Last Saturday, Lagro, Indiana was a happening place. The Lagro Canal Foundation hosted a market, trolley tours, and several speakers celebrating the ongoing revitalization of Lagro. The Lagro Alumni had major participants, both as those carrying out the revitalization and as audience members who came from afar to see what was taking place in their hometown. I had the pleasure of assisting with the earlier portions of the event and the honor of delivering a short address after the alumni banquet. So, I was faced with the question of what would make for an interesting topic for such an occasion. I eventually decided on the topic of Chief Lagro – for whom the town is named. I won’t be reproducing my short speech here, but I will detail some of the interesting questions pertaining to it.
For better or worse, linguistics has come up time and again in my life. The word “Lagro” itself is a pretty heavy adulteration of the French words le gris. In one of the rare occasions for the six years of French I took between high school and college to prove useful, I can tell you that means the grey. This nickname was given by the French, who frequented this part of the world in the 17th and 18th centuries, to several Native American persons. One of whom would be provided with a brick house by the United States government in exchange for signing the Treaty of Paradise Spring. He also had a son whom they called Le Petit Gris. So, I thought it would be interesting to give a talk regarding the man for whom Lagro itself is named. Additionally, his house was the first brick building in what would become Lagro. His house as well as his name are foundational to the town.
Le Gris’ real name was Nagohquangogh. His name is given as such when he signed the 1795 Treaty of Greenville. He signed his name alongside Little Turtle's, demonstrating his importance to that particular treaty and his nation. Unfortunately, it is quite possible that the translator misheard the pronunciation and wrote it down in a form that is indecipherable as the name doesn’t have a known meaning. The historic record is also somewhat unsure about the names of many of his children, because of the French nicknaming convention of assigning the name Le Pettit Gris, it’s possible there are multiple people named as such. There is reference to a trading post on the Wabash River bearing reference to the name Le Gris in the early 1700s. Although the Le Gris for whom Lagro is named likely visited the trading post that probably existed at the mouth of the Salamonie, Chief Le Gris wasn’t much associated with this area, and had much more to do with Miami affairs in Kekionga (today’s Fort Wayne) and Piqua, Ohio. It’s also unlikely that the 1600s Le Gris had any real relation to him.
He appears directly in the historic record several times. Unique to many of the leading figures of the Miami Nation’s history in the 18th and 19th century (excepting Little Turtle) he is quoted directly several times and was asked to provide extensive information regarding the Miami people’s history, traditions, and customs. An Indian trader named Henry Hay who stayed at Kekionga in the winter of 1790-1791. He breakfasted with Chief Le Gris regularly and seemed to greatly enjoy his company and comments on him in detail. Because the chief was present at the Treaty of Greenville, and other treaty negotiations, his words are sometimes recorded there as well. He, for example, quickly made it known to General Anthony Wayne that they had been promised better refreshments than they were being given and that he felt rather put out by it. Later in the winter of 1824-1825, an agent for Lewis Cass sent his secretary C.C. Trowbridge to Kekionga to write a report about the culture and customs of the Miami. He interviewed Le Gris extensively and paid him thirty dollars for his time. The information contained in these documents is extensive, interesting, and priceless. For brevity, I can only share one such fact. Le Gris is, by the 1820s, fairly elderly for his time period, perhaps in his later 60s or 70s. He extensively complains to Trowbridge that, in his day, children respected their elders, and that, he fears, they no longer do.
After moving to the site that would eventually bear his name, in a way, Chief Le Gris passed away the same year that the Treaty of Paradise Spring was signed, 1826, shortly after his home was built. The bricks were made locally and, in time, the home was torn down. The bricks were reused to build a structure in downtown Lagro which has seen many uses from bank to restaurant to brewery. Today it has been restored by the Lagro Canal Foundation and will find new life.