOWEN captures the Cave. - Progress of the
campaign. - Advent of Gov. McCLURG. - The militia called out. - Don Quixote affair at the
Brick Church. - The campaign ended. - Mrs. HILDEBRAND escapes to Illinois. - “Sam” leaves
Missouri. - His final proclamation.]

    My narrative would not be complete without a history of the military operations carried on by authority of the State government for my capture or destruction; yet I must depend almost exclusively upon what my friends told me from time to time as those events were transpiring.

    A few days after the fight at WILLIAMS’, a detective with a dirty face and hair uncombed, riding an old mule, with a pack saddle and blind bridle, went to Big River Mills, and inquired of Dr. KEITH and Samuel B. HERROD where “Sam HILDEBRAND” was, as he was an old “war chum” whom he wanted to assist.  His ragged coat and old hat condemned him at once as a detective, for we were in the habit of dressing well during the war, as our credit was always good while we were well armed.  He failed to elicit any information from them; in fact at this time I was nursing my wounds in the cave, and the dismal scene of my suffering was only visited by the angel of mercy, a kind sister.

    It appears that the Police Commissioner of St. Louis sent Col. BOWEN, McQUEEN, SCHUSTER and WADKINS on a second expedition against me.   They were joined at Irondale by HUGHES, KING, FATCHET and ZOLEMAN; and on Big River by Joe McGAHAN and Dennis O’LEARY.

    Col. BOWEN, with his men, went to the house of my sister on the 21st day of June, just before daylight, and questioned her about where I was.  My sister of course refused to answer any of their questions, but on threatening to hang two of her youngest boys, one of them divulged all that he knew.

William HARRIS Arrested.

    On the evening of the 22nd, the party arrested William HARRIS, my brother-in-law, also Mr. CASH and Mr. DUNHAM, and hung them up by the neck until they extorted from them the fact that I lived in a cave in a certain bluff which they described.  This bluff rises perpendicularly nearly three hundred feet above the waters of Big River, which runs at its base.  A skirt of high timber on the margin of the river in a great measure hides the bold front of this towering mass of rock from view.

    The cave can be seen neither from the top nor bottom, for it is about two hundred feet from the bottom, and is hid by a projecting rock in front.  From the cave in one direction along the seam in the rock there is a narrow and very difficult causeway running several hundred yards where it can be approached from above and below.  This narrow turnpike can easily be defended by one man against five hundred.  I regret that I was not in my castle when Col. BOWEN and his posse were prowling around in front of the cave on the morning of the 23rd, I would have had more fun than I did at WILLIAMS’ house, where they had so much the advantage of me.

    I retired from the cave during the night, and was absent when the party came to see my castle.  They remained near the cave all day, but did not think it prudent to peep in to see whether I was at home or not.  On the following night they built a large fire on the projection in front of the cavern, and kept it supplied with wood which they threw from the top of the bluff.

    On the next morning they learned from Mr. NASH, whom they hung by the neck awhile, that I was not in the cave.

    On receiving this welcome information the party scaled the bluff and took the whole place by storm.  The next move to capture me was through a confession made by a son of Mr. NASH, that he was to meet me at a certain point at night with a quart of whiskey.

    Col. BOWEN determined to capture me and the “quart,” so he and his party reconnoitered the place for several hours, but I kept two hundred yards from them.  They were welcome to the whiskey, for I considered it my treat; and after taking a hearty drink from the branch I went away perfectly satisfied.

    After the capture of my cave, Col. BOWEN made his headquarters at G.W. MURPHY’s.  There of course he lived well; the boys were all happy, drawing good wages and incurring no danger, for I solemnly promised my friends that I would not kill a single one of them unless they should indeed discover me.   The first time I saw Col. BOWEN after his removal to MURPHY’s was three or four days after he had captured the bluff.  I was aiming to cross the road two or three hundred yards east of MURPHY’s house, when on getting in a small glade fifteen steps from the road I heard horses’ feet coming from the direction of Big River Mills.  I stood behind a cedar bush with a cocked pistol in each hand.  Col. BOWEN rode by me with two of his men, but none of them turned their heads, and I moved around the bush as they passed.

    I did not wish to hurt them; I had a high regard for the Colonel, and respected him for his magnanimity in not burning my cave after he had captured it, for I must say that he was the first man who ever drove me out of a place without setting it on fire.

    A few days after this I concluded to hobble over to where my family was, for the purpose of paying them a short visit; but on passing through a wheat field I was discovered by a certain man who reported me.  Col. BOWEN took a squad of men to watch around my house at night.  Before arriving there it was dark and raining; and as I heard the tramp of their horses I stepped out of the road until they had passed.  I followed them on until they got near the house and commenced placing out their pickets.

    After the campaign had continued several weeks, it became apparent that the forces already in the field were insufficient for my capture; the disloyalty of the people of St. Francois county had been greatly magnified.   Certain evil men in the neighborhood desired nothing so much as a pretext for martial law; some of them had rioted in murder and pillage during the war, and they knew that in all civil commotions the dregs arise to the top.

Governor McCLURG Good Man

    Governor McCLURG is a good man; I can say that much for him, but in the goodness of his nature he is slow in detecting the evil designs of some of his party friends who live in the under current of cunning rascality.  To show the tardiness and disloyalty of the civil authorities in St. Francois County, Sheriff MURPHY was ordered, just as the farmers had whetted their scythes and were preparing to enter their harvest fields, to call out the militia throughout the county to aid in scouring in the woods.  To the mortification of the plotters, he responded and the people turned out.

    Then the report was started that I was concealed in a deep mineral shaft among the Pike Run Hills.  MURPHY and his party scrambled over that terrible country until every snake was crushed by their feet.

    This severe ordeal continued for two or three weeks until fortunately the Governor made his advent on Big River, and was welcomely received by all parties.  To my regret I was out of the ring; however, I was anxious to see Governor McCLURG, for I had never yet seen a Governor; and having been informed by my friends that he would make a speech in Farmington on the following day, I posted myself in the corner of a fence at the end of a lane on the GREEN place about five miles from Farmington and watched for him to come along, knowing that he would pass on that road.

    I did not intend to molest him, or even to speak an unkind word; but I was anxious that he might be alone so that I could step out, shake him by the hand, give him a drink out of my bottle, and have a social chat.

    When he passed me he was riding by the side of a Methodist preacher from Caledonia, named WILLIAMS; he was followed by a train of about forty men, the saints being in front and the sinners in the rear.  Not liking the rear-guard very well, I did not join in the procession, but retired further back in the woods.

    Under the impression that the Governor would deliver a speech at the court house that night, I concluded that I would go and hear what he had to say about me.  After dark I made my way to town and secreted myself opposite the courthouse door among some good boxes near FLEMING’s store.

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St. Francois County Courthouse (Circa late 1860's)

    I saw no indications, however, of a public meeting; I made a motion to adjourn, which was seconded by a large woolly dog that found me occupying his sleeping apartment.

    I ascertained afterwards that McCLURG did make a speech during the day, and that it was anything but flattering to me.  To avoid the necessity of a resort to martial law, the citizens were very clamorous in their protestations of holy horror at the very name of HILDEBRAND.  They passed a long string of resolutions; the first declaring the “Sam HILDEBRAND ought to be arrested;” the second that “it would be proper to arrest Sam HILDEBRAND;” the third “that to arrest Sam HILDEBRAND would be a good idea;” the other sixteen resolutions not differing materially from the first three, I need not repeat.

    The resolutions being read to me a few days afterwards, I fully sanctioned them, and cruised around several days myself, in search of desperadoes.

    Governor McCLURG appointed six deputy sheriffs for St. Francois county; their number was afterwards increased to ten, each one of whom were allowed a posse of ten men, by which arrangement one hundred men would be in active service.

    In order to create the impression that he was performing some prodigious deeds of valor, Col. BOWEN pretended to have fought a terrible battle single handed with “Sam HILDEBRAND and his men” at the Brick Church on Big River.     I have heard the battle at the Brick Church frequently mentioned, and I have a word to say
in regard to that matter.  I was not there myself, neither was any of my friends at the time the firing took place.

    The whole tragedy was concocted by the cunning of Col. BOWEN himself, in order to cut a figure and stamp himself a hero.

    I could easily have killed him at any time previous to this, but as he had done me no harm, and was not likely to do any, I took the advice of my friends and let him peaceably pursue his brilliant campaigns for the sake of eclipsing the renown Don QUIXOTE.

    It seems that two of his men had stationed themselves in the brush near the Brick Church by the road leading from his headquarters at G.W. MURPHY’s to Big River Mills.  On a certain evening between sunset and dark, when Sheriff MURPHY and himself were riding by the church on their way from Big River Mills, those two men in ambush fired off their guns.  The valiant Colonel drew out his pistol and commenced firing; but to prevent the sheriff from taking a pop at the two men, he cried out to him to dash on to Big River Mills for more men, which he did and soon returned.

    The Colonel remained on the ground and was master of the field, but his horse was slightly wounded by a shot nearly perpendicular, which might have been made by himself.  The horse, however, not understanding the matter thoroughly, threw his master high in the air; but luckily the Colonel came down head formost, and striking on a rock he received no injury except a ringing in his head like the rattling of a cow-bell.

    He dispatched one of his men to Irondale to telegraph to the authorities at St. Louis the astounding intelligence that at the Brick Church, Col. BOWEN had encountered the irrepressible “Sam HILDEBRAND” and his band of outlaws; that his horse had been shot from under him, but that single-handed he had driven the enemy from the field, and only received a slight wound.  This Don QUIXOTE campaign against me terminated in a spree, and the Colonel returned to St. Louis.

    Previous to this, however, by Col. BOWEN’s orders, my wife and children were removed, first to Irondale and then to Farmington; they remained at the latter place under the supervision of the sheriff for a month.  They were kindly treated, but my wife was anxious to escape from the ceaseless annoyance of BOWEN’s military operations.

Slip Away To Ste. Genevieve

    On a certain night a friend of mine from Illinois, named CRITTENDEN, proceeded into Farmington with a light wagon, and before the break of day my wife and family were in Ste. Genevieve county, on their way to Illinois.   They stopped for breakfast at a house by the roadside, and by a strange coincidence it proved to be the house of the late James McLAINE.  The widow not knowing the party, made them very welcome, and in apologizing for her
straitened circumstances, observed: “I am now left a destitute widow, and all these poor children of mine are left orphans, by the hand of Sam HILDEBRAND.”

    Mrs. McLAINE’s father, George SHUMATE, was present, and while the good woman was preparing breakfast, he addressed himself to CRITTENDEN, and gave a terrible account of my desperate deeds.

    After breakfast the party arose to continue their journey; the widow would have nothing for her trouble.  My wife, taking Mrs. McLAINE kindly by the hand said:

    “Mrs. McLAINE, I am sorry for you - truly sorry for you and your dear little children; sorry for the many hardships you have had to encounter.  I know how to sympathize with you, for I am a widow myself.”

    “You a widow?”

    “Yes, Mrs. McLAINE; I am worse than a widow; I am the wife of Sam HILDEBRAND!”

    The good woman stood amazed and said nothing; but the look that Mr. SHUMATE gave CRITTENDEN was truly comical; he drew up his neck, threw his head a little back, and exclaimed:

    “Well - my - God!  and you are not Sam HILDEBRAND - are you?”

    “Oh, no sir!  I am not; but his wife here is my cousin.”

    They continued on to Illinois, and as soon as all military operations against me in Missouri had subsided, I left the State; and since that time I have been wandering through the Southern States as a peaceable citizen.

    The Governor’s reward against me, of course, is still unrepealed; and I hope that it will be chiseled into one of the pillars of the State Capitol, that it may be handed down to posterity in the same category with two rewards offered during the last generation - one for a feasible northwest passage, and the other for the invention of perpetual motion.

    Let the legend pass down the corridors of time to the latest generation, that the strange flickering light sometimes seen at night in the dreary lowlands of the South is none other than “Jack with his lantern” trying to get the reward by finding Sam HILDEBRAND.

    If the strange hallucination should ever enter the mind of a man that I could be captured, let him immediately send for a physician, have his head emptied and filled up with clabber to give him a better set of brains.

    All fighting between “Uncle Sam” and myself has ceased long ago.  He came out of the war unconquered - and so did I.       It will be a long time, however, before he gets entirely over the effects of our fight.  I am hale, and have the free use of my limbs; but his southern arm is paralyzed, he is terribly in debt; can only see out of one eye, and his constitution is broken; he has the KuKlux nightmare, the Salt Lake cancer; the African leprosy; the Fenian rickets; the Bondholder’s cramp; and the Congressional blind staggers.  The war left me out of debt, with a good horse and forty dollars in cash.

    As several proclamations have been issued against me, without ever eliciting one in return, I shall now swing my hat and proclaim:

    “Peace and good will to all men; a general amnesty toward the United States, and to “Uncle Sam” - so long as the said Uncle Sam shall behave himself.”