Dubuque was first inhabited by mound builders. They built elongated, conical mounds that can be seen at Eagle Point, Pike’s Peak and along highway 52 near John Deere Drive. No one knows fort sure the importance of these mounds. Lucius Langworthy mentioned them in several lectures at the Dubuque Literary and Scientific Institute. He believes they were some type of fortification. However, in later years there is strong evidence that they are mausoleums of the distinguished dead of the race. In 1881, the Smithsonian directed an exploration of the mounds. The most interesting excavation was in East Dubuque. One mound just off Gramercy Street contained a burial vault of 6 adults, 4 children and a baby seated in a dinning circle.
The Mesquakie Indians were known as the Red Earth people. The Sauk, a nearby kin, were called the yellow earth people and their chief was Makataimeshekiakiak known to us as Black Hawk. Both the Mesquakie and Sauk were driven out of their native lands in Montreal by the Iroquois and they landed in eastern Wisconsin on the Wolf River and then further south on the Fox River. As they continued to be pushed further west by rival tribes, by 1760 they were in Dubuque. Here they were known as the Fox Indians. They were a small nation of about 50,000. Their language was similar to the Sauk Indians who also occupied the area.
Julien Dubuque came out west with his brother in the early 1780’s. We do not know how Julien became interested in the lead mines. He had come to Praire du Chien to trade with the Indians and maybe the Mesquakie approached him about working the mines. But on September 22, 1788 the Mesquakie gathered with Julien Dubuque and drew up an agreement allowing Julien to work the mines.
As for the Fox and Sax Indians, they were pushed out of their lands to Kansas. But in recent years, they have purchased land in Tama, Iowa and set up their reservation. This year the Mesquakie will celebrate their 100th Pow Wow at their Mesquakie Casino in Iowa. For a much more detailed history of the journey of the Mesquakie Indians to Dubuque, check out the book Dubuque on the Mississippi by William Wilkie.