Chapter 4 - 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

[McILVAINE’s Vigilance Mob. - Treachery of CASTLEMAN. - Frank HILDEBRAND hung by
Mob. - Organization of the Mob into a Militia Company.]

    The Vigilance Committee, with Firman McILVAINE at its head, was formed ostensibly for the mutual protection against plunderers; yet some bad men were in it.  By their influence it  became a machine of oppression, a shield for cowards, and the head-quarters for tyranny.  

    After I left Big River my brother Frank continued to conceal himself in the woods until about the middle of November; the weather now grew so cold that he could stand it no longer; he took the advice of Franklin MURPHY and made his way to Potosi, and in order to silence all suspicion in regard to his loyalty, he went to Captain CASTLEMAN and offered to join the Home Guards.  CASTLEMAN being intimate with Firman McILVAINE, detained Frank until he had time to send  McILVAINE word, and then basely betrayed him into the merciless hands of the vigilant mob.

    In order to obtain a shadow of legality for his proceedings, McILVAINE took brother Frank before Franklin MURPHY, who at the time was the justice of the peace on Big River.  Frank was anxious that the justice might try the case; but when MURPHY told them that all the authority he had would only enable him to commit him to jail for trial in the proper court, even if the charges were sustained. They were dissatisfied at this, and in order to take the matter out of the hands of the justice and make it beyond his jurisdiction, they declared that he had stolen a horse in Ste. Genevieve county.

    The mob then took Frank to Punjaub, in that county, before Justice R.M. COLE, who told them that he was a sworn officer of the law, and that if they should produce sufficient evidence against their prisoner, he could only commit him to jail.  This of course did not satisfy the mob; to take the case out of his hands, they stated that the offense he had committed was that of stealing a mule in Jefferson county.  They stated also that Frank and Sam ANDERSON had gone in the night to the house of Mr. CARNEY to steal his mare; that Mrs. CARNEY on hearing them at the gate, went out and told them that Mr. CARNEY was absent and had rode the mare; that they then compelled Mrs. CARNEY to go with them a quarter of a mile in her night clothes to show them where Mr. BECKET lived; and finally that they went there and stole his horse. Failing however to obtain the cooperation of the Justice in carrying out their lawless designs, the mob left with their prisoner, declaring that they were going to take him to Jefferson county for trial.

    The sad termination of the affair is soon told.  The mob took my kind, inoffensive brother about five miles and hung him without any trial whatever, after which they threw his body in a sink hole thirty feet in depth, and there his body laid for more than a month before it was found. A few weeks after this cold blooded murder took place, Firman McILVAINE had the audacity to boast of the deed, declaring positively that Frank had been hung by his express orders.  This murder took place on the 20th day of November, 1861, about a month after I had been driven from Big River.

Robbed By Vigilantes

    A few nights after my arrival at Flat Woods I made my way back to my old home in order to bring away some more of my property, but on arriving there I found that my house had been robbed and all my property either taken away or destroyed.  I soon learned from a friend that the Vigilance Committee had wantonly destroyed everything they did not want.  I returned to Flat Woods in a very despondent mood.  I was completely broken up.

    The union men were making war upon me, but I was making no war upon them, for I still wished to take no part in the national struggle.  I considered it “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”  But a sense of my wrongs bore heavily upon me; I had been reduced to absolute poverty (to say nothing of the murder of my brother) by the unrelenting cruelty of Firman McILVAINE who was a rich man, drowned in luxury and surrounded by all the comforts of life that the eye could wish, or a cultivated appetite could desire. 

    The war was now raging with great fury in many sections of the country; yet I remained at home intent on making a living for my family, provided I could do so without being molested, but during all the time I was at work, I had to keep a sharp lookout for my enemies. 

    That leprous plague spot - the Vigilance Committee - finally ripened and culminated in the formation of a company of militia on Big River, with James CRAIG for Captain and Joe McGAHAN for First Lieutenant.  The very act for which they were so anxious to punish others, on mere suspicion, they themselves now committed with a high hand. 

    They were ordered to disarm southern sympathizers and to seize on articles contraband to war, such as arms and ammunition.  This gave them great latitude; the cry of “disloyal” could be very easily raised against any man who happened to have a superabundance of property.  “Arms” was construed also to include arm chairs and their arms full of everything they could get their hands on; “guns” included GUNN’s Domestic Medicine; a fine claybank mare was confiscated because it had so many colors; they took a gun from Mr. METTS merely because he lived on the south side of Big River; they dipped heavily into the estate of Dick POSTON, deceased, by killing the cattle for beef and dividing it among themselves, under the pretext that if Dick POSTON had been living, he most undoubtedly would have been a rebel.