Starved Rock State Park’s Disturbing Past

Situated along the southern bank of the Illinois River near Utica, Illinois, Starved Rock State Park is the most visited park in Illinois. Its most prominent feature is a large, sandstone butte that stands high above the shoreline. Visitors flock to hike its 13 miles of trails and explore its 18 canyons, but while the park offers beautiful scenery, many do not realize the strange history and events that took place there.

The landforms themselves are thousands of years old, and copper clovis points found at Starved Rock indicate human habitation as early at 8000 BC. The Kaskaskia tribe lived there in the early 1600s, but they came into conflict with the Iroquois, who moved into the area in 1660. The French soon followed. In 1673, famed explorers Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette passed Starved Rock on their way back up the Illinois River.

LaSalle, another French explorer, built Fort St. Louis on the butte, but the fort was abandoned several decades later and there are no remnants of it today. Sometime in the early 1770s, Ottawa and Potawatomi Indians attacked a band of Illini living in the area. The Illini fled to the butte, where they starved to death. The area has been known as Starved Rock ever since, even though little physical evidence supports this story.

A tale of buried treasure comes from this period. Between 1685 and 1702, Henri de Tonti was the most powerful man in central Illinois. He was a character of legend, even though most people do not remember him today. He accompanied René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in his exploration of the Illinois country, and La Salle left him to hold Fort St. Louis when he returned to France.

During his time in the Illinois River Valley, he is rumored to have accumulated over $100,000 in gold, which he buried around Starved Rock. He told a priest about the gold just before he died, but it has never been found despite search attempts in the 1750s by the French and the Potawatomie.

Starved Rock hides other, more sinister events. In March 1960, three middle-aged women (Frances Murphy, 47, Mildred Lindquist, 50, and Lillian Getting, 50) were murdered in the park, and their bodies were found in St. Louis Canyon. Two of the women were raped. When the women did not show up back at the lodge for the evening, a search party was organized.

It took several days to find the bodies, which had been buried under a thin layer of snow. Their faces were bludgeoned until unrecognizable. The crime attracted national attention, and even Time Magazine covered the story. Eventually, a man named Chester Weger was convicted of the crime. Steve Stout, a photographer and author, has written extensively about the murders.

Starved Rock is a beautiful destination any time of the year, but its canyons hold terrible secrets from the past.

One comment

  1. As a kid, out boy scout troop used to hike out there. We used to edge close to the crumbling rock at the summit and look over the edge. Now I believe there are safety railings or barriers, but then it was pretty much the way it was for the past thousand years.

    Nice article.

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