Meet the Big River Bushwhacker—the Dashing, Dangerous, Illiterate Outlaw Bent on Revenge


From 1861 to 1865, war-torn Missouri produced its share of guerrillas and brigands. The deeds of many Missourians who rode “underneath the black flag”—“Bushwhacker Invoice” Wilson, Cole Youthful, and “Little Arch” Clement, to call only a few—fell far exterior the bounds of what had been thought-about the “acceptable” guidelines of conduct throughout wartime. One man who stood out amongst this firm for his unbridled dedication to mayhem was Sam Hildebrand, referred to as the “Massive River Bushwhacker.”

Not surprisingly, Hildebrand claimed to have been “pushed to it” by outrages dedicated towards him and his household. It was the identical assertion that was echoed by the Jameses and the Youngers, amongst others: Frank and Jesse James pointed to the near-fatal hanging of their stepfather by Union troopers, whereas Cole Youthful and his siblings used the homicide of their father as justification for his or her guerrilla and outlaw careers.

Samuel S. Hildebrand was born on January 6, 1836, to a big farming household close to Massive River in St. Francois County in southeastern Missouri. He married at 18, and briefly order, fathered six youngsters. Probably the most generally referenced {photograph} of Hildebrand, doubtless taken through the conflict, options the bearded 6-footer standing at consideration, incongruously clad in what seems to be a Union coat and forage cap, with a brace of Colt revolvers in his belt.

Not like different guerrilla fighters who survived the conflict, the fully illiterate Hildebrand dictated his autobiography, which was printed in 1870, simply two years earlier than his loss of life. It sports activities a formidable if conceited title, the primary a part of which reads: Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand, the Famend Missouri “Bushwhacker” and Unconquerable Rob Roy of America Being His Full Confession. Regardless of its burdensome title, it’s a well-illustrated, remarkably lucid, and extremely entertaining 300-page tome, detailing the impetus behind Hildebrand’s profession as a bushwhacker, in addition to his actions through the conflict.


This warrant to have Samuel Hildebrand arrested for homicide was issued on June 3, 1865, in St. Francois County, Mo. If caught, Hildebrand was ordered to be held till a scheduled November trial. (Missouri State Archives)

In response to Hildebrand, his brother Frank—whom he felt had been erroneously accused of horse stealing—tried to enlist in a Union House Guard outfit in October 1861 however was as a substitute turned over to the native vigilance committee, an entity created in assorted components of the nation to manage justice when residents felt authorities authorities had been insufficient. The committee’s chief, Firmin McIlvaine, sad with an area justice’s refusal to behave with out adequate proof, took issues into his personal palms.

“The unhappy termination of the affair,” Hildebrand recalled, “is quickly advised. The mob took my variety, inoffensive brother about 5 miles and hung him with none trial no matter, after which they threw his physique in a sink-hole thirty toes in depth, and there his physique laid for greater than a month earlier than it was discovered.”

Hildebrand, who would assert he had additionally been falsely implicated within the horse-stealing fees, had been hiding within the native woods. He returned dwelling to search out his home ransacked by the committee, and his possessions both taken or destroyed. “I used to be fully damaged up,” he recalled.

Nonetheless, Hildebrand claimed to have eschewed violence, selecting as a substitute to dedicate himself to supporting his household, “offered I might achieve this with out being molested.” The vigilance committee, nonetheless, was quickly elevated to the standing of a Union militia firm, going after locals it thought-about disloyal. They raided Hildebrand’s farm once more, pursuing him into the woods and wounding him within the leg.

Hiding underneath a pile of leaves, Hildebrand swore revenge, seeing himself as doubly wronged. “As I lay in that gully, struggling with my wounds inflicted by United States troopers, I declared conflict. I made up my mind to combat it out with them, and by the help of my trustworthy gun, ‘Kill-devil,’ to destroy as a lot of my blood-thirsty enemies as I probably might….[F]or the sake of revenge, I pronounced myself a Insurgent.”

Phrase of Hildebrand’s scenario quickly unfold to an area firm of Insurgent guerrillas underneath Captain Nathan Bolin, and the wounded Hildebrand was quickly spirited away to the Accomplice camp throughout the state line in Arkansas. In response to Hildebrand’s account, Captain Bolin defined, “We’re what’s denominated ‘Bushwhackers’; we feature on a conflict towards our enemies by taking pictures them.”

Hildebrand was quickly launched to Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson of the Missouri House Guard. After listening to Hildebrand’s story, the overall, who was identified all through the state because the “Swamp Fox,” commissioned him a serious on the spot, and ordered him to “go the place you please, take what males you’ll be able to choose up, combat by yourself hook, and report back to me each six months.” Hildebrand had discovered his place. “I used to be absolutely happy that the ‘Bushwhacking division’ was the place for me.”

Hildebrand returned to Missouri with revenge as his main order of enterprise. His first goal was George Cornicius, the person who had betrayed his presence to McIlvaine’s militia firm. “After looking out two days and two nights I succeeded in taking pictures him; he was the primary man I ever killed; a little bit notch minimize within the inventory of my gun was made to commemorate the deed.”

It was the primary of dozens to comply with. Hildebrand apparently notched “Kill-devil” each time he dispatched a person. By the point of Hildebrand’s loss of life, his weapon—a alternative, since Kill-devil had been misplaced in a Union encounter—apparently bore between 80 and 100 notches.

Subsequent on Hildebrand’s loss of life listing was “the darling object I had in view,” McIlvaine himself. After stalking the militia chief for days, he shot McIlvaine lifeless as he was harvesting his grain, and carved a second notch in Kill-devil’s inventory.

The native Federals took their revenge; unable to search out Hildebrand, they raided his homestead, killing his 13-year-old brother, his sister’s fiancé, and an uncle, driving his household out and burning the home to the bottom. For Hildebrand, it was now a case of what a proslavery newspaper was calling “conflict to the knife, and knife to the hilt.”

The remainder of the guide particulars Hildebrand’s actions each throughout and after the conflict. Not surprisingly, he paints himself in a heroic gentle, usually outnumbered and alone, preventing towards Yankee occupation and injustice. Regardless of the title, it’s not a “confession” in any respect, however reasonably an indignant self-justification of his conduct.

He ends his autobiography on a grandiose observe: 

As a number of proclamations have been issued towards me, with out ever eliciting one in return, I shall now swing my hat and proclaim: ‘Peace and good will to all males; a normal amnesty towards the US, and to Uncle Sam—as long as the mentioned Uncle Sam shall behave himself.’

On March 21, 1872, John Ragland, an Illinois constable, and two deputies shocked and arrested what Ragland had been advised had been three outlaws. One of many outlaws tried to flee, stabbing Ragland within the leg, whereupon the constable shot the person by the pinnacle. Solely later did the constable be taught that he had killed the infamous Sam Hildebrand.

Future Rebel insurgent Sam Hildebrand was born and raised in this historic farmhouse, now beautifully restored on a 275-acre working cattle ranch in Bonne Terre, Mo., and available to rent through Airbnb. Although the Airbnb listing calls it “a quiet retreat for anyone wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life,” life was anything but quiet here during the war. Vigilantes nearly apprehended both Sam and his brother Frank at their home in the fall of 1861; both barely escaped. Frank was later arrested and hanged. (Courtesy of Bonne Terre)
Future Insurgent rebel Sam Hildebrand was born and raised on this historic farmhouse, now fantastically restored on a 275-acre working cattle ranch in Bonne Terre, Mo., and obtainable to lease by Airbnb. Though the Airbnb itemizing calls it “a quiet retreat for anybody desirous to get away from the hustle and bustle of metropolis life,” life was something however quiet right here through the conflict. Vigilantes almost apprehended each Sam and his brother Frank at their dwelling within the fall of 1861; each barely escaped. Frank was later arrested and hanged. (Courtesy of Bonne Terre)

Hildebrand did, in truth, obtain a measure of hero standing, with numerous Southern-leaning newspapers trumpeting his exploits. 4 years after the conflict ended, and whereas Hildebrand was nonetheless terrorizing Missouri and Illinois, a preferred however traditionally nugatory dime novel titled Hildebrand, The Outlaw was printed by Robert M. DeWitt as certainly one of his Dewitt’s Ten Cent Romances (a collection that included such “classics” as Sam Sutton, The Scalp Taker, and Previous Eph, The Man Grizzly). That effort was adopted by an equally absurd launch, The Outlaw’s Bride. In neither work does the title character, conjured whole-cloth from the author’s creativeness, bear any resemblance to the person himself.

It’s not possible to fact-check a lot of Hildebrand’s claims. There are few precise biographies, and the varied editors of his autobiography are diametrically opposed of their views of him. One version, printed in 2019, introduces Hildebrand’s valiant half in what the editor—who claims a familial connection to Hildebrand—refers to because the “Battle of Northern Aggression,” leaving little doubt as to the place his personal sympathies lie.

 “Merely put,” the editor writes, “the Union invaded the Confederacy. The Confederacy was merely defending itself.”

In an earlier version of Hildebrand’s guide, the writer’s contrasting opinion of his topic is made equally clear: “Hildebrand’s thirst for extrajudicial killing and lack of regret make him the sort of monster for whom wartime guidelines of engagement are created….[T]his uneducated, vicious, and vengeful man had no notion of the thought of civilization he professed to imagine in.”

Sam Hildebrand entered the conflict dedicated to the duty of killing Yankees. Whereas most Confederates—regulars and guerrillas alike—returned dwelling in 1865 to rebuild their lives, Hildebrand elected to stay exterior the regulation. He took delight in his fame as a mankiller, and finally he met the identical destiny as his dozens of victims. 

Ron Soodalter writes from Chilly Spring, N.Y.

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