When I was a kid, my dad would scare us into going to bed/being quiet/obeying a command/etc. by telling us “Sam Hildebrand’s going to get you!” So Sam Hildebrand was a figure of my imagination before I ever found out who he was.

In later years, I learned that Hildebrand had been a notorious bushwhacker/guerrilla fighter during the Civil War, who had killed my great-uncle George Canisius, for whom my grandfather had been named. The family story was that Uncle George, being a German speaker, was unable to explain himself to the gang of bushwhackers who came across him in the Flatwoods. Hildebrand’s version, as I read later in the ghost-written “Confessions of Sam Hildebrand” published after the war, was that he suspected Canisius of informing on him to the authorities.

Hildebrand appears in my book, and I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide whether I’m exorcising an old family demon with his presence, or simply using him as an actual historical character who figures in the events of the era.

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