Sequel - 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


    Dr. Abram W. KEITH had a lovely home at Big River Mills which had a full basement under the entire house.  One section of the basement was divided off into a storage space for fruits and canned goods.  This was not unusual in pioneer homes but one section of the fruit shelves was hinged and back of it was a spacious room.

    It was to this secret place that Sam was removed after his last severe wound.  It was here that Dr. KEITH and Mr. EVANS recorded the story you have just read.  Dr. KEITH did not record this fact in his book, for feelings still ran high when the book was published.

    Interest in the unfruitful hunt for Sam began to wane.  The people were tired of the war and the hates were gradually dying out.   Sam was never out of touch with his friends but he and Margaret felt that they should leave the state, at least for a time.  They removed from place to place for a year or two.  While living in Texas, Sam suffered a very severe loss when his beloved wife, Margaret (HAMPTON) died and left him with a large family of children.

    Finally, Sam found a satisfactory farm near Pinckneyville, Illinois, and he settled there with his children.  He attended strictly to his own business and assumed a false name.  He made infrequent visits to town to purchase his necessary supplies.  Occasionally, he stopped into a saloon to get a glass of beer but Sam had never been a heavy drinker.  Perhaps in those later days he drank more than usual after Margaret’s death, but he never went about looking for trouble.  He had had enough for most any man.  He was happy with his flock of children and would have been pleased if the world had forgotten about him.

    On one of his infrequent visits to the town saloon, Sam was approached by a man who had been drinking rather heavily.  This man said, “I know you, you are Sam HILDEBRAND.” 

    The bartender overheard the man’s statement.  Sam felt no alternative to the fact that for his safety and his family, he must silence these two men and he left hastily to get his rifle out of his wagon to kill both men who could identify him to the authorities.

    Securing his rifle, Sam climbed up on a box outside the window of the saloon and was about to fire, when the town marshal happened along and picking up a fence picket, struck Sam over the head and knocked him to the ground.  Taken before a Justice-of-the-Peace, he was fined five dollars and ordered to jail until morning. John RAGLAND and another deputy were escorting Sam to the town jail when Sam suddenly whipped out a knife from his vest pocket and slashed RAGLAND from his knee to his hip.  RAGLAND drew his revolver and shot Sam in the head, killing him instantly.  An inquest was held and Sam was buried as an unknown person in the pauper’s lot there.

    The story appeared in the St. Louis papers next morning.  Denis O’LEARY and Uncle Will WEBB (a close relative of the writer) had a suspicion from the description given, that this must have been Sam HILDEBRAND.   Reporting to the Chief of Police in St. Louis, this official communicated with the authorities at Pinckneyville who had Sam’s body exhumed.  These two men went to Pinckneyville in an attempt to identify the body.  O’LEARY had grown up with Sam and Uncle Will had known him for some years.  Both men knew it to be Sam.  The wound made by PETERSON was evident in the corpse as was the scar from the wound on his ankle made at the beginning of the war.

    Sam’s body was shipped to Farmington and displayed in the Courthouse.  Hundreds of people who had known Sam, viewed the body but no one would go on record with a positive identification for no one wanted RAGLAND and others to collect the reward money still offered.

    The HAMPTON boys, (Sam’s wife’s family) said that since there was a possibility that this was Sam’s body, they would re-inter it in the Hampton cemetery but they refused to make a positive and public identification.  It has been said that at one time there was a reward offered for Sam, ranging as high as ten thousand dollars.  We have been able to find only the three hundred dollar reward posted by the Governor.  At any rate, no one was able to collect it because no positive identification was ever filed in court.

    Sam’s remains lie peacefully on the grounds that were originally the John WILLIAMS place where Sam had fought the one-sided battle.  The spot is now known as the Hampton Cemetery and is just back of the Methodist Church at Elvins.  No marker other than a flat stone slab marks Sam’s grave.  It was placed there soon after that day in early May 1872 when Firmin HAMPTON, (Brother of Sam’s wife) and some three hundred friends and curious neighbors lowered him into his final place for that long rest which I think you will agree, Sam was entitled
to although he was only a little more than 36 years of age.

    An interesting sequel might be of interest here.  About 25 years ago, this writer thought enough interest in Sam might be aroused to raise money to erect a modest but suitable monument over Sam’s grave.   Starting out bravely, we tackled a friend and proposed that he might contribute to the fund.  We were taken aback by the remarks of our friend which started out with some plain and fancy profanity and ended up with “the dirty so-and-so killed my grandfather.”  We went no further with the solicitation.

    Dr. KEITH and Mr. EVANS recording of Sam’s life has been a tale of death and bloodshed.  It is incidental to the story depicting conditions existing in this part of Missouri during the Civil War period.  We can neither condone or condemn Sam’s activities.  That Great Judge of us all will have the final say in the matter of Sam HILDEBRAND.  Sam became desperate and inhuman because of the wrongs that had been perpetrated on him and his family.  His deeds were in retaliation for the actions of the Federals and Militia.

    There is no doubt that the Union cause was cheated out of the services of the HILDEBRAND boys.  Brother William had joined the Union army before Sam’s troubles started.  Sam and Frank would likely have joined the Union forces for they were not slave owners and their feelings were for the northern cause.

    Dr. Floyd C. SHOEMAKER, then Secretary of the State Historical Society of Missouri, in a preface to “Sam HILDEBRAND Rides Again” which is out of print, succinctly summed up the situation when he said, in part:

    “It has been said that since a man is but the reflection of his time, the study of any man’s life can reveal the characteristics of the historical period in which he lived.  Certainly this seems true of the life of Sam HILDEBRAND"

    "The character of guerilla fighting in Missouri was vicious even by wartime standards and after hostilities ceased there was bitterness remaining which led to continued bloodshed in some localities.”