Sometime after Jedidiah Smith left the area of the Stanislaus River, approximately early in 1828, Estanislao and his followers began raiding Missions San Jose, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz along with the ranchos that surrounded them. He was joined by members of the Chumash Indian tribe and other members of the Yokuts tribe until his army contained up to 4,000 men. Estanislao educated them in the art of Spanish battle techniques he had learned from the Spanish and Mexican soldiers at the missions.
The raids Estanislao enacted were sudden, and often involved traps, but there was typically no loss of life. As an indication of who had performed the deed of the raid Estanislao often carved the initial “S” into a nearby tree or wall to signify his handiwork. The settlers he raided were terrified and begged then California Governor Echeandia for help. Three expeditions were sent out from the presidios of San Francisco and Monterey. Each one of the expeditions failed.
Late in 1828, the commandant of the San Francisco Presidio, one Ygnacio Martinez was contacted to do something about Estanislao’s raids. He sent out Antonio Soto who was an experienced Indian fighter, to bring in the fugitives for punishment. Soto only took 20 men with him and marched from Mission San Jose up Mission Canyon and over Patterson Pass into the San Joaquin Valley. He camped for the night at Laguna Del Blanco which was a fresh water lake just east of what is now the present day city of Tracy. At this point he was 14 hours’ march from the village of Estanislao.
The next day he and his men began their march and eventually came to the Stanislaus River, going up on its northern side. Soto and his men never quite got close enough to actually see the fortress however. As they approached, a war cry arose and hundreds of Indians hurled insults at Corporal Soto, calling him a coward and daring him to attack. Other tribes north of the Yokuts had told them about Soto’s previous battles and cruelty toward other Indians. They knew him by name and knew that he had a bad temper.
Soto attempted to get a conference with Estanislao, but his efforts were to no avail. Getting flustered after the many insults the Indians gave him, Soto plunged into the woods with six soldiers. The other 14 men in his command were told to meet at the flank of the operation by an old oak tree.
Soto was fooled by the terrain and instead of scrambling up the hillside, he and the six men with him became stuck in the swamp like conditions along the river. In some places the brush was so thick that there was no possible way through. He was forced to give up and retreat. As he did so, a party of Indians who were hidden in the brush came out and fired arrows at point blank range. In the scramble to get away, two men were lost and several others wounded. Some of the soldiers dropped their muskets which the Indians helped themselves to. Soto himself was struck in the eye. The arrow had nearly pierced his brain and he died later after he and his men returned to Mission San Jose.
The second battle against Estanislao and the Indian rebels was led by Sergeant Jose Antonio Sanchez. He doubled the number he took along, compared to Soto and thus had 40 men in his command. He outfitted them with leather collars to protect them against arrows. Like Soto, he also took along a cannon which failed after three rounds. The carbines were simply insufficient against the log barricade. Some of the Indians fired back with the muskets obtained from Soto’s defeat but they did not have ammunition and only fired powder.
In the evening of this first day of attack, Sanchez ordered a temporary retreat and made camp for the night. Estanislao approached the camp during the night but hid in some bushes nearby. He spoke to some Indian auxiliaries that Sanchez had brought along. Sanchez heard him and advised him to give himself up, claiming that nothing would happen to him if he did so. Estanislao made no reply to Sanchez’s statement. Instead, Estanislao’s brother Sabulon fired at Sanchez but either he missed or he had no ammunition in the gun. In all of the commotion created by the firing, Sabulon and Estanislao escaped back to the stockade.
At dawn of the next day, Sanchez divided his troops into six squads and assigned them points of attack around the Indian camp, but he first sought to negotiate with Estanislao. He took a translator with him and approached the edge of the woods by the Indian village. Through the interpreter, he intended to encourage the rebels to repent and surrender.
Estanislao at last answered Sanchez, “I am not guilty. I have been advised that I and my people should defend ourselves. Consequently, we are prepared to die here.”
In response, Sanchez ordered an attack, even though the cannon he had brought with him was out of service. He was counting on the superiority of muskets over arrows, but, during the fighting, four men who were in a squad led by Lazaro Pinas became rash and plunged into the underbrush heading for the river in order to quench their thirst with a drink from the river.
When Sanchez arrived on the scene, two of the men were found to be badly wounded, one carrying the other who was moaning, “Don’t leave me comrade.”
Sanchez threatened the surrounding Indians with guns, but they were so close that it was impossible for Sanchez and his men to load their guns. Without their shields and leather jackets, all of the men including Soto and Sanchez would have died. Sanchez ordered the men to charge the Indians and they fled.
The Indians had captured three men all of which were hung, shot full of arrows, taken down and burned. Estanislao invited other Indian villages to come and watch them die.