Anna and Jakob Bohman and their 4 children made their home on some land in section 5 in the northwest corner of the Town of Auburndale in Wood County, Wisconsin. The family’s exact arrival date is unknown, but a daughter Theresa was born at the homestead in 1886. Two more children, Peter and Rose, followed in the next few years.
Anna’s accounts of Jakob’s treatment of her were less than favorable. In her later years, she told the story of an incident that took place in the early years of her marriage when the family was still in Hyršov. Anna’s father was very ill and she wanted to visit him. She waited for an evening when Jakob was out of the house. She tucked her young children in bed and walked as fast as she could to her parent’s home a few miles away. She stayed only briefly to visit with her father and then hurried back home.
When she entered the house, Jakob was waiting for her – he had come home unexpectedly. Anna said that he removed the belt from his pants and beat her severely. He left her with black and blue welts for days after. This was not the first or last time that Jakob abused Anna physically. Jakob’s treatment of Anna did not appear to improve after coming to America. Anna was expected to mind the children, cook, clean, and help with farm work whenever she could.
Fritz Jones, a neighbor to the Bohmans, saw Anna working with Jakob clearing land. She was walking ahead of him carrying the saw and axes while Jakob smoked his pipe and strolled behind. Fritz called out that in America the man carries the axe and saw. Jakob waved him off replying, “I must smoke.”
The day that Theresa was born, Jakob had Anna out with him in the winter cold and snow piling up a large load of logs. The snow was packed and slippery where they were working and as they were lifting another log on the sledge, Anna slipped and lost hold of the log causing it to fall to the ground. Jakob cursed at Anna for her clumsiness and then she picked up her end of the log and hoisted it to the top of the pile. Anna started having abdominal pain shortly after and made it home and to bed shortly before Theresa was born.
Jakob wasn’t very popular with the native inhabitants of the area either. Anna told stories of the early days at Squaw Creek before the barns were up and the hay had to be stored in piles out in the fields. Some horses owned by the local Native American people ransacked the piles of hay and Jakob shot one. Her story states that when the Natives went home and told the rest of their village, they sent several “warriors” back to the Bohman farm with the intention of killing Jakob. Anna reported that the “chief” had a rifle and somehow Jakob slyly talked himself out of trouble. For years after, the Natives avoided the Bohman farm stating that “Bohman was a bad man.”
According to “History of Wood County, Wisconsin” compiled by George O. Jones, Norman S. McVean and others, 1923, there was a settlement of Native Americans within 5 miles of the Squaw Creek Homestead in 1876 when the Berdan family settled their land in section 10 in th Town of Auburndale.
Anna’s early life was one of hard work and child baring. In summer, Anna spent time tending her garden so the family would have stores for the winter months. She grew potatoes in the field and would go out to weed and hill the potatoes in the early morning before the heat of the day would set in. One day, she was working in the potato field and a large cat came walking out of the nearby brush. Anna said she had never seen such a big cat before but she called out to it hoping to have it come closer. Anna remembered that the cat let out a blood-curdling scream and she dropped her hoe and ran as fast as she could for the house! She later learned that it was a “wild cat” and not one of the domestic variety.
Anna stayed with Jakob and continued her duties of work and motherhood. She worked very hard so so her children would be fed and clothed. When the youngest child, Rose (my great great grandmother), was just 2 years old, Jakob chopped himself in the knee with his axe when he was out trimming limbs on fallen trees. The wound became infected and Jakob died of sepsis on 12 Nov 1892.
Helen Jo Breu put it best when she wrote: “I shall never stop wondering how Grandmother could make all those sacrifices. Did she love Jacob Bohman or did she love her children? You form your own opinion. Generations ago the first born son always named after the father. The first born daughter always carried the mother’s name. Now Grandmother bore two sons from Jacob Bohman: George and Peter. Her first daughter was named Anna.”
From our modern perspective, it is easy to assume that with Jakob gone, Anna’s life would become easier. If only that were the case…
to be continued…
These memories were passed down by Helen Jo Breu in letters written to my great great grandmother, my grandmother, and to me over several years from the early 1980s to the late 1990s.