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I&M Canal Archeological Sites  

Starved Rock Area

Starved Rock is probably the single most prominent historic place connected with early Indian life in the Corridor. This striking pedestal of sandstone has a colorful history to match. Its name comes from a semi-legendary disaster that befell a group of Illinois Indians besieged on its top in the aftermath of Pontiac's Uprising around 1769. Prior to its calamitous event, archeological investigations of a large part of the top of the rock has disclosed this landmark to have witnessed approximately 5000 years of continuous human use. All but the Paleo-Indian Period is recorded in this long sequence of repeated occupation. The rock or as it was called by the French, Le Rocher, became famous in 1682 when La Salle constructed Fort St. Louis on top to

Housing that once stood in saucer-shaped depressions at the Fisher site and other contemporary locations were sturdy structures composed of stout post uprights supporting a lighter pole framework as suggested in this reconstruction. The outer surface was probably covered with earth to provide warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer.

induce the Illinois Indians to remain in their village (Old Kaskaskia) after they had been scared off by an Iroquois war party in 1680. The fort's wooden design was tailored to fit the topography on top and utilized locations where the surface soil was anchored most securely. Several sunken bunkers were dug in areas where the mantle was sufficiently deep. Archeologists excavated a deep deposit of early 18th century trash in one of these bunkers. When the fort was abandoned in 1691, it remained in use by Native Americans, however. Deep pockets of trash that filled the bunkers of LaSalle's fort testify to this use, probably by one of the Illinois tribes--perhaps the Peoria who were recorded to be living near the rock as late as 1736. The rock's present-day name was not to come into use until sometime after 1769. Clues to the rock's prehistoric use are buried in the soil that occupies a deep basin-like depression in the rock surface. Here ancient camp fires were found.

Several hundred feet east and downslope of the Starved Rock Park lodge lies the Hotel Plaza Site, occupied repeatedly in ancient times.

Maize, beans and squash were planted in the same hill of soil, loosened and weeded by hoes made of shoulder blades of bison and elk.

This encampment was heavily occupied in the 17th and early 18th centuries by Indians concentrated around Starved Rock as a defensive measure. Its rich history was disclosed by excavations in 1948.

Across from Starved Rock lies the Old Kaskaskia Village or the Zimmerman site. This large village has a 1000-year old history of settlement as a preferred location for farming. This village, much of which lies under the water of the flood pool behind the Starved Rock Lock and Dam, achieved fame as the site of Father Marquette's visit to the Kaskaskia Indians in 1673. When first found by the French, the village held 74 cabins of long, loaf-shaped wigwams covered with reed mats. The size of the village grew shortly thereafter by the addition of other groups of Illinois Indians. It attained a size of 460 cabins before the Iroquois raid of 1680. Later many thousands were said to have was occupied the site.

Archeology and history agree upon the lifeways of these villagers. They lived in their village during the spring and summer. In early winter and in mid-summer before the corn harvest they roved the upland prairies in search of bison or American buffalo. Although these large game animals were not as plentiful as they were west of the Mississippi, herds were an important source of food. Prehistoric occupants of this village lived in very different housing and pursued a more sedentary existence. Dwellings were earth-covered and set part-way into the ground to resemble the earth lodges of the Plains Indians. Hunters concentrated on game available locally and on plentiful fish.

Highway Access: Old Kaskaskia I-80 to Rt. 178 southbound. East on Dee Bennett Rd.--adjacent to Illinois River.

Highway Access: Starved Rock I-80 to Rt. 178 southbound. East to State Park--adjacent to Illinois River.

Channahon Area

The largest village site in the valley was the Fisher Site, which once stood strategically on the south bank of the Des Plaines River opposite Dresden Heights (above the I&M Canal State Trail), a few miles upstream from the Des Plaine's confluence with the Kankakee River. This large 16.5-acre village site originally contained 9 mounds and over 50 earthlodges marked by saucer-shaped depressions. A large plaza stood at one end encircled by houses, and along one side stood two large low burial mounds. Although repeatedly investigated by archeologists since the 20s, most of the site remained unexcavated by the time it was destroyed by gravel quarrying. Most of the occupation at the site was during the Mississippian Period, although the Woodland Period was represented by one of the mounds.

The best preserved of a now rare earthwork are the two Briscoe burial mounds. Constructed approximately A.D. 100 to 1200 during the Mississippian Period, these mounds occupy a prominent overlook on the north side of the Des Plaines River valley, just west of the Interstate 55 crossing near Channahon. They are now owned by the State of Illinois.

Highway Access: Fisher I-55 to Arsenal Rd. south via the frontage road to Blodgett.

Highway Access: Briscoe I-55 to Bluff Rd. south via the frontage road to Channahon.

Joliet Area

The Oakwood Mound is a low, broad burial mound that has been partially excavated. It is representative of the same type of burial place as the lower of the two Briscoe mounds although Oakwood may be a little older.

The Higginbotham Woods Earthwork is an irregularly-shaped earthen embankment located in a City of Joliet park. It probably belongs to the Hopewellian Period when earthworks of similar design were created up and down the Illinois River Valley.

Although little has been found at this site by archeologists to date this earthwork, there is no evidence that this is a historic fort as commonly believed. Higginbotham is the last of the ancient earthworks that once lined the Illinois-Des Plaines rivers.

Highway Access: Oakwood Mound I-80 to U.S. 30 westbound. Oakwood Cemetery entrance at Walnut St. Drive directly south.

Highway Access: Higginbotham I-80 to U.S. 30 westbound. North at Gougar Rd., east on Francis Rd. Roadside parking on northside. Follow trail north.

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