Sam Hildebrand, the legendary St. Francois County outlaw who allegedly killed more than 100 men during the Civil War was born Jan. 6, 1836, according to his marker in the Hampton Cemetery in Park Hills.
Hildebrand grew up in the area of Big River Mills in northern St. Francois County. He was part of a large family. A vigilante group killed his brother, Frank, for supposedly stealing a horse. The two responsible for killing Frank met death a short time later by Sam’s hand, according to the local myth.
In retaliation, Northern forces forced his family from their home and allegedly killed two more of his brothers and his uncle. After hearing about their deaths, he swore revenge and joined the Confederate forces.
Legend has it he traveled to Crowley’s Ridge and commissioned as a major in the Confederate army bushwhacker division. Given a small company of men, he traveled around southeast Missouri engaging in guerilla style fighting.
Hildebrand often hid in a cave along Big River in what is now St. Francois State Park. His missions mostly consisted of hunting down his enemies and killing them. He also procured horses for the rebel cause, confiscated lead from the area and transported it to Arkansas the material became armaments.
Almost as legendary as the bushwhacker himself was his rifle. “Kill-Devil” was the name given to Hildebrand’s weapon and every time he took a man’s life, he supposedly carved another notch in the stock. When he died, there were more than 100 notches on the gun.
According to the original circuit court records on file at the St. Francois County Courthouse, on Nov. 26, 1865, Judge Franklin Murphy issued a warrant for his arrest. After the war there was also a reward on his head, and bounty hunters and uncouth lawmen continued looking for him for years.
According to various stories, Hildebrand was sitting in a bar in Illinois sometime in the spring of 1872 when a deputy shot him. Buried in Illinois, a relative saw the news of his death, exhumed the body and sent him to Farmington.
Supposedly, many visitors viewed the body on display at the courthouse but none could definitely verify that it was indeed the Big River Bushwacker.
Relatives placed the body in the Hampton Cemetery in Park Hills. For years after the burial took place rumors spread that the bandit still roamed the hills and bluffs surrounding his beloved Big River.
Hildebrand has become a legend in St. Francois County throughout the years despite his murderous tour through southeast Missouri.
Pat Pratt is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010 ext. 172 or email@example.com