Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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Location: Missouri

I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sam Hildebrand Rescued from Jail

Sam Hildebrand, notorious southeast Missouri guerrilla during the Civil War, became an outlaw after the war. According to Hildebrand and his apologists, he was supposedly driven to a life of crime because Federal authorities and his Union neighbors would not let him live in peace after the war. (Apologists for the James and Younger brothers later made a smililar claim to try to justify their unlawful deeds.) There is very likely some grain of truth to the claim, but I doubt that Hildebrand or any of the other guerrillas-turned-outlaws were actually forced into a life of crime after the war.
Sometime around the early part of 1868, Hildebrand allegedly killed or participated in the killing of a man and woman in northern Arkansas. According to the Hildebrand legend, as recounted by latter-day apologist Carl Breihan, the man killed was the former brother-in-law of a friend of Hilderbrand's who had deserted the friend's sister and taken up with a black woman. The friend supposedly asked Hildebrand to help him teach the "guilty pair" a lesson by giving them a flogging, but the man and woman ended up dead from drowning. Breihan's reference to the man and woman as the "guilty pair" suggests that, in the Hildebrand myth, deserting one's wife for a black woman was apparently worse than murder.
According to an article in a St. Louis newsapper that I recently ran across (reprinted in a Springfield paper), the couple killed was an "old man and his wife," with no indication that it was a mixed marriage. After the killing, Hildebrand was arrested, convicted of murder, and sentenced to be hanged. He was lodged in jail at Pocahontas, Arkansas. (Breihan says Jacksonport.) Sometime in late 1868 or early 1869 just a few days before the scheduled execution date, Hildebrand escaped with the aid of friends on the outside. According to the newspaper article, Hildebrand's cohorts donned the uniforms of Federal soldiers and arrived at the Pocahontas jail with papers ordering that Hildebrand be turned over the them for "government action." The sheriff complied, and Hildebrand and his friends were long gone before the fraud was discovered.
Hildebrand returned to southeast Missouri where he had been "roaming around...as fearless as a lion" at the time of the July 1869 newspaper article. Missouri Governor McClurg had just returned from a personal trip to St. Francois County, where he had gone to try to assuage the fears of citizens in the area who were terrified of Hildebrand and to help organize posses to track him down. Some people even wanted the governor to declare martial law, but he resisted such a measure, because the majority of people opposed it. In fact, in at least one county (perhaps St. Francois) the majority of citizens were reported to be in sympathy with Hildebrand.
Despite the intense manhunt, Hildebrand eluded capture. He was finally killed in 1872 across the Mississippi River in Illinois during a confrontation with law officers, who did not know his identity at the time.


Anonymous Steve Wiegenstein said...

Hildebrand's "autobiography" (as compiled by two friends after the war, since Hildebrand himself was illiterate) has been reissued by the University of Arkansas Press, with annotations by Kirby Ross.....one of the best jobs of annotation I have ever seen.

September 3, 2012 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger Larry Wood said...

Yes, Steve, I'm aware of the recent edition of the Hildebrand autobiography annotated by Kirby Ross, but I have not actually read it yet. I need to do so.

September 7, 2012 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger Megan Quintero said...

This man is supposedly my great,great,great, uncle. My family story is that his wife and children were killed with their heads hung from their fence post bc he did not want to join side (forget if it was union or confederate) he slowly got revenge from the culprits. The last man was the trickiest. He knew Sam would not kill in front of a child. So for years he was safe. Until that one time he thought Sam was gone...

January 26, 2018 at 3:12 AM  

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