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Estanislao (Cucunuchi)

Estanislao (Birth name: Cucunuchi) was a Yokuts leader of the Lakisamni people of California’s northern San Joaquin Valley. In the late 1820s he led one of the largest indigenous resistance efforts to colonial rule in California’s history.

Having spent much of his adult life at Mission San Jose as an alcalde, he learned many skills including reading, writing, and colonial military tactics. Due to oppressive and harsh conditions at the Mission, in late 1828, he and a number of others escaped San Jose and fled to the rivers and seasonal marshlands to the East near what are now the cities of Modesto, Riverbank, and Oakdale. From there, they conducted swift raids on homesteads, ranches, and other colonial establishments near the coast. This caused such a pain for the newly formed Mexican government (Mexico had just won its independence from Spain, rendering California now part of Mexico), that the authorities finally sent an expedition of soldiers to punish the raiders and bring them back to the missions.

When the first expedition arrived, they found a complex fortification of ramparts, trenches, and barricades covered by dense riparian forest. From this base, the indigenous fighters repelled the colonial attackers. Another, larger expedition was deployed at a later date, which was also defeated by the defenders.

A third and much larger force was dispatched by the Mexican authorities, this time headed by General Mariano Vallejo and equipped with a cannon. They set fire to the forest and after a long day of fighting, the surviving defenders escaped into the night. Vallejo returned to the San Francisco Bay proclaiming victory, but Estanislao and many of the rebels were still at large.

Years later, Estanislao returned to Mission San Jose and, at the pleading of Father Narciso Duran, was pardoned by the governor.

Today, Stanislaus County and the Stanislaus River bear his name.

The exact site of the fortress is unknown, but it was located on the banks of Stanislaus River and is said to have been near what is now Caswell State Park, the City of Riverbank, or the City of Oakdale.