Stories from Squaw Creek Homestead

Pioneer Life

Anna and Nicholas Hamus worked hard to make a living on their farm. They grew crops, sold produce, and traded with the local Native Americans. Anna also told stories about Gypsy people coming through the area. According to Helen Jo Breu, in the days before there were cheese factories, farmers kept just enough cattle to use for their families. The Hamus family kept 2 cows and grazed them on a field near the banks of Squaw Creek which was down the hill on the west side of the homestead. A group of Gypsies set up camp on the banks of the creek and would steal milk from the Hamus cows.

Satellite image of the Hamus Homestead on Pleasant Hill Road

Squaw Creek runs on the west side of the property

Helen said that the Gypsies were musicians and fortune tellers and could speak many languages. Once they came to the Hamus house looking for chickens and eggs. Nicholas made the suggestion that they keep moving on. The “Queen” of the group called out a curse to Nicholas, “Unglich ins haus!” [unhappy in the house]. Nicholas called right back, “Scheiße im haus!” [Shit in house].

In among the farm work, children were being born. Nicholas inherited 4 of the children from Jakob Bohman (the oldest daughter, Anna, having already married his brother Peter Hamus) and shortly after their marriage, Nicholas and Anna began having more children. Joseph, the oldest son, was born about 5 months after their marriage. The oldest daughter, Caroline, was born 18 months later (Caroline Hamus was the mother of Helen Jo Breu). Helen shared the story of how Caroline got her name. Nicholas sang an old song about a woman called Caroline who stood in a garden admiring a rose. He would sing it in German almost every day. When their daughter was born, Anna told Nicholas, “So Nick du hast deine Caroline.”

Nicholas and Anna had 3 more children by 1902. In between births, there were marriages happening too – after all, there was a 24 year age difference between Anna’s oldest child and her youngest. The wedding dances were held in the hay barn where the musicians played until the early morning hours. Nicholas Hamus could play the accordion, clarinet, and the violin and would be a part of the band for many of these celebrations. Helen remembered that the wedding couples would each get a shivaree to send them off. She said the banging of kettles and blowing of horns could be heard for miles.

Example of a bison horn instrument

Anna Hamus had her own instrument to play for the shivaree – her bison dinner horn. The horn was a gift to Anna from Robert Schoenbrunn of Chicago. Robert was married to the daughter of Anna’s brother Frank Ertl who settled in Milwaukee in about 1890. Robert was a chef at the Sears and Roebuck Restaurant in Chicago. In 1907, the largest bison at Lincoln Park Zoo died and Robert bought one of the horns for $1. He had a key fitted in the end and gifted it as a dinner horn to Anna. She used the horn regularly to call her family in from the fields when dinner was ready. The horn was also used during the shivaree to add to the noise.

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.

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