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 La Vantum ("the washed") and the Grand Village de Kaskaskia near present-day 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 is located on the north bank of the Illinois River east of North Utica, Illinois. The road on the 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. Various devices were painted on the sail of the foremost canoe, representing a coat-of-arms, a pipe of peace, and a cross, emblematical of power, friendship, and Christianity.
The voyageurs were delighted with the country along the placid stream and commented 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 fantastic 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 for years as the significant 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 stopped 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 and were taken to the head chief's lodge, 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 by 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 several 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, Jolliet, with three companions, continued to Canada to report to the governor. In contrast, Marquette and two others went to Green Bay to convert the Indians. As Jolliet passed down the rapids of the St. Lawrence River near Montreal, his canoe upset, and his journal, with all other valuables, was lost.

These explorers published no account of their travels. The world was but little wiser for their journey, except to establish 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 proliferated after a mission and fur trading post was 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 river's south bank 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 to be near this village.

Later, English-speaking European pioneers had no idea what had 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. This was said to be how "Starved Rock" got its name. 

Read The Starved Rock Massacre of 1769 - Fact or Fiction, a research article analyzing whether this massacre 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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