First Butler County Settler a Horse Thief?

In keeping with the goal of providing verifiable information on the founding of El Dorado, and it’s early founders, Everyday El Dorado is producing a weekly podcast series that airs on KBTL 88.1 each Wednesday at 12 p.m. 

In the episode titled, “Hildebrand – Horse Thief or Holy Roller?,” the story surrounding the first settler in Butler County is examined.  

According to William G. Cutler’s “History of the State of Kansas, ”William Hildebrand is supposed to have been the first settler near El Dorado, having taken a claim near where J. D. Conner’s farm now lies. In 1859, his place which had become a sort of headquarters for horse thieves, was raided, and Hildebrand after joining the order of the flagellants or anglice, getting a sound thrashing at the hands of the vigilantes, was given twenty-four hours to effect his escape from the county, and disappeared forever from El Dorado’s horizon.”

This information on Hildebrand is all that is passed down by successive historians and documentarians, but in researching the history of El Dorado, another story begins to emerge. 

The Reverend WIlliam Hildebrand and Colonel Alexander Bigham came to Butler County in April 1857 and settled in the area that is present day El Dorado. 

In an article appearing in the Lawrence Republican dated August 27, 1857, Hildebrand was identified by the article’s writer (presumed to be the founding party’s lead military man, Captain Joseph Cracklin) as a missionary and one of two settlers. 

“Just two months from the 3rd inst., the day of election, the Eldorado Town Association selected this locality for their town site.  At that time but two white persons resided in the Walnut River valley, from the extreme northern post to the Osage Reserve.  These two were the Rev. William Hildebrand, former a Missionary amongst the Cherokees and Chickasaws, and now preparing to carry his Christiam labors to the Osages.  The other, Col. Alexander Bigham, from Miss., who distinguished himself at the taking of Monterey in Mexico, and at the storming of the Bishop/s palace was severely wounded.  We here regard him as quite an acquisition to our town.”

How did Hildebrand go from first being identified as a Missionary to his place in history as a horse thief?  That road is a winding one, as much of the information recorded about him comes from the daughter of the man he is accussed of stealing from and orchestrating his murder.  

Augusta Stewart, the daughter of town founder Sam Stewart, kept a diary during her family’s travel out west, the early years of Eldorado, and subsequently, she documented some of the events surrounding her father’s death.  That journal was later published by descendants in a four volume set titled “Augusta’s Journal.” 

Stewart’s journal, which was later researched and edited, by herself and family, provides additional clues as to why the story recorded in our history books, about Hildebrand, is a story about a horse theft and omits other key details.   

Diaries and journals, while considered a great primary source, must be read through a lens of understanding it was only one perspective.  The clues Stewart provides give a springboard for looking in new directions that offer additional information. That information will be the topic of discussion on this week’s episode, which looks at some of those clues to gain a bigger picture of the first settler in Butler County, 

Everyday El Dorado can be heard Wednesday at 12 p.m. on KBTL 88.1 and by streaming online at