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Julien Dubuque

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

I'm sure that Dubuque, Iowa, would pay far more homage to its namesake, Julien Dubuque, if it could only figure out which Julien Dubuque to honor.

There was a real Julien Dubuque who left his record on land deeds and other historical documents. This Dubuque was the youngest of fifteen children born to a prosperous family in Quebec, Canada. He came west in the early 1780s and ended up with his brother at the outpost of Prairie du Chien, trading with the Indians. On September 22nd, 1788, he leased a rich lead mine from the Meskwaki Indians on the west bank of the Mississippi where the city of Dubuque now stands. He named his holdings "The Mines of Spain," since Spain controlled the land at the time. There is no record that this Dubuque was ever married.

Meanwhile, several reports from St. Louis at about the same time report a Dubuque visiting there who was an animated dancer and played a lively violin at fancy dress balls. Could either of these be the same Julien Dubuque who was rumored to employ ten men in the fur trade and on 1,600 acres he farmed up on the bluffs? Or the Dubuque who fell into debt and quietly sold half his land in 1804 without telling the Meskwaki, who trusted him, and who erected an Indian grave over his burial site when he died in 1810?

There were other reports. There is a myth that claimed that a Julien Dubuque took a Meskwaki wife—Potosa, the daughter of Chief Peosta. There are references to a Madam Dubuque in two surviving letters, and when Dubuque's remains were exhumed in 1897 for removal to a grand monument, two other skeletons were found, one of which turned out to be Chief Peosta.

One of Dubuque's biographers further claimed that it was "the great object of Dubuque's life to see how many Indian wives he could get." Yet another report recounted how Dubuque went native and became a great chief among the Meskwaki.

If you have a way of separating fact from fiction, Dubuque, Iowa, would like to know. Meanwhile, the easiest solution would be to have a Julien Dubuque day once a week all summer, one for each Dubuque.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.