Leroy Donald was the business writer for the Arkansas Gazette.
On March 9, 2000, Donald was interviewed by John Thompson for the Arkansas Center for Oral and Visual History which operates out of the History Department of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
Selected portions of that interview are of interest to anyone who knew of or heard of Joe Hilderbrand (some sources spell it as Hildebrand).
Here is the part of the interview that is of interest to this post (LD is Leroy Donald and JT is John Thompson:
LD:I think some of the real first news features was when Foreman sent me out to cover the panther, the Clarksville panther. Which there was a mountain lion on the, or a puma, on the loose up there, and so I went and chased the mountain lion. We did a lot of good news features on that one.One of the few photographs of Joe Hilderbrand, fugitive, taken before he went to jail in October, 1960. Earlier Joe, who said his greatest fun was working on jalopies with his old man, did a stint in reform school.
And then I chased Joe Hildebrand, the Outlaw of the Ozarks, did a bunch of features on that. Those were among the first of the news features that were done.
JT: What was that last one? Who?
LD: Joe Hildebrand.
JT: Joe Hildebrand was a?
LD: The Outlaw of the Ozarks.
JT: And he was a prisoner in a jail?
LD: Well, what he was, it was an old mountain family that lived up above Dover, on the mountainside. I think it is up above where Leland Duvall lived. Booger Hollow. He lived up, actually, I guess, you would call it Booger Hollow. And he had been down in the jail for various and sundry reasons.
I think he held up some people on the highway, you know, on an overlook up there, and he was just kind of a wild kid, nineteen. He was down there in the prison farm, and he would just get out every now and then, and they would catch him and send him back to prison.
Well, he got out one time on a furlough to go home and see his sick daddy and got in some sort of trouble with a branch of the family and ran off with his wife’s cousin, or something like that.
And Joe just didn’t realize it was time for him to go back to the prison, so they wandered around through the Ozarks at the time and created this, and made a national figure out of him.
They had cops and helicopters and dogs chasing him all over the place, and he really wasn’t running. He was just wandering around up in the hills where he was home.
It got to be a real, it was a front page story.
They finally caught him and sent him back down to the farm.
We did news features on him. I remember one of them, we had.
I found his girlfriend. One of the times he broke loose, his girlfriend was picking peaches up on Johnson Mountain, which is down below Booger Hollow, and they got a great picture of her up in the peach tree.
And I asked her, “You know where Joe is?”
She said, “He might be right behind you.”
I said, “Why?”
She said, “Because he might be gonna smoke you down.”
I said, “Well, tell him not to,” being that we got this great picture of her up in the tree, silhouetted against the sun. “Frances Picks Peaches While Joe Roams the Ozarks.” That was his girlfriend’s name, Frances.
Locals gather outside the general store in Mount Village, near Russellville, Arkansas, October, 1960 while the hunt goes on for Joe Hilderbrand and Frances Standridge.
Mr. Lytle Hilderbrand, father of outlaw Joe Hilderbrand, who suffered a paralytic stroke which caused the occasion for his son's furlough from jail. He recovered but Joe didn't return to jail.
Mr. Lytle Hilderbrand and wife, parents of 24-year old Joe Hilderbrand, fugitive who is still in Ozarks, after escaping the law, begged officials not to shoot their boy.
A gravel road in the Ozark Mountain region near Booger Hollow, Arkansas, October 1960. It was on roads like these that Joe's father travelled in his rattletrap car trying to drum up sympathy for his outlaw son.
Mrs. Lytle Hilderbrand, mother of outlaw Joe Hilderbrand, stands on her porch with her double barrel shotgun.
Joe’s parents, Lytle and Bertha, keep vigil by cabin. Police thought Joe was hiding in the cellar and tossed tear gas bombs in. According to local lore, Joe was under floor with face buried in wet grain bags and fooled the law.
Joe’s pursuers swarmed through the mountains. These two patrolmen carry guns and walkie-talkie which linked them with searchers in other areas. They hid in various spots along road waiting for Joe and Francis to come along.
Joe’s wife Ola (right) stands beside her sister, Osie and her mother Nancy Jane (lower left), 80-year-old matriarch of the large Standridge clan.
Locals were originally sympathetic to Joe and Frances until the police used the lulls in their search for the couple to bust up illegal stills and confiscate rivers of moonshine.
The Ozark neighbors of Joe and Frances became considerably less neighborly after Joe and Frances stole and wrecked eight automobiles and the police started destroying their moonshine stills and taking their wares.
The parents and family of 18-year-old Frances Standridge who eloped with her uncle, the 24-year-old outlaw Joe Hilderbrand, October 1960.
Several ballads were composed about Joe Hilderbrand, link over here to hear Glen Orhlin, performing it in Mountain View, Arkansas on October 7, 1969....Other ballads are at that same link.
In the foothills of the Ozarks
Back in northwest Arkansas
A convict came from prison
To see his ailin' Pa
But th mountains they were callin'
To come an' play th game
He answered th lonely call
An' won nortorious fame.
His sweetheart met him often
At th secret rendezous
Pretty blonde Francis Standrige
With eyes of baby blue
Keep Joe posted on th possee
That was far on his trail
He was wanted by th warden
In th Polk County Jail
Mountain talk got around
Joe would be shot down
Resentment burnt in th hearts
That loved Joe Hildebrand
Francis joined Joe with her rifle
An' love so true an' kind
T' run an' hide in th forest
With th possee far behind
One cold October night
They knew a broken heart
They were captured by two lawmen
Awaiting in th dark
T' say goodbye in handcuffs
Had not been in their plan
Ending th chase for pretty Francis
An' th convict Hildebrand
Life Magazine did a story on Joe Hilderbrand in the November 14, 1960 issue. It notes that Joe is the subject of an Ozarks hillbilly ballad because he skipped bail and eloped with his wife's niece. These photos and some of the captions are from that Life Story. Other photos were found on the web. The photos were taken by Michael Rougier on October 1, 1960. The last two photos of Joe Hilderbrand and Frances Standridge were taken by an Arkansas Gazette photographer. Following is a transcript of the Life Magazine story:
Over in the Ozarks, where songs and legends grow thick as pokeweed, two new ballads are being sung this fall about Joe Hilderbrand and his mountain sweetheart….even while they are being composed on Ozark guitars, Joe and his girl were being pursued day and night by airplanes, jeeps and bloodhounds in one of Arkansas’ biggest manhunts.
Joe’s troubles started small. In 1958 he robbed a tourist couple of a dollar and two cents on a highway near his home at Chigger Hollow (Booger Hollow). Sent to jail for three years, Joe became a model prisoner, even repaired the state electric chair. Last January he was granted a three-day furlough to see his father, who had had a paralytic stroke. His father got well but Joe took a notion to skip jail. He hid in mountain caves and did a bit of pilfering. The Ozark people began to think of Joe as a hero like Robin Hood, and even the state troopers did not bother him too much because they felt he was not really a bad man.
But this fall when Joe, who is 24, was joined by 18-year-old Frances Standridge, who is a niece of Joe’s 47-year-old wife, he was faced with a kidnapping charge brought by the girl’s father. The troopers closed in, and the balladmakers sang, “Run, Joe, run.”
Though Joe was a married man, there was nothing sneaky about his running off with young Frances Standridge. The couple walked straight up to Ola, who is Joe’s wife and Francis’ aunt, and told her point-blank they planned “to be away for five years together.” Then they walked into the hills.
But that was not the end of Ola’s troubles. The police had a theory that Joe would surrender if they put pressure on his family. So they charged Ola and Joe’s father with helping an escaped criminal and locked them in jail. This struck their Ozark neighbors as a dirty trick so two friends put up $1,000 bail and got Ola and the old man out.
When Joe and his girl took off, thefts began to occur in the hills where they roamed. But what made the mountain folks angrier than the stealing was the fact that the police, during lulls in their search, broke up illegal stills and confiscated rivers of first-class moonshine.
As the manhunt grew more intense, Joe stole eight cars, wrecked some, and jumped from one to another. He and Frances slept in woods that crawled with copperheads and rattles. “But them snakes didn’t bother usuns none,” said Frances. Meanwhile, Joe’s father drove all over in his rattletrap car, stirring up sympathy for his son and begging police not to shoot him. Walking along a creek, Joe and Frances were spotted at last by an airplane observer, who figured where they would be at nightfall and directed their capture. Together they were rushed into Little Rock and locked up. Nobody knows the fate of the lovers, but future ballads will record it one way or the other: "The mean ole troopers kept them apart, and broke the lovers’ bleeding hearts", or more happily, "Now Frances waits at his cabin door and Joe didn’t have to run no more.”
Tattered Joe, after police flushed him, was sent back to the prison farm to serve out the remaining two years of his sentence. He still may be tried for thefts.
Wretched Frances, who says that she still loves Joe, was sent back to her family on $1,000 bail. She faces larceny charges for helping Joe steal a car.