Starved Rock: History, Legends, and
Rock, located between Ottawa and La Salle-Peru, stands as one of the
preeminent archeological, historical, and scenic
landmarks in Illinois.
Rising over 125 feet above the river below, Starved Rocka tree covered
sandstone monolith overlooking the Illinois River amid a landscape of woodland,
canyons, and waterfalls that may closely resemble the regions landscape
as it was before the Ice Age.
tell us that this is because, between 14,000 and 15,000 years ago,
the meltwaters from the Wisconsonian
glaciation became too great to be restrained by the moraines to the north
and the east. The water broke through and flowed to the headwaters
the Vermillion River, a tributary of the Illinois, and concentrated in
the Illinois Valley causing what geologists refer to as the "Kankakee
Torrent." This torrential flood scoured out glacier deposits and
eroded fragile bedrock, widening the Illinois Valley by a half mile. Over
the next 10,000 periodic (and considerably lesser) flooding deepened the
Illinois River Valley an additional sixty feetexposing geological
layers much older than those found on the surrounding prairies.
While not quite so ancient as that, archeologists
suggest that human habitation around Starved Rock dates as far back as
8000 B.C. More recently, the area was inhabited by the people belonging
to several of the Illinois tribes. The Grand Village
of the Kaskaskias lies just across the Illinois River and slightly
upstream from the Rock itself.
<More on Indian views
a landmark? There must be legends or traditional histories or something
from that side
of things? Ideas on where to look?>
During their epic 1673 journey through the Illinois
country, Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques
Marquette became the first Europeans to mention Starved Rock,
or Le Rocher (as they called it at the time). They were welcomed
by the Kaskaskias and, two years later, Marquette returned to establish
the Mission of the Immaculate Conception. Other Frenchmanin pursuit
of souls and furssoon followed. <They
left descriptions. We should provide some.>
Chief among these were Robert
Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle and his lieutenant, Henri
de Tonti. After a failed attempt to construct a fort near what
is now Peoria in 1680, the French returned to the area in 1682 and constructed
Fort St. Louis atop Le Rocher both to protect their Illinois allies
from Iroquois aggression andas part of a chain of western forts
extending from Canada to New Orleansto check the westward expansion
of the British. Commanded by Tonti, the French erected oaken palisades,
bastions and a parapet to augment the forts natural defensive location.
Inside its walls were a storehouse, a chapel, and several traders cabins.
In addition to the climactic extremities of the Midwestern climate, with
its severe summers and icy winters, Fort St. Louis withstood a six-day
siege and attack by an Iroquois war party in 1684. <link
to Tonti/Iroquois War?> It was abandoned eight years
later when the French relocated to a more convenient location (also named
St. Louis) at Pimitoui (Lake Peoria). At some point in the early 1700s,
even the ruins burned.
Illinois State Museum, as well as archeologists and students from universities
throughout the state, have studied the artifacts left
at Starved Rock by French and Native inhabitants of the area. Click here
to learn more about their efforts or follow this offsite link:
State Museum--Starved Rock Excavations
clearly of historical importance from both a Native and a Western
perspective, Starved Rock is best known because
of the legend from which
it derives its name. A legend which appears to be based far more on
romantic imagination than on anything resembling historical evidence.
many variations of the legend of Starved Rock have been told over
popular versions of the tale, an Illinois mansometimes described
as a Peoria, sometimes a Michigamea, but always a member of an Illinois
sub-tribemurdered the Ottawa Chief Pontiac in
St. Louis in 17??. In response to the
senseless (and possibly drunken) slaying of the popular inter-tribal
of the Potowatomi nationoften said to have been accompanied by
Ottawa and Mesquakie warriorsattacked the Illinois, driving them
from their homes to the relative safety of the inaccessible Le Rocher.
But, so the legend concludes, their escape was short-lived. Their refuge
the Illinois from attacks, but it offered no sources of water or food.
Unable to reach the river over one hundred feet below without confronting
their enemies, the besieged Illinois died of thirst and starvation.
Often the legend cites this as the explanation for why there are no
Illinois people today (the continued living presence of the Peorias
and Kaskaskias is rarely mentionedit would complicate a good
story with troublesome facts).
legends have been attached to Starved Rock as well. Some involve doomed
Native lovers from warring tribes who leap
to their deaths rather
than face living without their true love. Others treat Starved Rock and
the canyons around as haunted placeswhether by the ghost of Indians
or prairie bandits or other unimaginable supernatural creatures. One
legend even suggests that Henri de Tonti (whom historians tell us died
is now Mobile, Alabama in 1704) returned to Le Rocher many years
after his supposed death and buried a cache of gold somewhere nearbya
treasure which, of course, remains undiscovered.
distinct, historically and archeologically significant, and well-steeped
in lore, Starved
Rock and much of the area around it has been designated a State Park.
its creation in 193?, many thousands of people—undeterred by the
knowledge that Illinois people survive today and their ancestors probably
never suffered the harrowing ordeal on the Rock that legends tell as true—have
visited Starved Rock, climbed the steep wooden staircase to its summit,
looked out over the Illinois River and the prairie beyond it, and imagined
that they stood on the very spot where the "Last of the Illinois" may
Click here to
visit the official website for Starved Rock State Park or follow the off-site
State Parks: Starved Rock
Whether viewed as objects of romance or of history, there can be no doubt
that places like Starved Rock play important roles in the formation of
regional identities and cultures. Through them longtime residents and newcomers
alike can tie themselves deeply to a land far richer and more ancient than