Park Historical Legend
Starved Rock State Park is situated along the south bank of the Illinois River, less than 100 miles from Chicago. This beautiful park attracted over 2 million visitors last year to explore its scenic trails and canyons, dine in its historic Lodge and enjoy the panoramic views from tall bluffs which offer a unique contrast to the flatlands of Illinois. A hike to the top of a sandstone butte or a peaceful stroll to explore any of the 18 canyons gives each visitor a memorable experience. The backdrop for hiking is 18 canyons formed by glacial melt-water and stream erosion. They slice dramatically through tree-covered, sandstone bluffs for four miles at Starved Rock State Park.
As early as 8000 AD, Native American cultures lived and thrived here. From 1500 to 1700 AD, members of the Illiniwek tribe lived here. One of its sub-tribes, the Kaskaskias, populated the area, with as many as 7,000 along the bank of the river across from the current park. In 1673, Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette (a French Jesuit Missionary) canoed up the river below what they called the great rock. The first Native Americans they encountered were the Illini, who were very friendly to the expedition and presented them with a peace pipe to use for the remainder of the journey. Marquette returned to the area in 1675 to establish Illinois’ first Christian Mission of the Immaculate Conception at the Indian village. In the winter of 1682-1683, the French constructed Fort St. Louis atop what is now known as Starved Rock.
But how did Starved Rock get its name? The park derives its name from a Native American legend. In the 1760s, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe were attending a tribal council meeting. At this council of the Illinois and the Pottawatomie, Kinebo, the head chief of the Illinois tribe stabbed Chief Pontiac. Vengeance arose in Pontiac’s followers – the Pottawatomie, the Miami and the Kickapoo. They vowed that no blood should course through the veins of the assassins or of their families. Meanwhile, in the early part of Indian summer in 1769, the Indians collected in an open square on the banks of the river to celebrate the marriage of the head chief’s daughter. They were surprised to see the great meadow in the back of the village covered with the enemy, the dreaded Pottawatomies. On came the enemy and so rapidly that almost instantly a large number of them had entered the town. Many of the Pottawatomies were killed before they retreated to Buffalo Rock, where they called a council of war. In this council it was agreed to renew the assault in the morning and never cease fighting until the Illini were no more. Meanwhile, the Illinois were celebrating their victory of the day’s battle. Having spent the night rejoicing, they were found asleep in the morning and were again attacked, sparing none. The assailants were met by the Illinois warriors and large numbers met their end before falling back for reinforcements.
For twelve long hours the battle raged on, a large portion of the Illinois warriors were slain along with the remaining villagers. The fighting continued into the night and well into a heavy rainstorm. The rain was so heavy it was hard to distinguish between enemy and foe. The fighting stopped until morning. But during the heavy storm and in the darkness of the night, the Illinois launched their canoes, crossed the river and ascended the 125 sandstone butte. Here, on this rock, were all that remained of the Illinois Indians, consisting of about twelve hundred, three hundred of them were warriors. On this rock they considered themselves safe from their enemy, singing songs of praise.
Morning came and the Pottawatomies soon discovered that their victims had fled. They burned the town, crossed the river and surrounded the great rock. The plan was to storm the great rock and defeat the Illinois, but all that tried were met by the brave Illini. When the Illini took refuge on the rock, they carried with them a large quantity of provisions, but after many days, this supply was not running thin and starvation was a great possibility. At first this rock was a haven of safety and now it was likely to be their tomb. Day after day passed and still the Illini continued to be guarded by their enemy, leaving them no escape. They tried to collect water from the river below, but as soon as the vessel was reached, the cord was cut. After many days, the remaining Illiniwek died of starvation giving this historic park its name – Starved Rock.