Julien Dubuque, Lead Mining and the Mines of Spain

In 1796, Julien Dubuque began searching for lead and other mineral deposits in what is now known as the Mines of Spain.


This may not look like Spanish soil, but a little more than 200 years ago it was just that.  Around 1788, a French-Canadian with a now famous name had just arrived to settle along these bluffs.  His name was Julien Dubuque.  In 1796, eight years after Julien Dubuque became the first European settler to set up shop on Iowa soil, a Spanish governor all the way down the Mississippi River in New Orleans, approved a grant to work this land and its multitude of mineral deposits.

For many Americans, the element lead symbolizes an industrial poison long ago removed from our gasoline and household painting supplies.  But lead was once the economic engine that revved Dubuque into existence in the late 18th century.  This northeastern mining town was known for its lead deposits in the decades prior to the California Gold Rush of the mid 19th century.  But other minerals would steer business and industry to Dubuque for another 80 years.  Zinc became another key element extracted from the river bluffs.

Julien Dubuque died in 1810 and his remains were buried in a log mausoleum on this site.  Nearly 90 years later, a new landmark was created, the Julien Dubuque Monument, in 1897.  It still towers above the Mines of Spain and it still contains the remains of Iowa's first European settler.

In 2012, local historical groups commissioned a forensic artist to reconstruct a visual image of Julien Dubuque.  Using facial restoration technology and multiple photos of Dubuque's skull, a digital representation was created.

This towering turret known as the Julien Dubuque monument is a reminder of his legacy and a visual guide to the region.  From this vantage point you'll see barges drifting down the Mississippi River, the states of Illinois and Wisconsin in the distance and the city of Dubuque upstream.  

Excerpt from Iowa Outdoors, Episode 305, Produced by Iowa PBS, 2013.