Jean Marie Cardinal (Unknown-St. Louis, MO, May 1780) was a hunter, trapper, trader, and lead miner on the western bank of the Mississippi River in present-day Dubuque County, Iowa. He traveled in what became southern Illinois and Missouri and married a Pawnee woman. To fulfill his religious obligations, he brought his Indian wife to the newly erected church in St. Louis to have his marriage blessed and to his children baptized. They moved to the area of Prairie du Chien around 1750. He is believed to be the first white man to permanently reside on Iowa land by 1754.
In 1763, France lost all of its lands east of the Mississippi River to England as a result of the French and Indian War. The same year, Cardinal and his partner Tibot were hired as guides by Abraham Lansing and his son. In an argument, possibly over furs, Cardinal and Tibot killed the two Lansings.
Fearing the English would punish him, Cardinal fled Prairie du Chien with his family and crossed the Mississippi into Spanish territory. He established himself in St. Louis by 1765. In 1776 and 1777, land grants were made out to him in the St. Charles district that covered nearly the entire present state of Iowa. Cardinal is believed to have lived in the area of Dubuque between 1763 and 1780. Julien Dubuque found roads constructed and mines open when he later came to the site. One of Dubuque’s laborers told of Cardinal working the mines.
In the early spring of 1780 British troops under the leadership of Lt. Alexander Kay attacked the Dubuque-area mines. The British intended to capture “rebels,” turn the Native Americans in the area against the Americans, and attack Spanish settlements.
Cardinal escaped the British attack at the Fox Village along Catfish Creek on May 2, 1780, and raced down the river to St. Louis in time to give warning. He joined twenty-nine regular troops and 281 villagers that formed the forces of liberty that defeated the 1,500 British and Indian forces on May 26, 1780. He died from wounds suffered in that attack. Jean Marie Cardinal is the only known Iowa resident to give his life to the cause of American independence.
Cardinal was buried in an unmarked grave. This area is now associated with Cardinal Spring and Cardinal Avenue near Fairground Park in St. Louis.
On Saturday, May 14th, the Iowa Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution will unveil a memorial to “Iowa’s Paul Revere of the American Revolution.” Festivities will be held near the Star Brewery along the riverwalk beginning at 11:30 AM. In case of rain, the activities will be held indoors at the brewery.
For more information about the Iowa Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, visit IASSAR.org.