Friday, July 6, 2018

The Village of La Vantum (aka: The Grand Village; Old Kaskaskia Village), is the best documented historic Indian village in the Illinois River valley.

The French called the village both La Vantum ("the washed") and the Grand Village de Kaskaskia which was near present Utica, Illinois.

It was a large agricultural village of Indians of the Illinois Confederacy  [aka Illiniwek; Illini] (KaskaskiaCahokiaPeoria, Tamaroa, Moingwena, Michigamea, Chepoussa, Chinkoa, Coiracoentanon, Espeminkia, Maroa, and Tapouara), located on the north bank of the Illinois River near the present town of Utica, Illinois.
Old Kaskaskia Village, located on the north bank of the Illinois River east of North Utica, Illinois. The road at left is Dee Bennett Road. The river is out of the frame to the right, about 1,000 feet south of the road. The building with three rows of windows to the right of the road is the Sulphur Springs Hotel.
On a clear warm day in September of 1673, two bark canoes were seen slowly gliding up the Illinois River, whose placid waters had never before reflected the face of a white man. These canoes were propelled upstream by sails and oars, and as they went forward the voyageurs caused the wild woods along the shore to resound with songs of praise. On the sail of the foremost canoe was painted various devices, representing a coat-of-arms, a pipe of peace, and a cross, emblematical of power, friendship, and Christianity.
The voyageurs were much delighted with the country along the placid stream and made many comments on the beauty of the surrounding country. Large herds of buffalo were seen feeding on the green meadows, and at the sound of the oars elk, deer and antelope would rise from their lair, and bound away across the distant plains. Wild geese and swans were swimming in the river, while flocks of parrots made merry the lonely waters with their songs.
Father Marquette and his Symbol of Peace.
This party of travelers consisted of nine persons, Louis Joliet, Jacques Marquette, five oarsmen, and two Indian interpreters. While forcing their light crafts upstream they were surprised to come suddenly upon a large town on the left bank of the river, while back of it the great meadow was covered with camping-tents, and swarming with human beings. This was the great Illinois town called La Vantum, situated near the present site of Utica (Starved Rock), and known in after years as the great landmark of the west.

As the voyageurs approached the town the Indians in great numbers collected on the river bank to see these strange people, never before having looked upon the face of a white man. Warriors armed with war clubs, bows, and arrows lined the shore, prepared to give the strangers battle if enemies, or greet them kindly if friends. The canoes came to a halt, when Joliet displayed the "wampum" (beads used as currency and trade), a token of friendship, at the sight of which the warriors lowered their weapons and motioned the voyageurs to come ashore. Father Marquette, with a pipe of peace in one hand and a small gold cross in the other, approached the Indians, who in astonishment collected around him, offering up mementos to appease the wrath of the great Manitou, from whom they believed the strangers had come. The tourists left their canoes, being conducted to the lodge of the head chief, Chassagoac, where they were kindly entertained for the night.

On the following day, in the presence of all the chiefs and principal warriors, Joliet took formal possession of the country in the name of Louis XIV, after which Marquette preached to this vast assembly. Under Marquette's preaching, many were converted, and baptized in accordance with the Catholic Church. Among the converts was Chassagoac, the head chief of the Illinois Indians, who continued in the faith, and after years was a friend of the early pioneers on the Illinois River. Marquette gave this chief a number of Christian mementos, consisting of crosses, crucifixes, etc., all of which he wore on his person for more than fifty years, and at the time of his death, they were buried with him.

On the third day, the canoes of the explorers were again on the river, and they continued their journey eastward. On reaching the mouth of the Chicagou River Joliet, with three companions, continued on his way to Canada to report to the governor, while Marquette with two others went to Green Bay for the purpose of converting the Indians. As Joliet was passing down the rapids of the St. Lawrence River, near Montreal, his canoe upset, and his journal, with all other valuables, were lost.

These explorers published no account of their travels, and the world was but little wiser for their journey, except to establish the fact that the Mississippi River did not flow into the Pacific Ocean, and Illinois was a rich country.

Although terminally ill, Marquette returned to the Grand Village in early 1675 to celebrate Mass and founded the mission of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin.

La Vantum grew rapidly after a mission and fur trading post were established there in 1675, to a population of about 6,000 people in about 460 houses. After the 1680 massacre from the Iroquois, the surviving Indians moved further south, abandoning the site due to fear of another Iroquois invasion.

Read: The 1680 La Vantum Village Massacre of the Illinois Indians by the Iroquois and its Aftermath.

A prominent local landmark, Starved Rock, stands on the south bank of the river directly opposite the Grand Village site. Explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (Sieur de La Salle is a title only)  built Fort Saint Louis du Rocher in 1682-82 to be near this village.

Later English speaking European pioneers had no idea what happened to the people of the Grand Village. Long after the Indians dispersed, a tale was repeated in local folklore that members of the Illinois tribe had been driven to the top of Starved Rock by the Potawatomi who wanted revenge for Chief Pontiac's murder. Hopelessly surrounded the brave villagers refused to surrender and supposedly perished of starvation. It was said that this was how "Starved Rock" got its name. 

The Starved Rock Massacre of 1769 - Fact or Fiction is a research article analyzing whether this massacre actually occurred.

The historic site is owned by the State of Illinois. The state has conducted archaeological excavations there. The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

Suggested reading:
French Life in the Illinois Country, from Canada to Louisiana, in the 1700s.

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