Chapter 9 - 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

[Trip with BURLAP and CATO. - Killed a spy near Bloomfield. - Visits his Mother on Dry
Creek. - Interview with his Uncle. - Sees the burning of the homestead at a distance.]

    As yet, I had heard nothing about the atrocities committed against the remaining members of the HILDEBRAND family; but in order to stir up my old enemies in that quarter, I selected two good men, John BURLAP and James CATO, to accompany me in another excursion to St. Francois county, Missouri.

    They, too, had been badly treated at the outbreak of the war, and had several grievances to redress, for which purpose I promised them my future aid.  We procured Federal uniforms, and started late in the afternoon of July 13th, 1862; but on arriving at St. Francis river, we found it out of its banks from the heavy rains that had fallen the day previous.

    My comrades were rather reluctant about venturing into the turbid stream amid the floating driftwood; but I had ever been impressed with the truth of the old adage, that it was “bad luck to turn back.”   I plunged my horse into the stream and made the opposite shore without much difficulty.  I was followed by BURLAP and CATO, who got across safely, but were somewhat scratched by the driftwood.  We built a fire, dried our clothes, took a “snort” from our black bottle and camped until morning.

    Nothing of interest occurred until we reached the vicinity of Bloomfield, in Stoddard county, Missouri, when we met a man in citizen’s dress, whom we accosted in a very familiar manner, asking him if there were any Rebels in that vicinity.  He stated that there was a party of Rebels in Bloomfield, and that we had better make our way back to Greenville to the command, otherwise we would be sure to fall into their hands.  He stated that he had been with them all day, pretending that he wanted to enlist; that he had learned all about their plans, and thought that about tomorrow night they would all be taken in.  I inquired if they had not suspicioned him a spy?  He answered that they had not; that he had completely deceived them.   I then asked him if he did not want to ride behind me and my companions, by turns, until we reached Greenville?  He signified his assent by springing up behind me.   I let him ride about two miles, but not exactly in the direction of Greenville, for I told him that I was aiming to strike a certain cross road, which seemed to satisfy his mind.  He had much to tell us about his exploits as a spy, and that he had learned the names of all the Rebels in Greenville and Fredericktown.  By this time we had enough.  I told him that I was Sam HILDEBRAND, knocked him off my horse, and then shot him.

Another Notch Made

     I felt no compunction of conscience for having ended the days of such a scoundrel.  A little notch underneath the stock of old “Kill-devil” was made, to indicate the probability that he would fail to report.

    On the rest of our trip we traveled altogether in the night, and avoided the commission of any act that would be likely to create a disturbance.  We arrived safely at the house of my brother-in-law on Flat River who lives within ten miles of the HILDEBRAND homestead.

    Here, for the first time, I heard of the murder of my brother, Washington, also that of my uncle, John ROAN.  Mother’s house had not yet been burned, but she had been peremptorily driven from it, and had sought refuge with her brother, in Jefferson county.  The country was full of soldiers, and the Vigilance mob were in their glory.  Their deeds would blacken the name of John A. MURREL, the great land pirate of America, for he never robbed a lady, nor took the bread from orphan children; while they unblushingly did both.

    On learning these particulars, I determined to go to Dry Creek for the purpose of seeing my mother, although the soldiers were scouring the country in every direction for fifty miles for my destruction.  We started at night, but having to travel a circuitous route, daylight overtook us when within six miles of my uncle’s.   We made a circuit, as was my custom, around a hillside, and then camped in such a position that we would be close to our pursuers for half and hour before they could find us.

    My companions took a nap while I kept watch.   They had not been asleep long before I discovered a party of men winding their way slowly in the semi-circle we had made.  There were ten of them, all dressed in Federal uniforms.  I awakened my companions, and they took a peep at them as they were slowly tracking us, at a distance of three hundred yards.  We could hardly refrain from making war upon them, the chances being so good for game and a little fun, but my object was to see my mother; so we let them pass on to the place where our tracks would lead them out of sight for a few minutes, then we mounted our horses and rode on to another ridge, making a circuit as before, and camping within a quarter of a mile of our first ambush.  On coming to that place, the Federals struck off in another direction, probably finding our tracks a little too fresh for their safety.

A Visit To Uncle’s House

    When night came, we made our way cautiously through the woods to within a few hundred yards of my uncle’s house.  I dismounted, and leaving my horse with my comrades, approached the house carefully, and climbed upon a bee-gum to peep through the window.  I discovered that there were two strange men in the room, and I got a glimpse of another man around in a corner; but as I leaned a little to one side to get a better view, my bee-gum tilted over, and I fell with a desperate crash on a pile of clapboards.  I got up in somewhat of a hurry, and, at about three bounds cleared the picket fence, and deposited myself in the corner of the garden to await the result.

    The noise, of course, aroused the inmates of the house, and they were soon out with a light, but with no utensils of war except a short double-barreled shot-gun, in the hands of my uncle.  He inspected the damage done to his favorite bee-stand, and breathed out some rough threats against the villains who had attempted to steal his honey.  After ordering his family and the two strangers back into the house, he posted himself in a fence corner against the offenders, should they attempt to renew the attack.

    The night not being very dark, I was fearful that if I attempted to climb over the picket fence, the old man might pepper me with shot.   So I moved myself cautiously around to the back part of the garden, and found an opening where a picket was missing.  Through this aperture I succeeded in squeezing myself, and then crawled around to the rail fence where my uncle was, until I got within two panels of the old man, when I ventured to call him by name, in a very low tone.   He knew my voice, and said: “Is that you Sam?”  My answer in the affirmative brought him to where I was, and although the fence was between us, we took a hearty shake of the hand through a crack.  He told me that the two men in the house were Union neighbors, who came over to tell him that the trail of a band of bushwhackers had been discovered about six miles from there, and that on tomorrow the whole country would be out in search of them.  He told me to go back until his neighbors took their leave, and then to come in and see my mother, who was well, but grieving continually about her son “Sam.”

Bushwhacker Encounters Mother

    I fell back to my companions, reported progress, and again took my stand in the fence corner.  As soon as the two neighbors were gone, my uncle made known to my mother, and to his wife and daughters, the cause of the disturbance; the younger members of the family having retired early in the night, were all fast asleep.  As soon as my uncle thought it prudent to do so, he came out and invited us in.  Although my mother had received the news of my visit with a quiet composure, yet, on my approach, she arose silently and started toward me with a firm step, but in a moment she tottered and would have fallen, but I caught her in my arms; she lay with her head on my bosom for some minutes, weeping like a child, and I must confess that now, for the first time since I was a boy, I could not restrain my tears.  My mother broke the silence by uttering, in broken sentences: “Oh, my dear son! Have you indeed come to see your mother?   I thought I would go down with sorrow to my grave, as I never expected to see you again on earth!”  How my manhood and my iron will left me at that moment!  How gladly would I have left war and revenge to the beast of the forest, and secreted myself in some quiet corner of the earth, that there, with my mother and my family, I might once more delight in the sweet songs of birds, and in the tranquil scenes of life, like those I enjoyed in my younger days!

    My mother became more tranquil, and we talked over matters with a great deal of satisfaction; and my uncle, to drive our minds from a subject too serious, occasionally poked fun at me, by accusing me of trying to steal his bee-gum, in which he was joined by my two comrades.  His two daughters were flying around in the kitchen, and  presently announced a supper for us all.  We enjoyed ourselves finely until two o’clock in the night at which time we were compelled to leave, in order to secure a safe retreat from the vigilant search to be made for us during the following day.

    On starting, we rode back on our old trail half a mile, to where we had crossed a small creek, down which we rode, keeping all the time in the water, for about three miles, to a public road leading south, which we followed about six miles; then, on coming to a rocky place where our horses would make no tracks, we left the road at right angles and traveled in the woods about two miles; here we made a semi-circle around a hill, and camped in a commanding position.  My comrades did picket duty while I slept nearly all day.  At night we went to a friend who lived near my old residence, and from him we learned that our trail had been discovered on our way up, that the whole militia force, composed almost exclusively of my old enemies, together with some Dutch regulars, were quartered at Big River Mills; that the woods were being constantly scoured; that each ford on Big River was guarded night and day, and that they considered my escape impossible.

Childhood Home Aflame

    Before the approach of daylight we secreted our horses in a deep ravine, covered with brush and briars, and then hid ourselves underneath a shelving rock near the top of a high bluff, from which, at a long distance, we had a view of my mother’s house - the homestead of the HILDEBRAND family.  We remained here all day, during which time the house was surrounded by soldiers, how many I could not tell, but they seemed to fill the yard and the adjoining enclosures.  Presently, I saw a dense column of smoke arise from the house, which told me too plainly that the Vandals were burning up the home of my childhood.

    The flames presently burst forth through the roof and lapped out their long fiery tongues at every window.  The roof fell in, and all that remained of the superb house was the blackened walls of massive stone.

    Gladly would I have thrown myself among those Vandals, and fought them while I had a drop of blood remaining, but it would have been madness for I would have been killed too soon, and my revenge would have been ended, while my enemies would still live to enjoy their pillage.

    Immediately after dark we returned to our horses and commenced our retreat to Arkansas; but instead of going south we traveled west about twenty miles until we struck on a creek called Forche a’Renault, in Washington County; then turning south, we traveled over the wild pine hills west from Potosi, and camped in a secure place between Caledonia and Webster.

    We started on in the evening, and just before sunset made a raid on a store, getting all we wanted, including several bottles of “burst-head.”   We traveled mostly in the night, followed Black River down to Current River, crossed at Carter’s Ferry, and made our way safely to Green County, Arkansas.