Decades before the famous California Gold Rush of 1849, miners rushed to the Driftless Region to mine lead and seek their fortunes. John Burton and his brother Thomas were among them. They established a claim to many acres near Durango, Iowa, (then known as Burtonsville) and had their own lead smelter near Maquoketa Creek. Eventually, they amassed 2,000 acres across Dubuque County.
John Burton arrived in Dubuque in or around 1835, just as the lead boom was about to peak by the 1840s. At the time, 90% of the country’s lead came from this region, and was used for lead paint, pipes, and ammunition.
John Burton used this money belt on his trips back and forth between Dubuque County and St. Louis, where he sold his lead for gold. This artifact was given to the Dubuque County Historical Society in 1965 by John Rider Wallis, a direct descendent of John Burton who played an instrumental role in the founding of DCHS.