IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
JULIEN DUBUQUE AND THE MINES OF SPAIN
Although the two Frenchmen, Marquette and Joliet, reached the country that is now Iowa in 1673, it was more than a hundred years later before any white man came here to live. During this time France had transferred the country west of th Mississippi and south of Canada to Spain. Thus when Julien Dubuque, the first white settler, came to the Iowa country in 1788, the land was under the control of Spain.
Julien Dubuque, the son of French parents, was born in 1762, in a village called St. Pierre les Brecquets, about fifty or sixty miles from Quebec. He attended the parish school in the village and at Sorel. He learned to read and write very well, it is said.
As a boy he liked to hear about the adventures of fur traders among the Indians to the west, and when he was twenty-three years old he set out to seek fortune and adventure. He came to the village of Prairie du Chien on the Mississippi River. To-day the town of McGregor, Iowa, is located across the river form Prairie du Chien, but when Dubuque came there in 1785 all Iowa was a wilderness.
He must have found Prairie du Chien an interesting place, for Indians from miles around came there to trade furs for the blankets, powder, shot, cloth, and trinkets of the white man. Before French traders settled there it had been the site of an Indian village.
Dubuque soon began to trade with the Indians, and from the Fox braves he learned about rich mines of lead ore near the village of Kettle Chief on Catfish Creek. Dubuque was both wise and crafty. He began to be very friendly with the Fox Indians. On September 22, 1788, three years after he came to Prairie du Chien, he persuaded the Fox chiefs and braves to give him the sole right to work the mines.
As soon as the agreement was signed, Dubuque with ten French-Canadian companions moved over into the Iowa country. He built a log cabin near Kettle Chief's village. He and his companions cleared several acres for a farm, built fences, and planted corn. He built a mill to be run by horsepower, and erected a furnace to smelt the lead ore into lead bars for the market.
Dubuque soon gained great control over the Indians. They looked upon him as a magician. He could handle snakes without fear, it is said, and had a medicine that was a certain cure for snake bites. Once when the Indians refused to do something he wanted, they story is told that he threatened to set Catfish Creek on fire. He had some of his white helpers pour some oil on the water upstream and when it floated past he set fire to it. The terrified Indians agreed to do what he wanted.
Thinking that he should make his claim to the land more secure, Dubuque in 1796 very humbly asked the Spanish governor, Baron de Carondelet, to give him title to a tract of land extending seven leagues, or about twenty-one miles, along the west bank of the river, and three leagues, or nine miles, into the interior. Dubuque said that he had named the property the "Mines of Spain" in honor of the government to which he belonged. Governor Carondelet granted his request.
Dubuque was not the only Frenchman to secure a land grant in Iowa. One of his associates, Basil Giard, secured a tract of 5680 acres in what is now Clayton County. His land extended six miles east and west, and was one mile and a half in width. Giard lived on his land, and cultivated part of it, but he devoted most of his time to trading. Three years later Louis Honore Tesson, about whom you will read in the next story, secured a tract of land in what is now Lee County.
As soon as Dubuque learned that the Spanish governor had granted his petition, he redoubled his efforts. He used his white companions as overseers of the farm, the mill, the smelter, and as boatmen. Some of them worked in the store where he kept goods to be sold or traded to the Indians. All of the hard work of mining was done by Indian women and old men of the tribe. They did not have any machinery but dug runways down to the lead ore. They broke the ore off with picks, hoes, and crowbars, shovedled it into baskets, and carried it out on their backs.
Twice a year, usually in the fall and in the spring, Dubuque loaded the bars of lead and packs of fur on barges and set out down the river for Lt. Louis. His arrival was an event of importance, for all of the St. Louis merchants knew of the great trader in the Iowa country. He was so courteous and polite that the ladies of St. Louis liked him, too. A man who knew him at this time said that Dubuque was rather short, wiry, and well built, and had black hair and eyes. He had all the graces of a Frenchman.
Often, when he came to St. Louis to trade, balls were held in his honor. On one of these occasions Dubuque took a violin from a player, struck up a tune, and danced to his own music. This performance was greeted with loud applause.
Having sold and traded his goods for powder, salt, kettles, blankets, cloth, beads, and trinkets for the Indian trade, Dubuque would depart on the long trip up the river to the "Mines of Spain." It was not so easy to go upstream as it was to float down with the current to St. Louis.
When Lieutenant Pike, about whom you will read later, came up the Mississippi, 1805 he stopped for a short visit with Dubuque. This was just two years after the Iowa country, as a part of Louisiana, had been purchased by the United States. Pike learned that the mines yielded from twenty to forty thousand pounds of lead every year.
But in spite of his large trade in furs and lead B
Dubuque was not a good business man. He fell deeply in debt to Auguste Chouteau, a leading merchant of St. Louis. In October, 1804, Dubuque gave Chouteau nearly one-half of his land to cancel part of his debts. He promised that upon his death the rest of the land should go to Chouteau or his heirs.
Dubuque died on March 24, 1810, at the age of forty-eight. He was very deeply mourned by the Indians who buried him with solemn rites on the top of a high bluff near-by. They built a stone vault over his grave. At one end they erected a large cedar cross inscribe with the words, "Julien Dubuque, miner of the Mines of Spain, died March 24, 1810, aged forty-five years and six months." This was a mistake as to his age, for the baptismal record in Canada shows that he was born in 1762. A Fox chief who died not long afterwards was buried near the grave of "Le Petite Nuit" (The Little Night", as the Indians called their friend, Dubuque. Also, for many years the Fox Indians would allow no other white man to live at the mines. They hoped that Dubuque would come back and dwell with them again.
Sometime after Dubuque's death the heirs of Chouteau tried to get possession of much of the land where the city of Dubuque now stands. Other white men had settled on the land by this time, and they claimed it, too. The case was not finally settled until 1853, seven years after Iowa became a state. Then the Supreme Court of the United States decided that Dubuque did not actually own the land but merely had the right to live on it and work the mines. This pleased the settlers but the heirs of Chouteau were greatly disappointed.
In 1897 the citizens of Dubuque decided to erect a fitting monument to the man for whom the city was named. In digging for the foundation of the monument workmen found the skeleton of Julien Dubuque and that of the Indian chief near-by. When the monument, a high circular tower of stone, was finished, the bones of Dubuque were placed in a coffin of native walnut and buried in the base of the tower. There rest the remains of this restless adventurer, the first white settler in Iowa.
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