Logo by Ginger Cisewski
1740-1830s Lead, Land, and Lumber!
Lead, Land and Lumber formed the economic base of Dubuque's early years. In 1690 Nicholas Perrot was shown a chunk of ore by the Indians. He mined in the area briefly, but only the Indians worked the mines thereafter until 1788 when Julien Dubuque came. On September 22, 1788, the French-Canadian settler Julien Dubuque contracted with the Meskwaki (Fox) Indians for the right to mine the lead-rich lands that would someday bear Dubuque's name. A contract was drawn up between them allowing "Mr. Julien Dubuque, called by them the Little Cloud, to work at the mine as long as he shall please, and to withdraw from it, without specifying any term to him, moreover, that they sell and abandon to him by the wife (le femme) of Peosta, so that no white man or Indian shall make any pretension to it without the consent of Mr. Julien Dubuque, and he case he shall nothing within, he shall be free to search wherever he may think proper to do so, and to work peaceably without any one hurting him, or doing him any prejudice in his labors. Thus we, chief and braves, by the voice of all our villages, have agreed with Julien Dubuque, selling and delivering to him this day, as above mentioned, in presence of the Frenchmen who attend us, who are witnesses to this writing.
At Prairie due Chien, in full council, the 22d of September, 1788. Blondeau, Ala Austin, his X mark, Autaque, Bazil Teren, his X mark, Marque Blondeay de X Quirneau, tobaque Joseph Fontigny, Witnesses.
It has been estimated that Dubuque produced 10,000 pounds of lead monthly, which he shipped via canoe downriver to St. Louis. Years after Julien Dubuque's death, the Langworthy brothers and others supplanted the Indians who were working the Dubuque lead mines. A committee of five individuals drew up a private agreement for self-government. The document signed on June 17, 1830 has been known as the "Miners' Compact" or the "Miners' Code".
Dubuque Mines, June 17, 1830, We, a committee, having been chosen to draft certain rules and regulations, by which we as miners, will be governed; and, having duly considered the subject, do unanimously agree that we will be governed by the regulations on the east side of the Mississippi River, with the following exceptions, to wit: Article I - that each and every man shall hold two hundred yards square of ground by working said ground one day in six.
Article II - We further agree, that there shall be chosen by the majority of the miners present, a person who shall hold this article, and who shall grant letters of arbitration, on application being made, and that said letter (of) arbitration shall be obligatory on the parties concerned so applying.
To the above, we the undersigned subscribe: J.L. Langworthy, H.F. Lander, James McPheeters, Samuel H. Scoles, E. M. Urn."
When the US Government permitted settlement in 1833, the settlers swarmed in to get rich quick! Most of the mines flourished, producing up to 10,000 pounds daily with some 20 smelting furnaces operating. Dubuque soon became the richest lead producing area in the country. A census taken in 1836 showed that over 10,000 people had settled in the Iowa lands. In that the year, the District of Iowa was made a part of the Territory of Wisconsin. President Andrew Jackson appointed Colonel Henry Dodge of Mineral Point, Wisconsin, as the first governor of the Territory of Wisconsin.
In 1838 the population of the area west of the Mississippi stood at over 22,000, nearly doubled. Congress gave its approval and on June 12, 1838, President Martin Van Buren signed the Organic Act creating the Territory of Iowa effective the third of July, a 'free' state.
The original town of Dubuque, consisting of one square mile, lay between the bluffs and the river. These bluffs were dotted with miners' shanties near their 'diggins'. In many instances, when buying property today, it is necessary to sign away the mining rights.
One of the early settlers was Eliphalet Price, who lived in Dubuque during the years 1832-1835. During his forty years in Iowa, Price was a farmer, lawyer, judge, politician and writer. His first-hand account of some of the early legal proceedings is recorded in "To Go Free, A Treasury of Iowa's Legal Heritage". Several of the first murderers, Patrick O'Conner, who killed George O'Keaf, and a Mr. Smith, who killed William Massey over a mining claim, were let go because the laws of Wisconsin and Missouri had no claim over the people who lived in the territory of Iowa.
The frontier village of Dubuque was typical of all settlements, composed of renegades and adventurers as well as people of quality who had come to establish mining claims and to prosper. Itinerant clergy followed; Catholic and Protestant services were held in private cabins or boarding houses. In 1834 the Methodists built the first church in Iowa on the south side of the present Washington Park - a log cabin that cost about $225. From this congregation the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists developed and soon built their own meeting houses.
Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, an Italian missionary, came to Dubuque in 1835 from the wilds of Wisconsin where he had been working with the Indians and building churches. He designed and supervised construction of a stone church in Italian Renaissance style in what was to become the heart of the Irish community. Later the Germans built their own small stone church at Eighth and White Streets. As the city grew, these original structures were replaced with the St. Raphael's and St. Mary's Churches that are still in use today in this predominantly Catholic community.
In later years, cheap government land lured many farmers to the fertile lands west of the bluffs and even today Dubuque remains a center of prosperous agricultural enterprises including dairy farming. Lead mining began to decline in the late 1840's. Miners tunneled so deep that the mines on the bluffs filled with water and there was no way to drain them. One lateral mine, several blocks long, was negotiated by boat. Many miners did prosper and turned to lumbering and related industries, meatpacking and other business endeavors.
The lumber industry developed rapidly with huge rafts of timber from northern forests arriving as early as 1834, necessitating local saw mills. By the 1900's finished lumber covered an area of 9 square blocks on the river front. The mills supplied lumber for the booming furniture, ship building and woodworking enterprises. The Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works moved to the north shore of the Ice Harbor in 1906. Since 1870 it had built many iron hulled steam boats. The Ericsson torpedo boat saw service in the Spanish American War. Submarine chasers, cutters and mine layers were built in Dubuque and used in two World Wars. The most famous boat built was the "Sprague", or "Big Mama", the world's largest steam towboat, which served 46 years on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers before resting at Vicksburg on the Yazoo River as a museum until it burned beyond repair in 1974. Two fires destroyed the massive lumber yards in Dubuque in 1911, but despite these calamities lumbering and associated enterprises grew. The Farley & Loetscher Sash & Door Company, established in 1875, was the largest such plant in the world employing over 2,000 craftsman at the turn of the century. The firm is no longer extant, but some of the original buildings remain.
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