The First White Settler

In the year 1788 a young Frenchman, by the name of Julien Dubuque, came down from Canada in search of adventure. He stopped at Prairie du Chien, * in Wisconsin, just above the mouth of the Wisconsin river, and started a trading post across the Mississippi, where the beautiful little city of McGregor now stands. The Foxes who carne to trade with him had lead ore which they had dug from the ground in a region about sixty miles to the southward. Young Dubuque was interested in this. He saw a chance to win great riches, and made a bargain with three of the leading chiefs of the Sacs and Foxes for the right to work these lead mines.

With ten companions who were to aid him in the mines, he then moved down the river and settled in the camp of the Fox warrior, Chief Kettle, at the mouth of Catfish Creek, about two miles below where the present city of Dubuque now stands. Here he built a cabin, planted a garden, set up a lead smelter, and otherwise made himself comfortable.

He soon became a great friend of the Indians. They called him “Little Cloud,” and looked upon him as a magician and a big medicine man. He kept them in awe of him by performing several seeming miracles. On one occasion he greatly frightened the Foxes by setting the creek on fire. This was done by having his men secretly pour oil on the water above the village. It spread out in a thin coating on the surface, and blazed up with a great heat and splutter when he touched, a match to it.

“Dubuque kept a rude general store, where he exchanged cloth and beads and whatever else he thought best, for furs and lead. Only the old men and the women did the mining; the braves considered it undignified to work. Mining was carried on in a very simple fashion. The Indians dug into the hills as far as they could, and bore away the ore in baskets.”

Twice each year Dubuque loaded his goods into boats and went down the river to the St. Louis market. He was always accompanied by a band of proud chiefs and braves in the gayest paints and feathers. And you may be sure the flotilla attracted a great deal of attention I Dubuque himself was a small, wiry man, exceedingly gallant and polite when in the company of ladies. Society at St. Louis always welcomed him eagerly and gave balls in his honor. Great crowds assembled to greet the boats, when the rifles of the Indians announced their approach.

Dubuque died in 1810, a poor man, in spite of his rich lead raines and his wonderful opportunities for fur trading. The Indians buried him with every possible honor. Chiefs and warriors from all the country around gathered and escorted his remains to the grave, which had been made on a high bluff, two hundred feet above “the Great Father of Waters. ” Here the mightiest orators among the Red brethren spoke in his praise, and the women chanted mournful funeral songs. Later they sheltered the grave with a rude stone-walled, wooden-roofed tomb, marked with a cedar cross, which it is said that Dubuque himself made.

For many years the Sacs and Foxes firmly believed that Dubuque would return to them, and as long as it was possible to do so they visited his grave once a year. They would never allow any one else to work his mines.


White, Judy Wallis. The Story of Iowa.

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