The Illinois River is a principal tributary of the Mississippi River, approximately 273 miles (439 km) long, in the State of Illinois. The river drains a large section of central Illinois, with a drainage basin of 28,070 square miles (72,701 km2). This river was important among Native Americans and early French traders as the principal water route connecting the Great Lakes with the Mississippi. The French colonial settlements along the river formed the heart of the area known as the Illinois Country. After the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal and the Hennepin Canal in the 19th century, the role of the river as link between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi was extended into the era of modern industrial shipping.
The Illinois River as mapped in 1718, modern Illinois state highlighted. The Illinois River valley was one of the strongholds of the Illinois Confederation of Native Americans. The French first met the natives here in 1673. The first European settlement in the state of Illinois was the Jesuit mission founded in 1675 by Father Jacques Marquette on the banks of the Illinois at Starved Rock. In 1680, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle built the first fort in Illinois, Ft. St. Louis, at Starved Rock. Later it was relocated to the present site of Creve Coeur, near Peoria, where the Jesuits relocated.