"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN
Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.
DUBUQUE, Julien. (St. Pierre les Becquets, Canada, Jan. 10, 1762--western shore of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER, Mar. 24, 1810). Julien’s great-grandfather, Jean, came from the Parish of Trinity, Diocese of Rouen, France. He married Marie Hotet in Quebec in 1668. His son, Romain, was born in 1671. Romain married Anne Pinel in 1693. His son, Noel Augustin, father of Julien, was born in 1707, and married Marie Mailhot in 1744. He died in 1783, about the time his son left home for the West. (1)
Julien Dubuque was the youngest of possibly ten children born to Noel-Augustin and Marie (Mailhot) Dubuque. (2) He was well educated in the parish schools and was fluent in English and French. He was also apparently able to play the fiddle and had an interest in culture and the arts.
With his older brother Charles Augustin, Julien headed into the wilderness in the early 1780s. Following a short stay in 1783 or 1784 at Mackinac where his brother was a partner in a general store. They traveled onto Prairie du Chien in 1785 where Julien may have clerked for his brother's business. Charles left in 1787 to acquire citizenship papers from Jean Baptiste Dubuque, a cousin and Commandant at the village of Cahokia. Here he was killed in an explosion. (3)
Traveling down the Mississippi in 1788, Dubuque settled among the MESKWAKIES close to the village of Kettle Chief just south of where the JULIEN DUBUQUE MONUMENT now stands. The people Dubuque met lived in what was called the Catfish Creek Village. Usually summer villages broke up with the coming of winter with family groups moving to live along the banks of such rivers at the Cedar, Iowa, and Maquoketa. The Catfish Creek village was different because there were always people living there. Mining was not seasonal work. (4)
On September 22, 1788 in Prairie du Chien, Dubuque made an agreement with the Meskwakies under the leadership of Aquoqua to work the lead mines on their land. (5) After obtaining permission to mine, Dubuque brought ten French-Canadians from Prairie du Chien to assist him as boatmen, overseers, smelters and wood choppers. (6) He often used members of the tribe to prospect for new MINING sites and frequently sent Canadians to do the actual labor.
He was not above using trickery to obtain his goals.
The most popular tradition which has come down to us is that on one occasion when the Indians refused to accede to some demand, he threatened to set Catfish Creek on fire, and leave their village high and dry. They still denied him; so one night his associates emptied a barrel of oil—or turpentine—on the water, above the bend, and when it had floated down to the village, Dubuque set fire to it. In a few moments the entire creek was apparently in a blaze. The terrified Indians made haste to concede all Dubuque had asked—and supposedly by the exercise of his will, the fire went out. (7)
Feeling less than secure in the legality of his claim, Dubuque petitioned the Spanish governor general, Baron de Cardondolent, in 1796 for a clear title. (8) His claim then stretched approximately twenty-one miles along the river and nine miles inland. (9) The governor granted Dubuque claims to the MINES OF SPAIN with the understanding that no trade could be carried out with the Native Americans of the region without the permission of Andrew Todd, an Irish trader with influence among the Spanish officials. (10) Dubuque was not to be bothered for long by this restriction. Todd died of yellow fever soon after the agreement was signed.
Dubuque's claim may have been helped by the role he played in the rescue of Basil Giard, another of Iowa's earliest settlers. In 1795 although all the lands west of the MISSISSIPPI RIVER belonged to Spain, French trappers continued to enter the area. To counter this invasion, Spanish officials in New Orleans considered it a wise plan to have a Spanish trading post opposite Prairie du Chien. In May 1795 Giard, a trader in Prairie du Chien, paddled his canoe to New Orleans to confer with the Spanish governor. In exchange for establishing the this post, Giard was given 5,700 acres around what became McGregor, Iowa. For this Giard had to annually bring his furs to New Orleans. Hostile Native Americans soon recognized the value of the canoes headed south and attacked them. On one occasion in 1795, Giard was rescued by Julien Dubuque. (11)
At the Mines of Spain, Dubuque had cabins constructed for his French Canadian helpers, a smelting furnace, trading post, sawmill, and blacksmith shop. (12) The trading post offers an insight into Dubuque, the trader. In the inventory of his estate, Dubuque had 115 pairs of ear bobs, 212 brooches, 300 large brooches, 820 small brooches, and tobacco. In 1806 the firm of Rocheblave & Porlier of Montreal shipped to Dubuque items including 42 blankets, 8 bolts of calico, 4 bolts of blue cloth, 12 dozen knives (for scrapping hides and dressing game), and twenty guns. For his personal use, Dubuque ordered 4 bolts of Irish linen, 3 black silk kerchiefs, 7 barrels of wine, a barrel of tar, tin plates, a boat cable, and five barge oars. (13)
Klein estimated that there were approximately thirty people, including ten employees with their wives and children living around and depending upon Julien Dubuque. The importance of farming included providing food for the thirty people with surplus for trade. The Inventory of the Estate listed seven barrels of wheat, 800 pounds of flour, and a small amount of corn reflecting the stores of the previous year. There were also two bulls, seven cows, two calves, four young heifers and bulls, twenty-seven pigs, twenty-one young pigs, four teams of oxen, twelve chickens, and one rooster. Among the farm buildings were a granary, mill, and barn. (14)
Dubuque enjoyed considerable fame throughout the Mississippi Valley. James G. Soulard, the son of a prominent citizen of St. Louis, has left perhaps the best description obtainable of Dubuque. Mr. Soulard describes Dubuque, as he appeared in middle life,
as “a man below the usual stature, of black hair and eyes, wiry and well-built, capable of great endurance, and remarkably courteous and polite, with all the suavity and grace of the typical Frenchman. To the ladies he was always the essence of politeness.”
Mr. Soulard remembered that on the occasion of one of Dubuque’s visits, a ball was given in his honor, attended by all the prominent people of the place. "At one point of the festivities, M. Dubuque took a violin from one of the performers and executed a dance to the strains of his own music, which was considered a great accomplishment and was received with tremendous applause." (15)
Dubuque enjoyed the acquaintance of many of the era's most influential people. Meriwether LEWIS, in writing to William Clark prior to leaving on their exploration to the Pacific Ocean, asked Clark to pay his respects to Dubuque. As governor of the Louisiana Territory, Lewis included the name of Dubuque among those the American government could trust in the region. The federal government showed this trust in 1808 when Dubuque was appointed Indian agent at Prairie du Chien. Ill-health, however, forced him to give up this position after two months. While in St. Louis, Dubuque entered into business dealings with Auguste CHOUTEAU.
Dubuque was a shrewd businessman. From business records it is known that Dubuque annually sold hundreds of thousands of pounds of lead at five cents per pound.
In addition to the estimated $20,000 annual income from lead mining, Dubuque also had income from agriculture and the FUR TRADE. In 1805 Dubuque was visited by the then-ill Zebulon Montgomery PIKE. Told that there were no horses available to ride to the mines, Pike was forced to ask ten questions about Dubuque's production of lead. He received only the most elusive answers. (16)
Dubuque was deeply in financial debt to Auguste CHOUTEAU. On October 20, 1804 Dubuque sold Chouteau nearly one-half of his land to settle his indebtedness. It has been estimated that Dubuque's entire land claim amounted to more than 73,000 acres. The settlement agreement provided that after Dubuque's death, the remainder of his interest in the lands would pass to Chouteau or his heirs. (17) Chouteau sent his nephew, Pierre Chouteau for whom the capital of South Dakota was later named, north to oversee the finances while Dubuque continued his mining, trading and farming. (18) Chouteau was also able to persuade his friend Governor William Henry Harrison to add a clause to a treaty negotiated with the SAUK AND FOX and Meskawakies. The treaty recognized that the west bank of the Mississippi belonged to these tribes. The clause stated, however, that the treaty did not affect Spanish land grants in the area.
The question of the ownership of Dubuque's land was not settled until seven years after his death in CHOUTEAU v. MOLONY, a landmark case argued before the United States Supreme Court by Platt SMITH. This, however, has not stopped distant relatives from filing claims over the years. (19)
In 1897 the Dubuque Herald reported on one such inquiry.
Inquiries from alleged relatives of Julien Dubuque regarding his estate here are so frequent little attention is given them. A few days ago, however, one came that has attracted attention, not because of any new phrase it contained or any semblance of validity of the writer's claim, but because of the copy of an instrument sent with it. This instrument is the deed from Julien Dubuque to Auguste Chouteau, dated Oct. 20, 1804. This is the ﬁrst time people in Dubuque have seen this deed and the Herald believes at this time it will be read with interest.
Those who read the translation by John I. Mullany in the Herald two weeks ago will remember reference was then made to the deed. It conveyed to Chouteau a half interest in Dubuque's possessions and the remainder at his death.
Several weeks ago a ﬁrm of attorneys received a letter from a prominent law firm in New York asking for information regarding Dubuque's estate, their client being an alleged lineal descendant of Auguste Chouteau. The local firm answered that Dubuque left no estate and there was no grounds on which to base a claim.
The New York attorneys very evidently thought different and a few days ago a large package was received from them. It contained a translation from the identical magazine. "Canadians of the West," from which Mr. Mullany made his translation of the life of Julien Dubuque and a copy of the deed. The New York attorneys very evidently thought they had established a clear case.
The deed itself shuts off all claimants as relatives of Julien Dubuque because by it Dubuque deeded away all his rights and interests, at his death, to Chouteau. The supreme court in the United states decided against the Chouteaus so that it is apparent there can be no valid claim by relatives or assignees of either. The local attorneys returned the documents and referred the New York lawyers to the decision. In the Chouteau case. Mr. John I. Mullany learned of the correspondence and obtained a copy of the deed which is as follows:
Concession of the Location of the City of Dubuque.
Be it known, that we, Julien Dubuque, mineralogist, residing at the mines of Spain, actually in the city of St. Louis, Ill., of one part; Augustus Chouteau, merchant, located in the city aforesaid, city of St. Louis of the other part, have agreed of our own movement and will, in the presence of witnesses named here below, upon what follows, to-wit:
That I, Julien Dubuque, by these presents, recognize and confess to have today sold, ceded and relinquished now and forever, and promise to guarantee against all trouble, debts, dowery, mortgages, evictions, substitutions and other impediments whatever, to Augustus Chouteau, the aforesaid merchant, who, for the present time accepts and acquires for him, his heirs and assigns, to-wit; a land containing 72,324 French acres in width to be taken from the south of a concession obtained by me, aforesaid Dubuque, from the Baron of Carondlet, as it is specified by the decree of the latter dated in New Orleans on the 10th of November, 1796, placed at the base of the request presented to me by the aforesaid Baron of Carondlet, of the which the aforesaid request and degrees have been registered in the office of Mr. Antoin (Anthony) Soulard,surveyor of the Territory of Louisiana; the aforesaid concession containing about seven leagues (twenty-one miles) abreast of the Mississippi, by three leagues (nine miles) deep, commencing from the hill on the top of the little river Maquanquitys*in the place where it joins the Mississippi river to the hill Meyquaninonque,+ in the place where it also falls into to the aforesaid Mississippi; the 72,824 acres of land sold by me, aforesaid Dubuque, to the aforesaid Augustus Chouteau, will be limited and taken, commencing from the south part of my aforesaid concession on the hill Meyquaninonque, three leagues deep and going up the river on the north side to the completion of the aforesaid 72,324 French acres of land above mentioned and sold; I reserve to myself; by this same indenture the exact quantity of the 42 French acres deep, in the same place of my aforesaid establish- ment; as the same quantity of 42 French acres abreast by 84 French acres of depth would be lacking to complete the 72,324 French acres sold me as above mentioned, to the aforesaid Augustus Chouteau, I, the aforesaid Dubuque, oblige myself by these presents to cause to be delivered the aforesaid 42 French acres by 84 French acres of depth in another part of my aforesaid concession, which aforesaid 42 French acres will face the Mississippi and the 84 French acres will be in depth.
We, the aforesaid Dubuque and Chouteau, agree of our own will and accord to have each one in particular, full and entire enjoyment of the aforesaid 72,324 French acres of land aforesaid mentioned, as well as for the mines as for the cultivation of the aforesaid lands, sold as stated above, by me, Dubuque, and acquired by me, the aforesaid Chouteau, except that I, the aforesaid Dubuque, will have the enjoyment of it during my life, obliging me neither to sell, transport, alienate the aforesaid privileges to anyone, whatsoever, under the pain of annullity to the aforesaid lands sold by me, as above mentioned and in behalf of the aforesaid right of exploitation of the mines and cultivation of the land, to me granted by the aforesaid Chouteau for and during my life. The works, furnaces, buildings, improvements, etc., done by me on the aforesaid land will remain to the aforesaid Chouteau after the aforesaid terms mentioned above of my life, so that the aforesaid Chouteau, his heirs, and assigns, may take full and peaceful possession of it and enjoy it as things belonging to him after my death.
This present sale done by me, Dubuque, for the price and sum of $10,848 and 60 sols, which by the present writing, I recognize to have received cash from the hands of the aforesaid Augustus Chouteau, and of which by these presents, I gave him full and entire receipt and discharge shown on account of the said payment that the aforesaid Chouteau enters in full and peaceful possession of the aforesaid land from today and enjoys the right of it, he, his heirs and assigns, as things belonging to him. Diverting myself of the aforesaid quantity of 72,324 French acres of land mentioned aforesaid, on account of the aforesaid payment of the sum of $10,848 and 60 sols, received by me from the hands of the aforesaid Chouteau and my heirs, executors, or administrators shall not in any way recall all that is above mentioned and stipulated; for thus has it been understood and agreed, therein obliging, renouncing, etc.
Written and passed in the city of St. Louis of Ill., on the 20th day of October, the year 1804, on the 29th of American Independence.
In witness whereof we, the aforesaid Dubuque and Chouteau, have signed the present papers in the presence of Messrs. M. P. Leduc, clerk; B. Pratte and M. G. Moro and have impressed our seal the day and year as above. The words "reciprocally, and of the 23d and 24th lines being erased and annulled." M. P. LEDUC, AUGUSTUS CHOUTEAU, M. G. MORO, JULIEN DUBUQUE, B. PRATTE (20)
Despite his business successes, Dubuque was almost constantly in debt from 1803 until his death. A generous man, Dubuque supported many people who worked at his mines. He also lived in an unusually fashionable manner for life on the frontier of those years. Dubuque enjoyed the services of Patrice Roy and Josette Anyata as servants. At the time of his death, an inventory of his possessions included expensive household items and fifty-eight books including eight volumes of political science and the works of Montesquieu.
The question of Dubuque's marital status continues to be unresolved. In personal letters, Dubuque referred to a "Madam Dubuque." He is believed to have married POTOSA, the daughter of Chief PEOSTA. The fact that no mention of a wife was made during the settling of his estate has been used to suggest a wife, if one existed, was a Native American who may have simply gone back to her tribe. In his Dubuque biography, Klein mentions that "marriages" between French men and Indian women were often arranged selon la coutume de la pays meaning "according to the custom of the country." Primarily beneficial to the man, the relationship established a closer relationship with the tribe through teaching him the language and customs. Klein further mentions that Mathias M. HOFFMANN, Rt. Rev. suggested, without providing evidence, that Dubuque married Pelagie, a daughter of Indian Agent John Campbell and his Indian wife. The suggestion that he married Josette Antaya, the youngest daughter of Pierre Antanya, the founder of Prairie du Chien is equally unsupported although it is interesting that in the Dubuque Estate Inventory she was listed as "dame" an indication that she was a married woman. (21) Thomas S. WILSON did not support with evidence his contention that Dubuque was a serial husband to Indian women, but "he never kept more than one at a time." (22)
More questionable than his marital status was whether he had any children. The very thin possibility was raised about his possible relationship to a Native American called ROLLING CLOUD. Robert Klein in his biography of Julien Dubuque states that Dubuque had "apparently taken responsibility for a young girl as a ward. Marquerite Dubois, born in 1793, was the daughter of Verdin dit Dubois and Citerne, a Dakota Sioux woman. Her father was killed by natives and a brother died in the WAR OF 1812. The year the daughter came to live with Dubuque is unknown, but she married Jean Joseph Rolette in Prairie du Chien in 1807 at the age of 14. (23)
In the last years of his life, Dubuque often suffered from severe illness. Twice his death was reported by Native Americans. It is believed he died of pneumonia. On the day of his funeral, legends state that a sorrowful procession carried his body to his grave. Celebrated chiefs were said to have argued for the honor of carrying his remains. All of this, of course, was verbally reported including the story that a lamp was kept burning on his grave for many years. It is known that fifteen years after his death, a cedar cross was placed on the site by some French-Canadians.
Upon his death, Dubuque was buried by his Native American friends on a bluff high above CATFISH CREEK overlooking the Mississippi River. His grave was covered with a wooden and stone shelter complete with a gable roof and open window through which Native Americans believed the soul of the departed could leave. It was reported in an article published in 1945 that James LANGWORTHY discovered the body when he returned to this area in 1833. According to the report, Langworthy found the body in a cabin near the river with a "pipe thrust between his teeth and his body adorned and surrounded by the various implements after the usual manner of Indian burials. (24) At the apex of the cabin was a wooden cross made by white friends. The stone building was still intact in 1845.
In 1967 a document in Julien Dubuque's handwriting was added to the rare volume and documents collection in the Wahlert Library at LORAS COLLEGE. The note read:
I, Julien Dubuque, recognizing owing to Messers. Faither (H or et) Bre' Brisebois and Coponier the sum of 6288.15 pounds (Sols) in money or pelts payable to Makinas guaranteeing that next August the pelts will be there totaling before their departure from this post. Done in good faith at Prairie du Chien the 30th of October, 1809. Julien Dubuque
A recurrent question has been whether Dubuque left a will. In 1891 a relative in France wrote the following letter to Iowa Governor Boies:
Paris, June 25, 1891
Monsieur Le Gouverneur: I have the honor to beg you to have the goodness to let me know if my grand-uncle Monsieur Jean Pierre Dubuque, who has founded the city of Dubuque, where he managed [the] County Bank, has left a will or any other document in favor of his family. I should wish to know what attorney or what magistrate fixed his last affairs and what would be about the fortune he left.
M. Dubuque was born in Amance, Upper Saone, France, and it would seem that one of his nephews, Gabriel Dubuque [a] French priest, went to join him and assisted him in his last moments.
Not knowing anything further I cannot give you any more details. This is the reason why I would be very grateful if you would honor me with an answer that could give me all the information that I take the liberty of asking from you. In expecting it I beg of you, Monsieur Gouverneur, to receive my most respectful salutations. Germain Denis True Francois Henry, an pre St. Gervais, Sein To M, le Gouverneur de l'Etat d'Iowa (Etats Unis)
Although there was an inventory of Dubuque's property in his home, there was no mention of a will.
For many years it was believed that Julien Dubuque was the first white settler in the future state of Iowa. In 1929 documentary proof that this was probably not the case was announced by Edgar R. Harlan, curator of the State Historical Society of Iowa. According to records, Basil Giard, the man Dubuque later rescued, arrived several years before Dubuque. (25)
The physical appearance of Julien Dubuque has continued to intrigue historians. In 2012, members of the DUBUQUE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY and curators at the National Mississippi River Museum asked forensic artist Karen T. Taylor to create a facial reconstruction based on the skull of Julien Dubuque. In the late 1800s, excellent photographs were made of Dubuque's skull prior to reburial. Although Dubuque's actual skull now lies buried under many feet of concrete, Taylor was able to use the multiple 1887 photographs, along with historic and anthropological inputs to create a reasonable depiction of his appearance in life. The facial reconstruction images are on display the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.
The spelling of Dubuque was settled in 1950 with the visit of Guy Francois Dubuc, a great, great, grand nephew of Julien. Rt. Rev. Mathias M. Hoffmann, a respected historian, stated that Dubuque was a common spelling in Canada. The name could have been spelled Dubuque, DuBuque, or Dubuc. Guy Dubuc brought with him a copy of the church register from St. Pierre les Becquets, Julien Dubuque's birthplace. The community is located on the St. Lawrence River about one hundred miles northeast of Montreal. The document, signed by J. Hingan, read:
On January 10, 1762, was baptized by our priest of St. Pierre, Julien Dubuc, born today of the legal marriage of Augustin and Marie Mailhot. Witnesses were Amant Guilhaut and and Marie Angelique Tessier who have signed that they do not know how to sign their names. (26)
See: LA PETITE NUIT
1. Brigham, Johnson, "Julien Dubuque", Iowa--Its History and Its Foremost Citizens Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1918, Online: http://iagenweb.org/history/IHFC/IHFCBk1Pt1Chp1-2Bio.htm
2. Hudson, David; Bergman, Marvin; Horton, Loren. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2008, p. 139
3. Klein, Robert F., Julien Dubuque--Portrait of a Pioneer, Dubuque, IA, Loras College Press, 2021, p. 15
4. Hogstrom, Erik, "The Indigenous Years," Telegraph Herald, August 29, 2021, p. 1A
5. Hudson, p. 139
6. Houlette, William. Iowa: The Pioneer Heritage. Des Moines: Wallace-Homestead Book Company, 1970, p. 206
8. "The City of Dubuque," Southern Sentinel, October 10, 1849, p. 1. Online: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88064476/1849-10-10/ed-1/seq-1/#date1=1849&index=0&rows=20&words=Dubuque&searchType=basic&sequence=0&state=&date2=1849&proxtext=dubuque&y=10&x=8&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1
9. Hudson, p. 139
11. Hudson, p. 139
12. Klein, p. 51
13. "Julien Dubuque Rescued Trapper," Telegraph Herald, Feb. 2, 1927, p. 5. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=pXFFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=mbwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5167,34772&dq=julien+dubuque&hl=en
14. Klein, p. 13
15. Moeller, Hubert L. "Dubuque, Iowa's First Landowner," The Des Moines Register, Sept. 18, 1933
16. "Major Zebulon Pike Tries to Interview Julien Dubuque, 1805," http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=906
13. Houlette, William. Iowa: The Pioneer Heritage, Des Moines: Wallace-Homestead Book Company, 1970, p. 207
17. Evans, Mary Ellen. "Under Five Flags: Julien Dubuque, Miner of the Mines of Spain," Telegraph Herald, May 27, 1938, p. 14. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=WfhBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SqoMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4819,3120828&dq=mining+dubuque&hl=en
19. "New 'Heirs' to Julien Dubuque Fortune Appear," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, Feb. 19, 1935, p. 12. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=MdZBAAAAIBAJ&sjid=9KkMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6237,2114839&dq=julien+dubuque&hl=en
20. "Deed of Dubuque," The Dubuque Daily Herald, October 17, 1897, p. 5 (Courtesy of the Telegraph Herald, William Hammel, Paul Hemmer, and Darryl Mozena)
21. Klein, p. 75-76
22. Ibid., p. 77
23. Ibid. p. 154
24. Bourbeau, Bud. "Body Interred in Bluff in Tribal Dignity, Honor," Telegraph Herald, August 16, 1958, p. 28
25. "Claim Julien Dubuque Wasn't First White Settler in Iowa," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, Mar. 24, 1929, p. 29. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=44lFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=sbwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5535,6884750&dq=julien+dubuque&hl=en
26. "Dubuc Visits Dubuque of His Kinsman Julien," Telegraph Herald, March 23, 1950, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19500323&printsec=frontpage&hl=en