Starved Rock State Park on the Illinois River bluff in La Salle County is one of Illinois’ most beautiful destinations. The park’s 18 canyons feature vertical walls of moss-covered stone formed by glacial meltwater that slice dramatically through tree-covered sandstone bluffs. More than 13 miles of trails allow access to waterfalls, fed season runoff or natural springs, sandstone overhangs, and spectacular overlooks. Lush vegetation supports abundant wildlife, while oak, cedar and pine grow on drier, sandy bluff tops.
Starved Rock State Park’s cultural history can be traced to 8000 B.C., with Native Americans tribes and European explorers documenting villages and encampments near the park along the banks of the Illinois River. French explorers referred to it as Le Rocher (the Rock).
The Legend of Starved Rock
Starved Rock gets its name from a Native American legend that has been in circulation for over 200 years. According to the legend the Ottawa war chief, Pontiac, was assassinated by an Illinois Native American in 1769. The Potawatomi and Ottawa set out to avenge his death and chased the Illinois Native Americans to Starved Rock where the Potawatomi and Ottawa laid siege to the site. The Illinois were surrounded on top of the rock where they allegedly starved to death. Another account states the Illinois were killed en masse below the bluff while attempting to escape Starved Rock during a severe thunderstorm. The Illinois Native American tribe, except for a few survivors, ceased to exist. Although the legend is part of the fabric of Illinois lore, there exists no reliable evidence that this incident ever occurred.
Father Marquette, Jolliet, and the Kaskaskia
The first Europeans to come to the Starved Rock region were Louis Jolliet and Jesuit Fr. Jacques Marquette. The party of five Frenchmen arrived in late August or early September of 1673, nearing the end of their famous voyage of discovery. They landed at Kaskaskia, the large Illinois Native American village located about a mile upstream and on the opposite shore of the Illinois River from Starved Rock. At Marquette’s arrival, he was greeted by the Illinois headmen who obliged him to return and instruct them in the Catholic faith. The party stayed only a short time at the village before heading North at the conclusion of the voyage. Marquette returned to the Starved Rock area in 1675 when he established the first Roman Catholic Mission in today’s Illinois, the Mission of the Immaculate Conception. Marquette who was deathly ill at the time, and his two companions Jacques Largiller and Pierre Porteret, left Kaskaskia and left to return to Marquette’s Mission in today’s St. Ignace, Michigan. Marquette however died en route to the Mission presumably at Marquette River in present day Ludington, Michigan.
In 1673 one sub-tribe of the Illinois Indian alliance, the Kaskaskia lived a short distance upriver from Starved Rock. The village consisted of approximately 1,450 people. This was the village Marquette and Jolliet visited during their voyage. By 1677, another Jesuit, Claude-Jean Allouez, traveled to Kaskaskia and reported that the village had grown to 351 lodges or 7,000 people. In September of 1680 a large Iroquois war party attacked the Illinois and occupied Kaskaskia. The Iroquois had abandoned Kaskaskia shortly after a brief stay. In 1683 6,000 Illinois returned to the village. The village was permanently abandoned in 1691.
Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle and Fort St. Louis
During the winter of 1682-83, men under the command of Henri Tonti (La Salle’s trusted second in command) built Ft. St. Louis on Le Rocher, today’s Starved Rock. The fort served as not only as a fortification against enemy attacks, it was where Franco-Native American trade was conducted. During March of 1684, 200 Iroquois besieged the fort but were repelled by bands of Illinois Indians who were returning to Kaskaskia from their winter hunt. La Salle left Starved Rock in August 1683, leaving the fort under the command of Tonti. Other commandants at the fort include Louis-Henri de Baugy, Francois Boisrondel, and Pierre-Charles Delliette. The fort was abandoned in 1691 when the Illinois at Kaskaskia abandoned their village and moved to Lake Peoria. The fort is no longer present on top of Starved Rock due to it burning down in 1720. An archaeological dig had discovered the foundation of the fort underneath the ground however confirming its existence.
To learn more about the nature and history of the park,
- We encourage you to check out the Le Rocher bookstore in the Visitors Center
- Attend educational programs
- Take a guided hike
Starved Rock Lodge
The Visitors Center and parks are run by state employees and a massive team of volunteers. The Starved Rock Lodge is a private concession that offers magnificent lodging, dining, and additional activities. Learn more about Starved Rock Lodge