SAM HILDEBRAND ~ THE BIG RIVER BUSHWHACKER
SOUTHEAST MISSOURI'S NOTORIOUS OUTLAW

By: Esther M. Ziock Carroll

While discussing the Youngers & the Jameses, it is just as well to remember that they were not the only dangerous men in the dug out.  There were others along in the ‘60’s [1860's].   Missouri woods were full of men who could hit a bullseye or a human target ten times out of ten.  Only of few of them, however, kept on shooting long enough after the war to ensure lasting reputations.  Butler Missouri Times


SAM HILDEBRAND:   Sam was born into a large family on January 6, 1836.  His parents were Rebecca McKee & George Hildebrand.  The 1850 cenus of St. Francois County, Missouri lists nine children:  Richard, George, Elvira, Samuel, William, James, Mary, Henry, Margaret.  During Sam's childhood he only went to school one day so had virtually no education.  He was an excellant marksman though & worked hard, along with his siblings, on his father's farm.  When Sam was 18 years old he married Margaret Hampton on October 30, 1854.  They had six children. (For information on their children & grandchildren click here.)

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Hildebrand home built 1832.

SAM'S BROTHER LYNCHED:  Sam and his brother, Frank, had gotten into some trouble over a horse swapping deal involving a horse that was stolen from Firmin McIlvaine.   When the Civil War started in 1861 Frank went to Potosi in Washington County to enlist in the Union Army Home Guards. That is when Capt. Castleman turned Frank over to Firmin McIlvaine and his group of vigilantes. They eventually took Frank to Ste. Genevieve County and, without the benefit of a trial, hung him to a tree then threw his body into a sink hole where it was not found for more than a month.  In June, 1862 Sam avenged his brother's death when he shot and killed George Cornicius and Firmin McIlvaine

SAM'S FAMILY SUFFERS:   In July, 1862 the Federal Army takes revenge on Sam's family for his killing of Cornicius and McIlvaine.  Sam's widowed, aged mother was forced from her home & the Hildebrand homestead was burned.   Sam's brother & Sam's sister's fiance were literally shot to pieces by a whole company of Federals.  Sam's uncle was shot dead.  Sam's other brother, who was only 13 years old, was shot, his body found several days later by neighbors.

SAM HILDEBRAND'S REVENGE: When Sam  joined  the Confedrate Army he became a rebel soldier/guerilla who was greatly feared in southeast Missouri.  He began a reign of killings & terror that continued throughout & after the war until Sam's death in 1872.  He killed many people with his rifle, which he had named "Kill Devil".  For every person that he killed with "Kill Devil"  he carved a notch in the rifle stock.  It is said that "Kill-Devil" had over 80 notches.

SAM HILDEBRAND'S VICTIMS: Below is a partial list of the victims of Sam Hildebrand.  This information was gleaned from "Sam Hildebrand Rides Again" by Henry C. Thompson.

GEORGE CORNICIUS ~ Shot June 14, 1862 in Flat Woods, St. Francois County, Mo.

FIRMIN McILVAINE ~ Shot June, 1862 while working in his farm field in St. Francois Co., Mo.


UN-NAMED Federal spy ~ Shot July 13, 1862 Bloomfield, Stoddard Co., Mo. & body dragged into the weeds.


MR. STOKES ~ Shot through the heart, August, 1862, Wayne Co., Mo.


MR. SCAGGS ~ Hung him to a tree in the woods in Ste. Genevieve Co., Mo., September, 1862


CAPT. HICKS ~ Shot  while he was with his wife in their garden near Bloomfield, Stoddard Co., Mo. 1863


DUTCHMAN ~ Hung for betraying Sam in 1863.


GERMAN MAN ~ Hung in Scott County, Missouri 1863


GERMAN MAN ~ Shot in Scott County, Missouri 1863


GEORGE F. OLLER ~ Shot in Flat Woods, St. Francois County, Missouri 1863


JOHN FOWLER ~ Shot, a friend of Sam's who joined the Union Army. 1863


BILL COOTS ~ Shot between the eyes at his home near Mingo Swamp. He was a friend who betrayed Sam.


UN-NAMED citizen ~ Shot for causing the death of Rev. Polk. Madison Co., Mo.  1864.


JOHN ZIMMER ~ Hung on Wolf Creek near Farmington, St. Francois County, Mo. for lying to Sam about Federal troops. June, 1864.


HENRY VOGUS ~ Hung on Wolf Creek near Farmington, St. Francois County, Mo. for lying to Sam about Federal troops. June, 1864.


CHARLES HART ~ Hung in St. Francouis County, Mo. in retaliation for his murdering a young man named Bowman.


ISAAC ~ A freed slave that Sam hung for informing on southern sympathizers.  Near Westover's Mill.  1864.


NEGRO ~ Hung for reporting southerners. 1864.


NEGRO ~ Hung for reporting southerners. 1864.


UN-NAMED ~ Captured in Shannon County, Mo., and taken to Green County, Arkansas where he was hung for deserting Confederate Army. 1864.


UN-NAMED ~ Captured in Shannon County, Mo., and taken to Green County, Arkansas where he was hung for deserting Confederate Army. 1864.


GEORGE MILLER ~ Shot while working his field.  Revenge for abusing Sam's wife.  April, 1865.


FEDERAL SOLDIERS ~ Large undetermined number.


JOSEPH JOHNSON ~ Sam shot him & cut his head off.  Revenge for Mr. Johnson abusing Sam's wife & telling her he would cut Sam's head off & bring it to her.


WHITE MAN & COLORED WOMAN ~ Tied together & thrown into pond & drowned.  Retalliation for the white man abandoning his wife (who was the sister of one of Sam's old buddies) & moving in with the colored woman.  Occured near Jacksonport, Arkansas.  April, 1868.


JIM McILVAINE ~ Shot while trying to capture Sam.  June, 1869.

 

SAM HILDEBRAND NEARLY CAPTURED: ~ The Farmington News ~ From the Ironton Register ~ Author: W.H. Webb: [this incident happened 6 June 1869] ~This is a story of the desperate battle with the notorious desperado, Sam Hildebrand, at his Uncle John Williams’ house in St. Francois county, Mo., between the sheriff’s posse (which the writer was a member of) and Hildebrand…..

Before going into details of this desperate battle I will state that Sam Hildebrand was born and reared at the old Hildebrand homestead, three miles north of Big River Mills, and was married there by Judge Frank Murphy, who was sheriff at the time this battle took place. It was well enough to state that Hildebrand always bore the reputation of being a bad man, and especially all through the late war. How many men he killed during his life, it would be hard to tell.

When peace was declared it was understood between the State and county authorities that Hildebrand would be allowed to return home and live in peace, if he would only do so. He did return home but it was not long afterwards until he was at his old tricks again, stealing and threatening to kill his enemies. The State authorities, under the administration of Governor Joseph W. McClurg, determined to have him arrested and answer for some of the many crimes which he was accused of. The Governor and St. Francois county authorities offered a reward for his arrest dead or alive.

A young man by the name of Peterson, a son of Judge Peterson, of Fredericktown, took it into his head he could secure fame and the reward by capturing or killing him single handed, which he proceeded to do. He went to Hildebrand’s house in the night and secreted himself near the house and there waited until daylight for Sam to show up. About daylight Sam came out of the house and Peterson took deliberate aim with a ballard rifle and fired, but he must have lost his nerve, for instead of shooting him in the heart, he shot him in the flesh part of the thigh. Sam then ran into the house and closed the door and Peterson made no further attempt to get him, but struck out for tall timber. He arrived at Fredericktown and at once wired the governor of what he had done. The governor wired Sheriff Breckenridge, of Potosi [Washington County] what Peterson had done, and told him to take a posse and go and get Hildebrand, which the sheriff proceeded to do. Breckenridge, with the posse, arrived at the house where Sam was shot, late in the afternoon, but the bird had flown. Hildebrand had a neighbor who lived a short distance from his house. The sheriff went there to inquire of this man if he knew anything of him. The man told him that when he went to his corn-crib early in the morning and opened the door of the crib Sam was in there and pulled a gun on him and told him to hitch up his team and take him away; and if he didn’t he would kill him. The man told the sheriff that he had hauled him to Buck Highley’s, about five miles from there. The sheriff took the man along with him and went to Highley’s. Highley told the sheriff that this man brought Hildebrand to his house and that Hildebrand had compelled him, Highley, to haul him to John Williams, (Sam’s Uncle). The sheriff then turned the man loose and went to Williams’ house, arriving there about daylight. The posse stopped at the barn and waited for Williams to come out to feed. Williams soon made his appearance at the barn to feed his stock. The sheriff then arrested Williams and turned Highley loose. Williams told the sheriff that Hildebrand was in the house. They took Williams and all proceeded to the house. The sheriff told Williams to call Hildebrand and tell him that the sheriff was there with a warrant for his arrest and for him to come out and surrender, Williams told the sheriff there would be something doing that; that Sam would not surrender, but kill him (Williams) the first man. But Williams knocked on the door & told Hildebrand what the sheriff had told him. In a second or two the door opened a small crack and the battle was on. The first shot from Sam’s big Remington revolver took off Williams’ finger. The next shot struck the sheriff in the groin, and the next shot took out a bunch of whiskers from Andy Bean’s chin. The battle became general. The posse found what shelter it could and kept up the the battle, but Sam held the fort. The sheriff was badly hurt and had to be taken where he could receive medical attention. Part of the posse was left to guard and keep Sam in the house, while the others took the sheriff away, and called for reinforcement.

Sam was kept in the fort by the guards until reinforcement came. They shifted their positions and fired from different places to make him think there were several men guarding the house. Williams’ wife and a little girl were in the house all through the battle. After the fire slackened somewhat Sam told Mrs. Williams to take the bucket and the little girl and go to the spring and bring him a bucket of water, but Mrs. Williams was not allowed to return to the house. Sam, not getting any water, was very thirsty, and quenched his thirst during the day by sucking raw eggs.

About nine or ten o’clock in the morning a few of the reinforcement that had been sent for began to arrive. They asked us if Sam was still in the house and why we did not go in and bring him out. But they were not there long until they were fully convinced of the reason why. For Sam took a pop at every thing that move, and he was generally pretty close to the mark. The firing was kept up all day between us of the posse and Hildebrand until about a half hour before sundown, when deputy sheriff John T. Clarke [of Washington County] with about fifteen men arrived on the scene. He took in the situation and decided to burn the house. He placed his men around the place and at once made preparations to set the house afire. He secured some coal oil and candle wick. The candle wick was rolled into a ball and saturated with coal oil and Jim McLain volunteered to climb onto another house which adjoined the one Sam was in. After several efforts had failed, he finally lodged one of the balls between the comb of the house and stick chimney. When the house got to burning pretty good McLain came down and took his gun and attempted to go in the back door of this vacant house. This building stood only a few feet from the one Sam was in. The back door stood open and a chink had been knocked out leaving an open range from the building Sam was in to the door. When McLain entered the door Sam shot him in the heart, killing him instantly. This was a clever trap that Sam had arranged before hand, so Williams told us afterwards. It was now almost dark – the time Sam had been playing so hard for. The house burned very slowly, owing to the fact that Sam threw salt on the fire, and used an old quilting frame to punch off the burning shingles.

The time had now arrived when Sam thought he could make his get-away. He pried up a board on the floor, which stood off the ground about two feet, and crawled under and to the steps of the door. These he pushed aside and crawled out, and made his way about twenty feet to a rail fence which surrounded the yard, took out the bottom rail and crawled through. Two men were on each side of the panel of the fence that he went out, but did not hear him until he started to run. Then they fired a regular fusilade, but Sam got away. The light from the burning roof made it dark immediately around the building, and the weeds in the yard were about ten feet high, which all favored Sam in his get-away. He left his rifle in the weeds in the yard, which was now useless as he had gotten a bullet choked into it during the day. He took his two revolvers with him.

In the battle in the morning Mrs. Williams and the little girl that were in the house with Hildebrand were both shot, but not seriously hurt. After Hildebrand escaped the fire was put out and the posse entered the house, and there they could view his preparations for battle. He had piled all the furniture and things in the house and fenced off one corner of the house with them, making a fort within a fort, and had the posse rushed the doors he no doubt would have killed half of them before they got to it. He had an old table in this corner which he used for his guns, ammunition and other weapons – among them was an old corn knife made from a scythe, which would have been a bad weapon in close quarters. This weapon and old Kill-Devil (his rifle) and his hat, which was shot full of holes, were taken to the rogue’s gallery in St. Louis, and I presume are there now. The rifle barrel has sixteen notches filed on it, which was said to represent the number of men he had killed. Hildebrand had no water in the house, but he satisfied his thirst by sucking raw eggs.

After his escape from the house, he went about two miles and laid in ambush near the road, and waited for someone to come along. About midnight, a Mr. Aubuchon came along on horseback, and Sam stopped him and compelled him to let him get up behind him, and take him to where a sister of his lived, about ten miles from there. Such was the fear of this man that Aubuchon did not tell of this until after he was killed.

After this, the whole country was aroused.  A company of militia was organized in St. Francois county, and Colonel W.D. Bowen, a captain of St. Louis police and five other policemen, were sent into the field to run him down.  They stayed in the field about three months, but never did come up with him.  Hildebrand stayed at his sister's a few days, and finally made his way to a cave in the bluffs of Big River, which was one of his safe retreats during the war time.  Col. Bowen learned of it by one of the grape vine routes and took hi posse and went there.  On our arrival at the mouth of the cave we found fresh tracks in the mud and his cane with fresh mud on the end of it, and thought sure we had our man, but then it was about dark, and Col. Bowen concluded to wait until morning before making the attack.

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Sam Hildebrand's cave hide out on Big River.

We built up a bon fire at the mouth of the cave and kept it up all night. The next morning Bowen called for volunteers to enter the cave, but stated that somebody no doubt was going to be hurt, and that if there were any of them that didn’t wish to go, he wouldn’t force them. Not a man flinched. We then entered the cave with Bowen at our head, and explored it thoroughly, but no Sam there. The bird had again flown. And it was a good thing for us that he did, for the conditions showed that he could have killed everyone of us before we could have gotten to him. We afterwards learned that he left the cave about an hour before we arrived. He went to a man’s house about a mile from there. The family was eating supper at the time. He walked into the house before they knew he was there, and took his seat at the table and ate his supper. After eating he got up and took the man’s rifle and what ammunition he had, saying that he would have to borrow it, saying they had gotten his gun up at the fight at John Williams.’ He took a little boy with him that was there and went into the woods, and made the boy sit up all night and watch for him while he slept. The next morning he brought the boy back in sight of home and told him to go home. This was the last authentic information that we had of his whereabouts. We afterward learned that he made his way to Texas, and later on his family was sent to him. There are many incidents of this so called Hildebrand Raid which I have omited. But I want to pay tribute to Col. Bowen and the men that were with him. No braver set of men ever lived.

Asa Jackson & George M.G. Doggett (collateral ancestors of Esther Carroll) collateral ancestors of Esther M. Ziock Carroll were with the posse that attempted to capture Sam Hildebrand at the Williams cabin.

SAM HILDEBRAND HEARD FROM:  Washington County Journal - March 3, 1870: We heard various reports at Irondale and Bismarck, on Monday, of Sam Hildebrand at Big River Mills. Although doubts are expressed as to the correctness of the rumor, yet many incidents of recent occurrence are cited in support of it. Messages have been received by parties residing at Irondale and vicinity in this county, as well as in St. Francois county, threatening various punishments on those who have incurred Hilebrand's enmity, aiding in the several attempts to capture him in the past, and other acts of which he did not cordially approve. A gentleman who is the subject of one of these hostile messages seems inclined to give partial credit to it's authenticity, and returned word that while he could be readily found at any time, yet nothing but the most covertly managed plot of assassination could harm him, and even should such a vengeance succeed, neither Hildebrand nor certain parties who are known to shield his presence in this country, could by any possibility escape a fearful retaliation. On the whole, we are not inclined to credit the rumor of such foolhardiness on the part of one whose capture has become the object of so great solicitude to the authorities of the state.

SAM HILDEBRAND KILLED:  The Farmington News ~ From the Ironton Register ~ Author: W.H. Webb ~ Now as to the end of the career of this desperate man. About two years after the battle at John Williams’ Hidlebrand drifted back to Pinckneyville, Ill., bringing his children with him. His wife having in the meantime died in Texas. They secured a vacant house in Pinckneyville and a day or two afterwards went out into the country and rented a farm. [This was in April/May 1872.] In the evening he returned and went into a saloon and began drinking – something he was never known to do before – and got into a difficulty with the saloon keeper. Following his old tactics, he walked out of the door and around to a window and was just in the act of shooting the saloon keeper through the window when the marshal of the town happened to come along and picked up a picket from a fence and struck him over the head and downed him. He took from him two big Remington revolvers, a bowie knife, and two pocket knives, and then hauled him before a justice of the piece and had him fined $500. In the meantime the saloon keeper swore out a warrant for assualt with intent to kill. The justice ordered the prisoner to jail "until tomorrow." Three of the marshals started to take him to jail. Sam said that he would never go to jail.  After they got outside of the office, he got another pocket knife out of his vest pocket and cut John Ragland from the knee to the hip, laying the flesh open to the bone all the way. Ragland put his pistol to the right side of Hildebrand’s head behind the ear killing him instantly – thus ending the career of one of the most desperate men that this country ever saw. An inquest was held and he was buried as an unknown man the next day. A full account of which was in the St. Louis Republic the next morning. The writer of this article was then on the St. Louis police force. Reading the article in the paper, he showed it to another policeman by the name of Dennis O’Leary, who had grown up from boyhood with Hildebrand. We at once agreed that it must be Sam Hildebrand. We took the paper and at once went to our chief and told him what we thought. He sent us to Pinckneyville to identify him, advising the authorities at Pinckneyvill by wire who he thought it was, and that two officers were on the road then to identify him. When we arrived there they had dug him up and had the body in the coffin up stairs in the circuit court room. With the head of the coffin leaning against the judge’s stand, the foot resting on the floor, and the lid off, so that any one coming into the court room could distinguish his features plainly. We at once recognized him, but for further identification had him stripped and found the wound in his thigh where Peterson had shot him and also the wound in the left ankle were he had been shot in the war. The wound across the forehead where he was shot at the battle at Williams’ house was still very plain. We then went to the house where the children were, who knew both of us very well, but we had hard work making them own it up. Hildebrand’s body was shipped to Farmington, and was hauled from there to a graveyard near John Williams’ and buried [Hampton Cemetery]. And the children were distributed around among relatives. Ragland collected about $1500.00 of the reward. At one time there was a reward of about $10,000.00 for Hildebrand’s capture or death, but at the time of his killing could not be collected. John Ragland is now dead, but he was never able to go without crutches after Hildebrand cut him.

SAM HILDEBRAND STILL ALIVE?   The Atlanta Constitution, 6 Sept. 1877 ~ Sam Hildebrand Still Among The Living ~ He Payed Visit To An Old Friend In Madison Co. ~ Fredericktown (Mo.) Farmer ~   The opinion generally prevails that the subject of this sketch the noted Missouri grueilla, no longer dwells among men.  We have the word of one of Madison County's best citizens that Samuel lately passed through this county on his way to Illinois.   We giver our informant's statement just as he gave it to us, under promise that we would not reveal his name.  He said that one evening about two weeks before his visit to this office, a pale, sickly-looking gentleman halted at his gate & called to the inmates of the house.  He was at the barn at the time feeding the stock, his daughter was milking the cows & the faithful housewife was preparing a frugal evening meal.   The loud barking of the watch-dog attracted the attention of the latter, who appeared at the door.  The careworn stranger expressed a desire to see the man of the house, & he was accordingly called from his labors in the barn-yard.  When they met our friend says he knew the face of the stranger well, but could not place him.   They shook hands & looked at each other for sometime, & still he could not recognize him.  "Don't you know me?" said the stranger.  "I know you like a book but I can't place you," replied our friend.  "Come down here in the woods & I will make myself known."  He said he felt no fear of anything, & went with him to some timber near by, where they seated themselves on the grass.   "Don't you remember Sam Hilderbrand?"  "Very well."  "I am that same Hildebrand."  Our friend says that he could clearly recognize him, though time & disease had wrought wonderful changes in his appearance.  He staid all night at his house, & during the evening related many of his thrilling adventures during the war.  We do not publish this for sensation, but as the statement of an honorable old farmer citizen, who says he lived neighbor to Hildebrand for more than three years, & who is satisfied of his identity.

SAM HILDEBRAND REMEMBERED:  The Weekly Independent - November, 1896: John T. Clarke, Major, (Federal Army), former Washington County resident and sheriff recalls his adventures involving Sam Hildebrand whom he knew before the war. Major Clarke made several efforts to capture Hildebrand and one night a man named McLain was shot dead by his side, a victim of Hildebrand's rifle. Major Clarke has always been of the opinion that Hildebrand did not want to kill him as he had several chances to do so and always shot somebody else. Sam was always known as a dead shot with a rifle. He was considered one of the most shrewd and dangerous men in Missouri. John Clarke states, "One night when I had him surrounded in a house and had thrown burning turpentine balls on the roof of the house for the purpose of burning him out, he shot a man standing by my side. He knew that I was trying to arrest him and yet he picked someone else to shoot. He could just as well as shot me, but for some reason he preferred to shoot McLain.  Sam got away from me, and at a time when escape seemed impossible.  In a soldier sense of the word, Sam was not a brave man, but as a man who could dodge behind trees and shoot, and shoot and kill, who was exceedingly dangerous, I don't believe Hildebrand had an equal in Missouri."

SAM HILDEBRAND'S OLD "KILL DEVIL" ~ Farmington News, 14 Oct 1927 ~ Old "Kill Devil", Sam Hildebrand's trusty rifle, and the one with which he wreaked such terrible revenge upon his enemies, says the Bonne Terre Democrat-Register, is now on exhibition at John Wilkson's Restaurant. It is of course and old-fashioned muzzle loader, with the stock extending to the tip of he barrel, but undoubtedly capable of carrying a 20ounce ball a  distance of 200 yards with sufficient force to kill. The notches one reads about in the "Life of Hildebrand" appear on the stock, 84 in number, and each one bears evidence of the death of some enemy of the notorious desperado.

Background Music: I Shot The Sheriff

SOURCES: The County Historian - Henry Clay Thompson II;  Sam Hidebrand Rides Again - Henry C. Thompson;  Doyle Morris of St. Francois County; 1850 Census St. Francois Co., Mo. - Elizabeth Prather Ellsberry;  Washington County Journal;  Weekly Independent; Ancestry.com; The Atlanta Constitution; The Farmington News; Ironton Register;  St. Francois County GenWeb; Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, University of Missouri./Rolla; Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, University of Missouri/Columbia;

The Hildebrand Homestead on Big River: the home built in 1832, the log cabin that friends built for
Sam's mother & about 250 acres of land was for sale for $600,000.  It was recently sold. (2006)


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