Iowa History Daily: On September 22, 1788, Julien Dubuque signed an agreement with the Meskwaki to mine led on lands along the Mississippi River. Considered the first person of European-descent to settle within the future bounds of Iowa upon his arrival in 1788, the French-Canadian miner resonates in the state’s memory through the eastern Iowa city and county named in his honor.
After arriving in the Midwest at Prairie du Chien in 1785, Dubuque forged relationships with the area’s Indigenous peoples. Through ties with Meskwaki leaders including Aquoqua, Dubuque officially registered an agreement on September 22, 1788, to mine lead in the vicinity of the Meskwaki village at Catfish Creek. Utilizing the Meskwaki’s knowledge of the area to prospect new mines while relying predominantly on imported Canadian laborers, Dubuque’s lead mining operation thrived. Unsure of the legality of his claims, Dubuque petitioned the Spanish Governor General Baron de Cardondolent in 1796 for a clear title to the lands. The governor granted Dubuqua a claim extending twenty-miles down the Mississippi River and nine miles inland.
Dubuque often used deceit and trickery with the Meskwaki and other Indigenous peoples to meet his goals, and a local legend suggests he once lit Catfish Creek on fire when the Meskwaki failed to meet one of his demands. According to the story, Dubuque’s men headed up the creek and emptied a barrel of oil or turpentine into the water. When the flammable substance reached the village site, Dubuque lit the creek on fire. As the blaze engulfed the waters, the local inhabitants watched in terror before agreeing to Dubuque’s demands.
Officially chartered in the unorganized territory of the United States in 1833, the settlement of Dubuque predates the formation of the Iowa Territory in 1838. Although the lead deposits ran out during the early American era, the city developed as an industrial center for timber, boat building, brewing, and the railway industry. Today, Dubuque’s remains lie buried at a memorial on a cliff facing the Mississippi River commemorated by the Julien Dubuque Monument in the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area. #IowaHistoryOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar