Last month, we gave a brief overview of what Native American life was like along the banks of what would eventually become the Stanislaus River. This month we turn our attention to a man who was perhaps the greatest leader of the Yokut people, who were the particular tribe of Native Americans that once lived in our area.
No one seems to know for certain when the boy who became Estanislao was born. It was somewhere around the year 1800. He was not born as Estanislao but as Cucunuchi. His father, the chief of the village he was born in, was named Sucais and his mother was named Petzeneti. He also seems to have had two brothers, one named Sabulon and the other Canocce.
Cucunuchi’s first encounter with white men would have occurred when he was very young. The Spanish first reached the Stanislaus River around the first of October of 1806. Spanish Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga named the river Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe.
Cucunuchi would have been a small child of about eight years of age, but would probably be old enough to understand some of the terror that went through the village when the Spanish came up the river. The Yokuts had heard bad things about the Spanish; that they took no prisoners, but killed whoever they encountered.
On October third of 1806, the Spanish reached the village of the Taulamnes where Cucunuchi lived. Fortunately, it was above the river on a high bluff and the steep rocks below made it inaccessible. The Spanish had brought a translator who yelled up at the village from the shore of the river below. He told the Indians that the mission of the Spaniards was to advance the kingdom of God and to make friends so that their souls might be saved. There was no response from the village, so the missionaries and the soldiers decided to play a waiting game and see if anyone came down.
Two days later, the Indians shot arrows at the Spaniards, but later were assured that the intentions of the missionaries were peaceful. Permission was given to approach the village but when the Spanish set foot on a trail to visit, the Indians ran away. They fled upriver to a village near what is now Knights Ferry. Over the coming year, some of the Indians in Cucunuchi’s village would convert to Catholicism, including his brother Canocce who changed his name to Orencio. Eventually he would come back to the village of the Taulamnes and convert more of the tribe, including his brother Cucunuchi and his family and his mother Petzeneti. Sucais would stay behind to lead the village. Mission life would be very different and fifty miles away from the home Estanislao knew.