Besieged By Starvation


By Charles M. Skinner in 1896


Starved Rock, Illinois

Starved Rock, Illinois

A hundred years before the white men set up their trading-posts on the Arkansas and Platte Rivers, a band of mountain hunters made a descent on what they took to be a small company of plainsmen, but who proved to be the enemy in force, and who, in turn, drove the Ute–for the aggressors were of that tribe–into the hills. Most of them took refuge on a castellated rock on the south side of Boulder Canyon, where they held their own for several days, rolling down huge rocks whenever an attempt was made to storm the height; wherefore, seeing that the mountain was too secure a stronghold to be taken in that way, the besiegers camped about it, and, by cutting off the access of the beleaguered party to game and to water, starved every one of them to death.

This, too, is the story of Starved Rock, on Illinois River, near Ottawa, llinois. It is a sandstone bluff, one hundred and fifty feet high, with a slope on one side only. Its summit is an acre in extent, and at the order of La Salle his Indian lieutenant, Tonti, fortified the place and mounted a small cannon on it.

He died there afterward. After the killing of Pontiac at Cahokia, some of his people–the Ottawa –charged the crime against their enemies, the llinois. The latter, being few in number, entrenched themselves on Starved Rock, where they kept their enemies at bay, but were unable to break their line to reach vessels into the river at the end of thongs, but the Ottawa came under the bluff in canoes and cut the cords. Unwilling to surrender, the llinois remained there until all had died of starvation. Bones and relics are found occasionally at the top.

There is yet another place of which a similar narrative is extant– namely, Crow Butte, Nebraska, which is two hundred feet high and vertical on all sides save one, but on that, a horseman may ascend in safety.

A company of Crow, fleeing from the Sioux, gained this citadel and defended the path so vigorously that their pursuers gave overall attempts to follow them, but squatted calmly on the plain and proceeded to starve them out. On a dark night, the besieged killed some of their ponies and made lariats of their hides, by which they reached the ground on the unguarded side of the rock. They slid down, one at a time, and made off all but one aged Indian, who stayed to keep the camp-fire burning as a blind. He went down and surrendered on the next day, but the Wious, respecting his age and loyalty, gave him freedom.


By Charles Skinner, 1896. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated March 2018.

About the Author: Charles Montgomery Skinner (1852-1907), an American writer, is best known for his collections of myths, legends and folklore found both in the United States and across the world. His writings were wide-ranging, including his popular folklore tales, as well as guides to gardening and urban beautification, and natural history. This tale is from his nine volume set of Myths and Legends of Our Own Land, published in 1896. However, the story, as it appears here is not verbatim, as it has been edited for clarification, additional information, and ease of the modern reader. However, the context remains essentially the same.

Also See: 

Cahokia Mounds – The Largest Archaeological Site in America