History of Starved Rock; An Historical Background

  Rising approximately 130 feet above and washed by the Illinois River at its base, Starved Rock is Illinois most famous natural landmark.  Consisting of St. Peter sandstone, it was formed when melt waters from the Wisconsonian glacier flooded the Illinois River Valley scouring out glacial deposits and bedrock.

  The  location of Starved Rock is on the south bank of the Illinois River nearly opposite the town of Utica, Illinois in LaSalle County.  It is recognized as a unique archaeological site because of its focal point in the human history of the Illinois Valley. 

  The name "Starved Rock" dates to the 18th century and refers to the desperate plight of a band of Illinois Indians who took refuge on the top the rock to escape a group of Pottawatomie bent on revenge for the murder of Chief Pontiac in 1769.  Stranded on the rock and unable to secure provisions, the Illinois band died of starvation.  The site became know as Starved Rock from the legend of that event. Regardless of whether the siege actually happened or is rooted in myth, the top of Starved Rock (which is less than one acre in size) has yielded literally hundreds of pounds of artifacts ranging from the archaic through the historic periods. 

  Human occupation in close proximity to the Rock extends to the earliest inhabitants of Illinois; namely, Paleoindian hunters whose distinctive Clovis points have been found in the immediate vicinity.  Such evidence places humans here at roughly 13,000 years before present.  The best known and most continuous inhabitants of the area in early historic times were the Illiniwek Indians.  Kaskaskia was the name of the principle Illiniwek tribe and according to the early Jesuit accounts of Father Marquette and Louis Jolliet who first encountered them in 1673, estimated their numbers between 1100-1200 individuals. 

  As other tribes later joined the Illiniwek, their numbers grew upwards of 10,000 around 1680.  The location of the Grand Village of the Kaskaskia was unsettled for some time.  Francis Parkman believed the village was located immediately south of where present-day Utica now stands.  More research though, showed the village lay across the river from Starved Rock extending east for nearly three miles.  Later known as the Zimmerman Site, the Illiniwek lived in long houses covered by mats and reeds. 

  In 1768, Rene-Robert Cavalier received a patent from King Louis XIV of France giving him a monopoly in the trade of buffalo hides south of Montreal.  Later known as Sieur de LaSalle, he and his lieutenant Henri de Tonti also had rights to build fort for the purpose of the advancing French presence in the Mississippi Valley.  Fort St. Louis was completed on top of "Le Rocker" (The Rock) in 1683.  It became the center of the fur trade conducted by the French in alliance with the Illiniwek against the Iroquois.  A number of controlled excavations have been conducted on the top of the Rock, the Zimmerman Site and Plum Island.  The State of  Illinois and cooperating universities have generated scientific reports which have greatly enhanced our knowledge regarding the history of Starved Rock.  Published accounts and historical exhibits are available in the visitor's center located in Starved Rock State Park.


References cited:

Baldwin, Elmer.  History of LaSalle County, Illinois, Chicago.  Rand McNally and Company, 1877.


Bluhm, Elaine A.  editor, 1963.  The Plum Island Site, LaSalle County, Illinois.

      Reports on Illinois Prehistory, #1 Springfield:  Illinois State Museum.


Brown, James A., editor, 1961.  The Zimmerman Site:  A report on excavations at the Grand

     Village of the Kaskaskia, LaSalle County, Illinois.  Reports of Investigations, No. 9.

     Springfield:  Illinois State Museum.


Hagen R.S.  1956.  Starved Rock:  An Illinois Time Capsule.  Outdoors in Illinois, Volume 3, No. 1.

     Illinois Department of Conservation, Springfield, Il.


Hall, Robert, 1988.  The Archaeology of LaSalle's Fort St. Louis on Starved Rock and the problem

     of the "Newell Fort."  Department of Archaeology, University of Illinois, Chicago, Il.


Parkman, Francis.  1980.  LaSalle and the Discovery of the Great West.  Corner house Publishers,

     Williamstown, Mass.  Reprinted from the edition of 1897.

Zmudka, Tom, 1987.  Starved Rock Clovis.  Central States Archaeological Journal, Volume 34,

     #1, January, 1987.



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