Chapter 7 - Sam Hildebrand's Confession


Legend of St. Francois County
Reprinted from the County Advertiser by Farmington News Printing Company
September 26, 1979

sam_hildebrand.jpg (11901 bytes)

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

[Trip to Missouri - Kills George CORNECIOUS for reporting on him. - Kills Firman
McILVAINE. - Attempt to kill McGAHAN and HOUSE. - Returns to Arkansas.]

    My wound kept me at headquarters for about six weeks after my arrival in Arkansas.  During all this time I could not hear a word from my family, for the Federals had possession of every town in that section of country, together with all the roads leading from one county to another.

    On the 1st day of June, 1862, having been furnished a horse, I took my faithful gun, “Kill-devil,” and started on my first trip back to Missouri.  As my success would depend altogether on the secrecy of my movements, I went alone.  I traveled altogether in the night, and most of the time through the woods.  From Captain BOLIN’s men I had learned the names of Southern sympathizers along the whole route, so I made it convenient to travel slowly in order to favor my wounds and to get acquainted with our friends.

    I arrived in the vicinity of Flat Woods, in St. Francois county, Missouri, on the 12th day of June, and immediately commenced searching for George CORNECIOUS, the man who reported my whereabouts to McILVAINE and the soldiers, thereby causing me to be wounded and expelled from Flat Woods.  After searching two days and two nights I succeeded in shooting him; he was the first man I ever killed; a little notch was cut in the stock of my gun to
commemorate the deed.

    To avoid implicating my family in any way with my transactions, I satisfied myself with exchanging words with my wife through a friend who was thought by his neighbors to be a Union man.  My family resided in a little cabin on Back creek and my wife was cultivating a garden.

    To carry out the daring object I had in view - that of killing Firman McILVAINE - I went to Flat River, and after remaining several days, I took a pone of bread for my rations and walked to his farm on Big River after night.

    I passed through his fields, but finding no place where harvesting was going on, I crossed Big River on a fish-trap dam and ranged over the BAKER farm on the opposite side of the river, about a mile above Big River Mills, where the McILVAINE family now resided.

    I found where harvesting had just commenced in a field which formed the southwestern corner of the farm.  This field is on the top of a perpendicular bluff, about one hundred feet high, and is detached from the main farm by a road leading from Ste. Genevieve to Potosi.

    A portion of the grain had already been cut on the western side of the field, near the woods; there I took my station in the fence corner, early in the morning thinking that McILVAINE would probably shock the grain while the negroes were cradling.  In this I was mistaken, for I saw him swinging his cradle in another part of the field, beyond the range of my gun.


    I next attempted to crawl along the edge of the bluff among the stunted cedars, but had to abandon the attempt because the negroes stopped in the shade of the cedars every time they came around.  Then I went back into the woods, and passed down under the bluff, along the edge of the river, until I got opposite the place where they were at work; but found no place where I could ascend the high rock.  I went around the lower end of the bluff, and crawled up to the field on the other side, but I was at too great a distance to get a shot.  Finally, I went down to the river and was resting myself near a large flat rock that projected out into the river, where some persons had
been recently fishing, when suddenly Firman McILVAINE rode down to the river and watered his horse at a ford about sixty yards below me.  I tried to draw a bead on him, but the limb of a tree prevented me, and when he started back he rode too fast for my purpose.

    At night I crept under a projecting rock and slept soundly; but very early in the morning I ascended the bluff and secreted myself at a convenient distance from where they had left off cradling.  But I was again doomed to disappointment for as the negroes were cradling, McILVAINE was shocking the grain in another part of the field.

    In the evening, as soon as they had finished cutting the grain, all hands left, and I did not know where they were.  I next stationed myself at a short distance from the river, and watched for him to water his horse; but his father presently passed along leading the horse to water.

    I again slept under the overhanging rock; and on the next morning (June 23rd) I crossed the river on the fish dam, and went to the lower part of McILVAINE’s farm.  There I found the negroes cutting down a field of rye.  They cut away for several hours, until they got it all down within one hundred yards of the fence, before McILVAINE made his first round.  On getting a little past me, he stopped to whet his scythe; as soon as he had done so he lowered the cradle to the ground, and for a moment stood resting on the handle.

    I fired, and he fell dead.

    Nothing but a series of wrongs long continued could ever have induced me to take the life of that highly accomplished young man.

    After the outbreak of the war, while others were losing horses, a fine mare was stolen from him.  The theft was not committed by me, but my personal enemies probably succeeded in making him believe that I had committed the act.

    He was goaded on by evil advisers to take the law into his own hands; my brother Frank was hung without a trial, and his body thrown into a sink-hole, to moulder like that of a beast; my own life had been sought time and again; my wife and tender family were forced to pass through hardships and suffering seldom witnessed in the annals of history.  The mangled features of my poor brother; the pale face of my confiding wife; the tearful eyes of my fond children - all would seem to turn reprovingly upon me in my midnight dreams, as if demanding retributive justice.   My revenge was reluctant and long delayed, but it came at last.


     I remained in the woods, near the residence of a friend for a day or two, and then I concluded to silence Joe McGAHAN and John HOUSE before returning to Arkansas.  I proceeded to the residence of the former, who had been very officious in the Vigilance mob, and posted myself in some woods in the field within one hundred yards of the house, just as daylight began to appear.  I kept a vigilant watch for him all day, but he did not make his appearance until it had commenced getting dark; then he rode up and went immediately into his house.  By this time it was too dark for me to shoot at such a distance.  I moved to the garden fence, and in a few minutes he made his appearance in the door with a little child in his arms.  The fence prevented me from shooting him below the child, and I could not shoot him in the breast for fear of killing it.

    He remained in the door only a minute or two, and then retired into the house; and while I was thinking the matter over, without noticing closely for his reappearance, I presently discovered him riding off.  I went into a thicket in his field and slept until nearly day, when I again took my position near the house, and watched until night again set in, but fortunately for him he did not make his appearance.

    I now went about four miles to the residence of John HOUSE, selected a suitable place for my camp, and slept soundly until daybreak.   I watched closely all day, but saw nothing of my enemy.  As soon as it was dark I went back to Flat River, and on the next night I mounted my horse and started back to Green county, Arkansas, without being discovered by any one except by those friends whom I called on for provisions.