Dubuque Seeks Opportunity

A French-Canadian named Julien Dubuque reached an agreement with the Meskwaki Indians to mine lead in the 1780s in the area that became the city of Dubuque.


Soon after a man by the name of Julien Dubuque came to the Iowa land; a stocky man, with jet black hair, dark eyes and an olive complexion. The Indians called him “Little Night.” Somehow he managed to obtain an agreement with the Mesquakie Indians who controlled the lead rich land near the town which today bares his name. The agreement allowed him, and no other Indian or white, to mine the lead of the region as long as he pleased. Dubuque was a shrewd business man; he knew that his claim would have to be recognized by the Spanish government by the land to be legally his. Dubuque petitioned the Spanish government to grant him what he called his “Mines of Spain,” and received his grant. But it did little good. A few years later, the French reclaimed the lands west of the Mississippi. Then in 1803 the Louisiana Purchase transferred this huge tract of land to the United States. When Dubuque died in 1810, his titles died with him. The Indians burned his building and refused to let any other whites mine in the area. “Little Night” was forgotten, but later a prosperous river town would bare the name of one of Iowa’s first white settlers, Julien Dubuque.

“The Tall Grass Whispers,” The Iowa Heritage: Program # 2, Iowa PBS, 1978.