Roses by Another Name: A French Family in Old Green Bay
Robert L. Hall


            Alexis Deguire a.k.a. Alexander Larose

[Printed with the permission of the Robert L. Hall. All rights reserved]

           During the War of 1812 the whites and Indians of the Green Bay area were theoretically on the side of the United States, or at least they should have been on the side of the United States, because Green Bay was within the territorial limits of the United States. In fact, they backed the British. This is not difficult to understand. The only official presence of the United States in Green Bay was a French-speaking justice of the peace born in Canada--Judge Charles Réaume--and even after the Revolutionary War fur trade relations with British Canada remained strong as ever.
         The United States Congress declared war against Great Britain June 18, 1812. At that time Robert Dickson was already in Green Bay recruiting a force to take the American fort on Mackinac Island. Dickson was a prominent Wisconsin fur trader who had been commissioned a colonel in the British army to prepare for the contingency of war.
         The United States declared war June 18, but the news did not reach Detroit until July 5, and for some reason it was never forwarded to Mackinac. The British waiting on St. Joseph's Island to move toward Mackinac learned of the declaration of war on June 26 and acted upon it. The American commandant at Mackinac did not learn of the declaration until July 17 when he awoke to see that a British attacking force had already landed and was approaching the fort--rank upon rank of red-coated regulars marching to fife and drum with banners flying, accompanied by equally colorful formations of Canadian voyageurs and Britain's Indian allies--Menominees, Winnebagoes, and even Sioux. Outnumbered fifteen to one and unable to mount an adequate defense, the American commander surrendered.
         The Americans attempted but failed to retake the fort on Mackinac in August of 1814. About eighty Menominee warriors and a dozen traders from Green Bay helped the British in their defense of the fort. Before the Americans' attack, however, a canoe arrived at Mackinac with the word that the Americans were building a fort at Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi. A British force recruited to take the new American fort left around June 21 under the command of Lt. Col. William McKay. Listed on the muster role of a company of sixty-seven "Canadian voyageurs" volunteering for the enterprise was my great, great, great grandfather Alexis Larose, son of Jean-Baptiste Deguire. The proper family name was Deguire but, like many of Canadian French ancestry, the Deguires were also known by a nickname--in this case Larose--which acquired the strength of a legal family name.
         Lieutenant Colonel McKay passed through Green Bay en route and by the time he left had a fighting body of 200 Sioux, 100 Winnebagoes, 75 Menominees, 25 Chippewas, and 150 whites. They arrived at Prairie du Chien on July 17, 1814. The American fort was garrisoned by only sixty-five soldiers. There was no grand assault on the American fort, only a sporadic exchange of rifle fire and a swapping of cannon balls between British and American gunners. I mean swapping literally, because the Indians helped by chasing and retrieving the spent American cannon balls bumping across the prairie. They provided them to the British, who then sped them on their way back to the Americans. The little expedition did not have much in the way of ordnance because when they left Mackinac the British were expecting an attack from the Americans and had little to spare.
         Augustin Grignon tells us that on "the fourth day Col. McKay resolved to accomplish something more decisive. About three o'clock in the afternoon, with his troops properly stationed, and cannon balls heated red hot in a black-smith's forge, I was sent to go around and specially direct the interpreters to order the Indians not to fire on the fort till the cannon should commence playing the hot shot, and the fort should be set on fire; then to use their muskets as briskly as possible. Scarcely had these directions been given, when the Americans, probably seeing from indications that a severe assault of some kind was about to be made, raised the white flag."
         This was virtually a bloodless victory. No one was killed. Two Winnebagoes were wounded in their thighs while trying to slip their way into house where they saw some hams hanging. A Menominee was wounded by wooden slivers from a fence post shattered by an American cannon ball. One American lost his legs to a cannon ball and another, a finger to a Winnebago who carried it away as a souvenir. The soldier thought the Indian only wanted to shake hands, a misunderstanding that probably affected the soldier's attitude toward Indians for years to come. The only deaths during the campaign came much later, on April 3, 1815, when Ignace Deguire and his brother-in-law were drowned in a canoe accident while crossing the Mississippi River from the fort, now renamed Fort McKay. Ignace Deguire, or Larose as he was known to the British, had been appointed a lieutenant in the Western Indian Department of the British Army and was an interpreter who had earlier served Colonel Dickson against the Americans in Ohio.
         Writing to Lieut. John Lawe from Prairie du Chien April 10, 1815, Colonel Dickson said, "You will hear of the fatal Accident that befell poor La Rose, I regret him as a brother lost. I warn'd him of little Canoes; he was drown'd with his brother in law on the 3d instant." Incidents such as this are of little historical consequence beyond the families concerned except as they illustrate principles of more general interest. I grew up being told that Ignace Larose had drowned in the De Pere rapids south of Green Bay. The scene of the drowning had been unconsciously relocated in family tradition 200 miles from the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien to the Fox River at De Pere, where there were more and stronger family associations. Larose's death was even elevated from a stupid accident ("I warn'd him of little Canoes") to a heroic finale: my mother rationalized the drowning by telling me that Larose had died while trying to rescue a child. What parent was going to admit that an adult could be careless about a subject (tippy canoes) which then fell in the same category of perceived childhood hazards as shooting bee-bee guns, eating before swimming, or riding a bicycle "no hands"?
         Green Bay's only American official, Judge Réaume, assisted Jean-Baptiste Deguire to petition the British for his son's back pay. This was an interesting paradox: a Canadian-born judge appointed by an American territorial governor, writing in French to British authorities in Canada, petitioning relief for the father of a nominally American citizen who was a mixed-blood of Menominee Indian and French ancestry and who had died in service as a British officer during a war between Great Britain and the United States. Deguire was later provided with a pension for his son's death.
         Soon after the war, the Americans built and garrisoned Fort Howard at Green Bay to establish their military and political presence. When the time came for Green Bay residents to secure firm titles to their property from the United States, it was awkward for the citizens who had sided against, or had actually raised arms against, the United States in the war, among them many of the most prominent citizens of the area.
         Three years after serving as a lieutenant in the British force that took the American fort at Prairie du Chien, Augustin Grignon was among the Green Bay signers of a petition in French to the American Congress for certification of their entitlements as local landowners, pleading that they had been claimed by the British army as British subjects and had no other recourse but to cooperate for want of any American presence in the area. In later testimony one Green Bay resident successfully pleaded the case that Great Britain had "conquered" Green Bay in the fall of 1812 and compelled the local residents to yield to the "tyranny and caprice" of Great Britain and its "savage allies."
         July 17, 1816, the United States army arrived at Green Bay in three schooners--the first sailing vessels ever seen by Green Bay residents--one of them, ironically, piloted by the former Lt. Augustin Grignon. Col. John Miller and other American officers went the same day to the Menominee village and requested permission to construct a fort from Tomah, who acted for the Menominee grand chief known as the Old King, then nearly 100 years old. Tomah's reply, as Augustin Grignon remembered it was: "My Brother! How can we oppose your locating a council-fire among us? You are too strong for us. Even if we wanted to oppose you, we have scarcely got powder and shot to make the attempt. One favor we ask is, that our French brothers shall not be disturbed or in any way molested. You can choose any place you please for your fort, and we shall not object."
         Jacob Franks' marriage to Thérèse Larose was apparently an arrangement without benefit of religious ceremony, as often was the custom in Green Bay of that time. When James Duane Doty established the seat of his federal judgeship in Green Bay in 1824 he was shocked at the informality of marriage arrangements for Green Bay's citizens, some of them Green Bay's most honored citizens. He notified thirty- eight men to be married within ten days or be fined for their misconduct. The Episcopal missionary Eleazar Williams was licensed during this session of the new court to conduct marriages, and Augustin Grignon's brother Louis was appointed justice of the peace with the same power. Among the thirty-eight men summoned to marry or be fined was Alexis Deguire, known then as Alexander Larose. On October 24, 1824, Louis Grignon solemnized Alexander's common-law marriage with Angelique Grandblanc, daughter of Augustin Grandblanc, more familiarly known by his Ottawa Indian name of Ashwaubomay.
         Ashwaubomay was a French-Ottawa metis or mixed blood Indian who had come to Green Bay with Jacob Franks sometime around 1795. Ashwaubomay's name was corrupted in time to Ashwaubenon and it is in this form that his name was transferred to the Town of Ashwaubenon and to the Ashwaubenon Bridge in Brown County. His name is said to have translated as Side Looks because of the dirty glances certain Ojibwa women gave him when he rescued a Menominee maiden from the lodge where she was being held captive by certain Ojibwas. Actually, Side Looks is the translation not of Ashwaubomay but of a different name, his Menominee name, that bore a punning resemblance to his Ottawa name, Ashwaubomay, which translates as Great White. Hence, Ashwaubomay's French name of Grandblanc or Great White. The last notices we have of Ashwaubomay are his mention as a courier of British military news from Michilimackinac to Green Bay in 1814 and in 1821 of his verbal will--he died in 1815--transferring to three heirs the large grant of land given him by the Menominee chief Standing Earth after Ashwaubomay married the chief's daughter, Waubenokiew. Waubenokiew's hand in marriage was the reward Ashwaubomay received for rescuing the maiden captured by the Ojibwas.
         On the occasion of a pageant and homecoming celebration in Green Bay in 1921 the historic marker committee of the Daughters of the American Revolution visited six historic locations to erect temporary wooden markers, painted white with blue letters and borders, which were later replaced by permanent markers of bronze. They were accompanied by Sophia Larose Thetro, whose mother had been Angelique Grandblanc, the daughter of Ashwaubomay and Waubenokiew. It was Angelique whom Alexander Deguire/Larose had married officially in 1824 after Judge Doty discovered so many prominent Bay area citizens joined only informally according to the custom of the community. In Sophie Thetro there was more than a granddaughter of Ashwaubomay and Waubenokiew; she symbolized the kind of blend of French and Indian heritage that characterized Green Bay's early social history.
         One sign was placed on the location of the home and graves of Ashawaubomay and Waubenokiew and another was erected as a roadside marker nearby. The home and graves were located on a little peninsula of cultivated land between Dutchman's Creek and the west bank of the Fox River just north of the Brown County fairgrounds in the Town of Ashwaubenon. As a young boy in the early 1930s I visited the site of the cabin and graves with my mother, my grandmother, and my great grandmother, Elsie Anger. Elsie Anger was the granddaughter of Alexander Larose and the niece of Sophie Thetro and had accompanied her aunt when she visited the site less than 15 years earlier. Ashwaubemay and Waubenokiew and the part of Green Bay history that their lives represent are suitably remembered today by Ashwaubomay Memorial River Park, located on the site of their cabin and graves. Through their daughter Angelique, wife of Alexander Larose, the descendants of these Native American and Canadian French lineages have multiplied and within the span of years of Wisconsin's statehood have followed trails taking them from Wisconsin in the north to Texas in the south and from California to New York.

Robert Hall is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Adjunct Curator of Midwestern and Plains Archaeology at the Field Museum, Chicago. He is an eighth generation native of Green Bay and a 1945 graduate of East High School. He received his doctorate in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin--Madison in 1960. [Return to Top]

 


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