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Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp





The man who built Iowa's first white settlement was another French Canadian.  His name was Julien Dubuque.  Like Joliet, he also was rather well educated for his time.  He was born in Pierre les Brecquets, a village on the south bank of the St. Lawrence River, fifty miles above Quebec.  As a boy he went through the parish school there.  Then, as a young man he went west, settling first at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

Dubuque learned that the wife of a fox Indian, by the name of Peosta, had found lead on the land where the city of Dubuque is now located.  This interested him.  On September 22, 1788, he held a council with some Fox Chiefs at Prairie du Chien.  At the council he made a treaty with the Indians by which he leased all the land upon which he had been found by Peosta's wife.

Dubuque, after making the treaty, immediately started his settlement, taking with him ten men from Prairie du Chien.  We know nothing about these men, not even their names, except that they were all French Canadians.  Dubuque first took his men to the village of the chief.  Then he built his settlement near the Indian village, at the mouth of Catfish Creek.  It was located about two miles below the present city of Dubuque.  This first settlement in Iowa started one hundred fifteen years after the discovery of our state.  

Dubuque had his men clear the land of its trees.  With the timber they built fences and buildings, including a house and a horse mill.  A smelting furnace was also built.

The mines were simple and not much like the mines of today.  Shafts were not sunk deep into the ground.  The men started digging into the side of the hill.  A drift or hole was dug as far as it was safe to go and the ore was carried out in baskets.  Dubuque hired Indian women and some of the older Indian men to do most of the work.  The Indian braves would not do that kind of work.


The Indians called Dubuque "Little Cloud."  He was a small, well built man with black eyes and black hair.  It is said that no other white person ever learned so much about Indians as did Dubuque.  The Indians believed that he had magical powers that were greater than those which they thought their medicine men had.  He handled poisonous snakes without fear or harm.

Once when Indians refused to obey Dubuque he had one of his men go a short distance up Catfish Creek and pour oil on the water.  He did not let the Indians know about this.  When the oil came floating down the creek, Dubuque stepped to the bank and set fire to it.  Then he told the Indians that they would burn up all of their rivers and creeks.  The Indians were frightened and quickly obeyed Dubuque.

The little French Canadian lived among the Indians for twenty two years.  He never had any serious trouble with them and his life was peaceful and quiet.


Besides the treaty with the Indians, Dubuque also received, in November, 1796. a Spanish grant for his land.  Spain then owned the Iowa land.  To flatter the Spaniards, Dubuque called his mines "The Mines of Spain."

Dubuque became a trader as well as a miner.  He made several trips to St. Louis.  He would take down a load of furs and lead and bring back a load of goods that he needed.  The people of St. Louis liked him because he had polite French manners.  They held big balls for him several times.  He gave explorers who came to his settlement a hearty welcome.

Dubuque, although well liked, was a poor business man.


Dubuque never married.  When  he died on March 24, 1810, the Indian chiefs asked if they might carry  his body to the  grave.  They thought  it was an honor to speak at his funeral.  The Indians built a stone vault over his grave, and for many years the Sac and Fox chiefs paid a yearly visit to it.  In recent years the people of the city of Dubuque have built a tower at the grave a tower at the grave as a memorial to the man for whom their city is named.


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