Starved Rock State Park
Starved Rock State Park is located in Oglesby, IL. The park is named after a legend of a Native American tribe starving to death atop a large butte in the park in the mid-1700s. Whether this story of hardship, revenge, and romance is true is debated, but the importance of the influence of Native American culture in the area is certain. The park is available to the public and is a popular location for hiking, bird watching, and learning local history.
Backstory and Context
In 1769, conflict surfaced between two groups of Native American groups: the Ottawa and Potawatomie, and the Illinois (a blanket term that includes up to twelve allied tribes). One of the Illini stabbed the Ottawa chief, Pontiac, in an assassination plot. In retaliation, the Potawatomie chased the offending tribe, the Peoria, to the top of a tall butte. Rather than continuing the pursuit and engaging in a battle that would cost both men and resources, the Potawatomie decided to stay at the base of the rock so the Peoria could not escape (Starved Rock Legend History Brochure).
From this point, the legend branches off in several directions. The most popular version ends with the entire Peoria tribe dying of starvation after several days atop the rock, ending the Peoria bloodline. There are some accounts of a weak, hungry people desperately trying to escape and being brutally massacred at the base of the rock (Edmunds, 2007). This version, like the last, says that the last of the Peoria were killed. There is one story that tells of eleven men who did successfully escape and fled to St. Louis, where they allegedly refused to tell anybody who they were or what they had escaped from, earning them the nickname “Silent Men” (Rhoads, 1914).
Although accounts of the event vary wildly, there are many scholars who argue that the Starved Rock legend never occurred at all. It is undisputed that Pontiac was murdered, but the supposed events that followed have no reliable documentation. According to park historian, Mark Walczynski, who cites documents from European allies of the Illini at the time, the biological capabilities of man, and archeological evidence, the tale simply is not true (Walczynski, 2007). Even so, many locals believe the exciting story wholeheartedly.
Visitors can enjoy many activities at the park, including hiking, fishing, bird watching, viewing seasonal waterfalls, and going to the visitor center, which is full of information about the area. For those who may want to visit the park for several days, there is overnight lodging in the park. The Starved Rock Lodge has a pool and hot tub, dining facilities, and a gift shop. They also host personal events, public concerts, and local tours.
The legend of Starved Rock has been passed down through oral tradition for generations. It is no surprise that it is so salient in the Illinois valley area. Much of the history honored in the area—such as names of parks, cities, and even the name “Illinois”—is based in Native culture, and Starved Rock is no different. Whether Starved Rock is based in fact or fiction, the story succeeds in getting people to pay attention to and learn more about local history and nature.
Edmunds, D. R. (2007). Starving Rocks and Dancing Mascots. Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-), 100(3), 237-239.
Janvein, M. W. (1910, January). The Legend of Starved Rock. Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984), 2(4), 82-87.
Rhoads, H. A. (1914, January). Legends of the Starved Rock Country. Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984), 6(4), 509-516.
Starved Rock Legend History Brochure [PDF document]. Retrieved from Illinois Department of Natural Resources: https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/Parks/Pages/StarvedRock.aspx
Walczynski, M. (2007). The Starved Rock Massacre of 1769: Fact or Fiction. Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1998-), 100(3), 215-136.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources