Kevin Culton As Hildebrand



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(Kevin Culton)


Kevin Culton brings the notorious outlaw to
Big River Chautauqua

By K. JENKINS Daily Journal Staff Writer | Published Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Local resident Kevin Culton says he hopes to bring the spirit of Confederate Maj. Sam Hildebrand “alive” at pre-shows he’ll be headlining each evening at 6:30 p.m., at the 17th annual Big River Chautauqua.

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The popular event which has as this year’s theme, “Civil War: The Front Line,” will be taking place Thursday through  Saturday, under a big tent set up each year behind Bonne Terre City Hall at Bonne Terre, Missouri. .

Nicknamed “The Big River Bushwhacker,” Hildebrand is known as southeast Missouri’s most notorious outlaw. Culton, an avid Civil War buff and reenactor, said he feels a special kinship with Hildebrand because for six years he lived on what was once the Confederate officer’s Bonne Terre farm.

“I leased the farm from Sam’s great-nephew, Bill Harper, after leaving the service in 1990,” explained Culton, who said he often enjoyed having long talks with the elderly man about Hildebrand.

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Sam Hildebrand Home North of Bonne Terre, Missouri.

Sam was born into the family of Rebecca McKee and George Hildebrand on Jan. 6, 1836. The 1850 St. Francois County census lists the couple as having nine children:   Richard, George, Elvira, Samuel, William, James, Mary, Henry and Margaret. 

Culton says that Sam only attended school one day and, so, had virtually no education. He was; however, an excellent marksman and worked hard on the family farm, alongside his siblings. 

Trouble brewed when Sam and his brother, Frank, got in trouble over a horse swapping deal in which the animal had apparently been stolen. When the Civil War began in 1861, Frank traveled to Potosi where he enlisted in the Union Army Home Guards. It was then that Capt. Castleman turned Frank over to Firmin McIlvaine and his group of vigilantes. Frank was eventually taken by McIlvaine’s men to Ste. Genevieve County where, without benefit of a trial, he was hanged and his body thrown into a sinkhole where it was not found until more than a month later. 

In June, 1862, Sam avenged his brother’s death when he shot and killed both George Cornicius and Firmin McIlvaine.

The Federal Army took revenge on Sam's family in July 1862 for the killing of Cornicius and McIlvaine. Sam's widowed and aged mother was forced from the Hildebrand homestead which was then burned to the ground. Sam's brother and his sister's fiancÚ were literally shot to pieces by a whole company of federal soldiers.  Sam's uncle and 13-year-old brother were also shot to death.

When Sam  joined  the Confederate Army he became a rebel soldier/guerilla who was greatly feared throughout southeast Missouri. He began a reign of killings and terror that continued throughout the war and only ending with Sam's death in 1872. 

Sam killed many people with his high caliber rifle, which he named "Kill Devil." Culton said that for every person the outlaw killed with his rifle, he carved a notch in the rifle stock.  It is said that, at Sam’s death, "Kill-Devil" had over 80 notches carved in it.

Culton, who has appeared in numerous cable Civil War documentaries for the likes of Disney, A&E, and the History and Discovery channels — as well as three Hollywood movies — said he's excited about being able to relate Hildebrand’s unique story in a way that brings it to life for the audience.

On Thursday evening, he will speak about Hildebrand during the pre-war era, on Friday night about his exploits during the war and on Saturday evening, about Hildebrand’s life after the war.