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Revenge and Retaliation: The Story of Samuel S. Hildebrand, the Renowned Missouri Bushwhacker

Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand: The Renowned Missouri Bushwhacker and Unconquerable Rob Roy

The Civil War was a brutal and bloody conflict that divided the nation and pitted brother against brother. But beyond the conventional battles and campaigns, there was another kind of war that raged on the fringes of society: the guerrilla war. In this war, bands of irregular fighters, known as bushwhackers, raided, ambushed, and terrorized their enemies, often with little regard for the rules of war or the laws of humanity.

Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand : The Renowned Missouri Bushwhacker and Unconquerable Rob Roy

One of the most notorious bushwhackers of the Civil War was Samuel S. Hildebrand, a Missouri farmer who became a ruthless killer and a rebel hero. He claimed to have killed nearly a hundred men, mostly Union soldiers and sympathizers, in his seven-year campaign of vengeance. He was often compared to Rob Roy, the Scottish outlaw who defied the English crown in the 18th century. He was also the subject of many dime novels that exaggerated his exploits and portrayed him as a romantic figure.

But who was Samuel S. Hildebrand really? And why is his story important for understanding the Civil War? In this article, we will explore his life, his actions, and his legacy, based on his own autobiography that he published shortly before his death. We will also examine how he shaped and was shaped by the guerrilla war that engulfed Missouri and other parts of the Trans-Mississippi region.

Early Life and Family

Birth and childhood in Missouri

Samuel S. Hildebrand was born on July 6, 1836, in Jefferson County, Missouri, near the town of Sandy Creek. He was the seventh of eleven children born to Joseph and Nancy Hildebrand, who were farmers of German descent. He grew up in a poor but respectable family that valued hard work, honesty, and independence.

He had little formal education, but he learned to read and write from his mother, who was a schoolteacher before she married. He also learned to hunt, fish, and trap from his father and older brothers, who taught him how to survive in the wilderness. He developed a love for nature and animals, especially horses and dogs.

He also developed a strong sense of loyalty to his family and friends, and a fierce hatred for anyone who wronged them. He was often involved in fights with other boys, and he never backed down from a challenge. He once said that he "never knew what fear was" until he faced death at the hands of his enemies.

Marriage and children

In 1856, when he was twenty years old, he married Mary Elizabeth Lewis, a young woman from a neighboring farm. They settled on a piece of land that his father gave him near Big River, where they built a log cabin and started a family. They had six children together: Josephine, Samuel Jr., John, James, Mary Ann, and Nancy.

He loved his wife and children dearly, and he worked hard to provide for them. He raised crops and livestock, and he also traded horses and cattle with other farmers. He was a good neighbor and a respected member of the community. He was not interested in politics or slavery, and he had no intention of joining the war that was brewing between the North and the South.

Conflict with Unionists and militia

However, his peaceful life was shattered by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Missouri was a border state that had both slaveholders and abolitionists, and it was torn by internal divisions and violence. The state government tried to remain neutral, but it was soon overthrown by a pro-Union faction that established a loyalist regime in Jefferson City. The Confederate sympathizers formed a rival government in Neosho, and both sides raised armies to fight for control of the state.

Hildebrand, like many other Missourians, wanted to stay out of the conflict, but he soon found himself caught in the middle of it. He was harassed and threatened by Unionists and militia men who suspected him of being a rebel. They stole his horses and cattle, burned his crops and fences, and arrested and abused his relatives and friends. They also tried to force him to take an oath of allegiance to the Union, which he refused to do.

He resisted their attacks as best as he could, but he also tried to avoid direct confrontation. He moved his family to different locations, hoping to find safety and peace. He even considered leaving Missouri altogether, but he changed his mind when he learned that his father had been killed by a band of militia men in October 1861. He swore revenge for his father's death, and he decided to join the Confederate cause.

Guerrilla Warfare and Revenge

Joining the Confederate army and deserting

In November 1861, he enlisted in the 4th Missouri Cavalry Regiment, a Confederate unit that was commanded by Colonel Joseph C. Porter. He fought in several battles and skirmishes with the Union forces, including the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas in March 1862. He proved to be a brave and skillful soldier, but he also became disillusioned with the regular army. He disliked the discipline, the bureaucracy, and the lack of action. He also felt that the Confederate leaders were not doing enough to protect Missouri from the Union occupation.

He decided to desert from the army in June 1862, along with his brother James and two other comrades. They returned to Missouri, where they formed a band of guerrillas that operated independently from the Confederate command. They called themselves "Hildebrand's Rangers," and they adopted a simple motto: "Fight for our rights."

Forming a band of bushwhackers

Hildebrand's Rangers were not the only guerrillas in Missouri. There were many other bands of bushwhackers who fought for the Confederacy, such as Quantrill's Raiders, Anderson's Avengers, and Todd's Tigers. They were mostly young men who came from poor rural backgrounds, who had lost their homes and families to the war, and who had no loyalty to any authority but themselves. They used guerrilla tactics such as ambushes, raids, sabotage, and assassination to strike at their enemies.

Hildebrand's Rangers were different from some of the other bushwhackers in several ways. First, they were not motivated by ideology or politics, but by personal revenge. They targeted only those who had harmed them or their kinfolk, regardless of their affiliation or status. They did not care about slavery or secession, but about justice and honor.

Second, they were not indiscriminate or sadistic killers, but selective and pragmatic fighters. They did not massacre civilians or prisoners, but they did not spare anyone who resisted or betrayed them. They did not torture or mutilate their victims, but they did not hesitate to shoot them in cold blood. They did not rob or plunder for profit, but they did take what they needed for survival.

Third, they were not organized or disciplined soldiers, but independent and resourceful warriors. They did not follow any orders or rules, but they did respect Hildebrand as their leader and friend. They did not wear any uniforms or insignia, but they did carry distinctive weapons such as shotguns, revolvers, bowie knives, and tomahawks. They did not have any base or camp, but they did know every trail and hiding place in the region.

Killing enemies and burning bridges

Hildebrand's Rangers operated mainly in southeastern Missouri, especially in St. Francois County where Hildebrand was born and raised. They also ventured into neighboring counties such as Jefferson, Here is the continuation of the article. Escaping capture and death

Hildebrand's Rangers faced constant danger and hardship in their guerrilla war. They had to deal with hunger, cold, disease, and fatigue. They had to evade the patrols and scouts of the Union army and militia, who often outnumbered and outgunned them. They had to watch out for spies and informers, who could betray their movements and plans. They had to cope with the loss of their comrades, who were killed or captured in battle or by surprise.

Hildebrand himself had many narrow escapes and close calls in his career as a bushwhacker. He was wounded several times by bullets and buckshot, but he always managed to recover and resume his fight. He was pursued by many enemies, but he always managed to elude and outwit them. He was betrayed by some friends, but he always managed to avenge them.

He also had some remarkable feats of survival and daring. He once swam across the Mississippi River with a bullet wound in his shoulder to escape from a Union patrol. He once rode through a Union camp disguised as a Federal officer to rescue his brother from execution. He once set fire to a bridge over the Big River while a train full of Union troops was crossing it, causing a massive explosion and derailment.

Postwar Years and Legacy

Publishing his autobiography

By the end of the war in 1865, Hildebrand was one of the few bushwhackers who survived and remained at large. He refused to surrender or take an oath of allegiance to the Union, and he continued to live as an outlaw in Missouri and Arkansas. He was wanted by both the Federal and state authorities, who offered large rewards for his capture or death.

In 1869, he decided to tell his story to the public, hoping to clear his name and justify his actions. He contacted two writers, James W. Evans and A. Wendell Keith, who agreed to help him write his autobiography. They met secretly in various locations, where Hildebrand dictated his life story to them. They also collected testimonies from his relatives, friends, and enemies, as well as official documents and newspaper reports.

The result was a book titled Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand: The Renowned Missouri Bushwhacker and Unconquerable Rob Roy of America; Being His Complete Confession Recently Made to the Writers, which was published in 1870 by Bryan Brand & Co. of St. Louis. The book was divided into 57 chapters, each covering a different episode or aspect of Hildebrand's life and career. The book also included several illustrations depicting some of his exploits.

The book was controversial and sensational, attracting both praise and criticism from readers and reviewers. Some hailed it as a truthful and candid account of a remarkable man who fought for his rights and principles against tyranny and oppression. Others denounced it as a false and boastful narrative of a wicked man who committed atrocities and crimes against humanity.

Being killed in a barroom brawl

Hildebrand did not live long enough to see the full impact of his book on the public opinion. He was killed on June 17, 1872, in a barroom brawl in Greenville, Texas. He was 35 years old.

According to one version of the story, he got into an argument with a local gambler named James Aikin over a game of cards. Aikin accused Hildebrand of cheating, and Hildebrand challenged him to a duel outside. Aikin agreed, but before they could go out, he shot Hildebrand in the chest with a pistol.

According to another version of the story, he got into a fight with a group of men who recognized him as a notorious bushwhacker and tried to capture him for the reward money. Hildebrand resisted, but he was outnumbered and overpowered by his assailants. He was shot several times by different guns before he fell dead on the floor.

Either way, Hildebrand died as he lived: violently and defiantly.

Becoming a legend and a subject of dime novels

Hildebrand's death did not end his fame or infamy. He became a legend and a subject of many stories and songs that circulated among the people of Missouri and beyond. He was also featured in many dime novels that dramatized and embellished his adventures and exploits.

Some of these dime novels portrayed him as a hero and a martyr, who fought for the Southern cause and the rights of the people against the Northern invaders and oppressors. They emphasized his courage, skill, and cunning, as well as his loyalty, generosity, and chivalry. They also romanticized his relationship with his wife and children, who suffered and sacrificed for him.

Other dime novels portrayed him as a villain and a monster, who killed for pleasure and profit without remorse or mercy. They emphasized his cruelty, brutality, and savagery, as well as his arrogance, greed, and treachery. They also demonized his motives and actions, accusing him of being a traitor, a bandit, and a terrorist.

Evaluating his role in the Civil War

Hildebrand's role in the Civil War is difficult to evaluate objectively and fairly. He was neither a hero nor a villain, but a complex and contradictory human being who lived in a turbulent and violent time. He was a product of his environment and circumstances, but he also made his own choices and consequences. He was a victim of injustice and oppression, but he also inflicted pain and suffering on others. He was a rebel and an outlaw, but he also had a code of honor and a sense of purpose.

Hildebrand's role in the Civil War is also significant and influential. He was one of the most prominent and notorious bushwhackers who shaped and were shaped by the guerrilla war that engulfed Missouri and other parts of the Trans-Mississippi region. He was one of the few bushwhackers who survived the war and published his own autobiography, which provides a rare and valuable insight into the mindset and experience of a guerrilla fighter. He was one of the many bushwhackers who became legends and subjects of popular culture, which reflects and affects the collective memory and imagination of the Civil War.


In conclusion, Samuel S. Hildebrand was a remarkable man who lived a remarkable life. He was a Missouri farmer who became a Confederate bushwhacker, who fought a personal war of revenge against the Union occupation of his state. He killed nearly a hundred men in his seven-year campaign of vengeance, escaping capture and death many times. He published his own autobiography shortly before his death, telling his story to the world. He became a legend and a subject of dime novels, inspiring admiration and horror among generations of readers.

His story is important for understanding the Civil War, especially the guerrilla war that raged on the fringes of society. It shows the complexity and diversity of the people who participated in the war, their motives and actions, their values and beliefs. It shows the brutality and tragedy of the war, its impact on individuals and communities, its legacy on history and culture.

His story is also relevant for today's world, where guerrilla warfare is still prevalent in many parts of the world. It raises questions about the nature and morality of war, the meaning and cost of freedom, the role and responsibility of individuals in society.

His story is not only a story of the past, but also a story of the present and the future.


  • Q: When was Samuel S. Hildebrand born?

  • A: He was born on July 6, 1836, in Jefferson County, Missouri.

  • Q: What was his nickname?

  • A: He was known as "The Renowned Missouri Bushwhacker" or "The Unconquerable Rob Roy."

  • Q: How many men did he claim to have killed?

  • A: He claimed to have killed nearly one hundred men, mostly Union soldiers and sympathizers.

  • Q: When did he publish his autobiography?

  • A: He published his autobiography in 1870, two years before his death.

  • Q: How did he die?

  • A: He died on June 17, 1872, in a barroom brawl in Greenville, Texas.



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