A large number of photographs were donated to the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum by Minnie Neubieser Lightfoot. Minnie’s family was one of the earliest white families to settle in the wetlands of what would later become Southeast Chicago. The region belonged to Potawatomi Native Americans whose lands were taken from them in the 1830s through treaties with the U.S. government. Minnie’s grandparents, the Konybisys, were German/Hungarian immigrants who moved to the shores of Wolf Lake in Hegewisch in 1859. They brought with them their two-year-old daughter Annie, Minnie’s mother. Minnie explained that the wooden cabin where her grandparents lived originally belonged to a Native American family who had abandoned it, associating it with bad luck after two children died there. Native Americans, however, returned yearly to burial sites near the cabin and taught Minnie’s Grandpa Konybisy to fur trap.
In the period during and after the Civil War, Minnie’s grandparents and mother made their living by farming, fishing, and trapping on Wolf Lake (and, for a time, along the Calumet River on the East Side to be closer to school for Annie). They also received guests from the growing city of Chicago to the north who travelled by train to stay at the family’s cabin for weekends of rowing boats and fishing. Early visitors included Mrs. Sally Todd Lincoln and her boys, who were rescued from a near drowning incident by Grandpa Konybisy. Annie Konybisy remembered gathering wild strawberries as a young girl for Mrs. Lincoln. In 1876, Annie married August Neubieser, a German immigrant shoemaker who came to live with her along Wolf Lake. Together, they had ten children, including Minnie who was born in 1890. Minnie’s family and the widowed Grandma Konybisy would continue to receive visitors to the lake. Minnie recalled the hard work of lugging lake water to wash clothes and how they stored barrels of sauerkraut and preserved foods in a dug-out in the ground. She recalled, “My grandma could make the nicest coffee cakes. And bread. Oh, we always had plenty. The people came out there just to get the bread and stuff like my folks made. All those Hungarian fancy dishes.”
Later, Minnie married a mixed-descent Native-American man who died of a heart attack a few years into their marriage and after the stillbirth of their only child. Minnie would spend the remainder of her life care-taking for relatives near Wolf Lake, including her aging and blind grandmother and mother. Up until the 1940s, Minnie’s oldest brother Joe continued to make a living at the Lake by hunting and trapping muskrat and mink, renting out boats, and bee-keeping, long after the steel mills and other industry had become the dominant features of the Hegewisch area.