Starved Rock Foundation

La Salle’s Fort Saint Louis

During the winter of 1682 and 1683, men working under the direction of Jacques Bourdon d’Autray, a trusted member of explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle’s inner circle, began construction of Fort Saint Louis atop Le Rocher, today’s Starved Rock.

The fort was at the center of what history calls “La Salle’s Colony,” a place where trade was conducted between La Salle’s agents and the estimated 20,000 Native Americans who lived in the Starved Rock region. The fort was diplomatic headquarters for relations between the Indians of the Colony and the French. The fort protected entry to France’s claim of the Mississippi Valley through the Illinois Country. The fort protected La Salle’s men from attack—namely from the Iroquois—enemies of the French and local tribes.

In March of 1683, the fort was completed. For the next eight years command at the fort changed hands between La Salle, Henri Tonti, Henri-Louis Baugy, and then back to Tonti.

By 1689, inter-tribal bickering caused the non-Illinois tribes to leave the Starved Rock region and return to their former homes in today’s Indiana, Lower Michigan, and elsewhere. With the natural resources dwindling, the nutrients in the soil sapped by years of successive farming, and with concerns of another bout with the Iroquois, the Illinois sub-tribes who lived at Kaskaskia, located about a mile upstream and on the opposite side of the Illinois River, abandoned their camps and relocated to Lake Peoria.

Without customers left to support trade efforts on Starved Rock, the French abandoned Fort Saint Louis and built a new fort near the new Illinois camps. 1691 marks the end of French occupation of the fort on the Rock and colonization efforts in the Upper Illinois River Valley.

Fort St. Louis

Model of Fort St. Louis at the Visitor's Center