Native American cultures have thrived on the land that is now Starved Rock State Park from as early as 8000 B.C. The most recent and probably the most numerous group of Native Americans to live here was the Illiniwek, from the 1500s to 1700s.
In 1673, French explorers Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette passed through here on their way up to the Illinois from the Mississippi. Marquette returned two years later to found a mission.
The French built Fort St. Louis atop of Starved Rock when they claimed the region in the winter of 1682-83. This was an ideal place for a fort because of its position above the last rapids on the Illinois River. During the French and Indian War, the French were forced to abandon the fort by the early 1700s because of unrelenting attacks by the Iroquois Indians. Fort St. Louis became a place for traders and trappers to gather, but by 1720 all remains of the fort had disappeared.
Starved Rock State Park derives its name from a Native American legend of injustice and retribution. In the 1760s, Pontiac, chief of an Ottowa tribe, was slain by an Illiniwek while attending a tribal council in southern Illinois. According to the legend, during one of the battles that subsequently occurred to avenge his killing, a band of Illiniwek, under attack by a band of Potawatomi (allies of the Ottawa), sought refuge atop a 125-foot sandstone butte. The Ottawa and Potawatomi surrounded the bluff and held their ground until the hapless Illiniwek died of starvation – giving rise to the name "Starved Rock."