Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings
Ownership and Administration. Privately owned.
Significance. The Old Kaskaskia Village (or Zimmerman) Site is the best-documented historic Indian site in the Illinois River Valley. It is not to be confused with the Kaskaskia village of French origin below Cahokia. Louis Jolliet and Père Jacques Marquette, in the summer of 1673, as they returned from their pioneering voyage down the Mississippi, noted that it contained 74 houses and was inhabited by the Kaskaskia, a band of the Illinois tribe.
Marquette, who in 1675 established a mission at the village, was replaced 2 years later by Father Claude Jean Allouez, who found a village of 351 houses that was occupied by 7 other bands of the Illinois in addition to the Kaskaskia. René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, accompanied by Father Louis Hennepin, visited the village in December 1679 and stated that the 460 houses then located there were "made like long arbors and covered with double mats of flat flags, so well sewed that they are never penetrated by wind, snow, or rain."
La Salle founded Fort Crèvecoeur at the southern end of Lake Peoria, downstream, and left it under the command of Henry de Tonty when he returned north. On his way up the Illinois River, he noted the natural fortification now called Starved Rock and sent Tonty a message to occupy it in case of an Iroquois attack. Tonty moved there in April 1680, but he did not fortify it. In September, a war party of 600 to 700 Iroquois arrived, causing the 7,000 to 8,000 inhabitants of Old Kaskaskia Village to flee downstream immediately. About 500 Illinois warriors fled after a few days of fruitless negotiating. Tonty, forced to leave the area, moved to Green Bay.
After La Salle and Tonty had started construction of Fort St. Louis atop Starved Rock, in December 1682, groups of Miamis and Shawnees joined them. In the latter part of 1683, the Kaskaskia and other Illinois bands returned and settled, probably at the abandoned village, the Old Kaskaskia Village site. In all, about 20,000 Indians gathered in the neighborhood, including some 3,880 warriors.
But the Iroquois attacks continued, and the Miamis and Shawnees departed from Fort St. Louis. As the confederacy fell apart, La Salle's dream of an Indian empire vanished. After a council decided in the fall of 1691 that Starved Rock could not be defended, the bands of Illinois still remaining moved to Lake Peoria. A faction of the Illinois from Lake Peoria that established a settlement near Starved Rock in 1712 and remained in this locality until 1722 probably did not occupy the Old Kaskaskia Village Site.
Archeological investigation at the site has yielded large quantities of European goods in association with Indian items, especially trade goods such as glass beads, copper and brass beads and jinglers, coiled brass wire ornaments, glass bottles, and iron knife and ax blades. Buffalo bones, extremely rare at aboriginal sites east of the Mississippi, are quite common. Either the Illinois hunted west of the Mississippi during the period of occupation, or buffalo roamed over the Eastern prairie.
Present Appearance. The site has been used for agricultural purposes for several generations, but much valuable archeological data probably lie untouched beneath the plow zone. Only a small percentage of the site has been excavated. 
NHL Designation: 07/19/64
Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005