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Riverbank History
Estanislaos Indian Rebellion: Battle With General Vallejo
riverbank fountain

On May 19, 1829 Ensign Mariano G. Vallejo led 107 soldiers to fight Estanislao and the other rebels. He also took along 50 Christian Indians from missions San Jose and Santa Clara to translate and attempt to talk the rebels into coming back to the mission.

In the event that the rebels became hostile, he took along a three-pound cannon and 35 musket cartridges.

Sergeant Jose Antonio Sanchez, who perhaps was hoping to redeem himself from his previous defeat, gave Vallejo knowledge of the Indians’ defenses and rode as second in command at the head of Vallejo’s men.

The Indians’ fortress was on a high bluff on a bend of the Stanislaus River and stood on its south bank. It was covered in grapevines, oaks and willows. As a result of the dense foliage, only two narrow entrances into the fortress presented themselves to the soldiers. From below, the soldiers could hear the sounds of both Indians and horses inside of the fortifications.

In an area under an oak tree, Vallejo and his men found the charred remains of the three men who had been killed on Sanchez’s mission. After finding the men, the party retreated to Laguna Del Blanco to plan their attack. It was now spring and the San Joaquin River was in flood stage. Two horses drowned in the process of crossing and the cannon was floated across on a raft constructed of tule reeds.

Upon approaching the Stanislaus River, Vallejo and his men saw Indians running horses toward a thicket where Estanislao was in hiding. Vallejo and his men went after them and recaptured 14 horses. They built a bridge to cross the Stanislaus and when they were on the other side, they mounted a cannon to command Estanislao’s right flank and some of the river bottom. The Indians shot arrows back from the dense thickets.

Sergeant Sanchez was the first one to venture close enough to see the timbers and was astonished by the ingenuity of the construction and how strong it appeared to be. It consisted of three stockades and a labyrinth of trenches.

Vallejo decided to set fire to the thickets in front of the stockade. The seemingly impenetrable fortress gave way in the conflagration and General Pinas fired the artillery. The barricades exploded in the volley and many of Estanislao’s men were killed by flying splinters. The remaining Indians fled toward the bluff where they were picked off by musket fire, others were pulled out of the bushes and put to death by sword.

Estanislao had hidden in the bushes, however, and when Sanchez came to investigate, he and several of his men were met with arrow fire. He himself was wounded in the hip. Vallejo could do nothing for him.

On the morning of May 30th the Indians fled, leaving behind their fortress and their dead.

Vallejo gathered his forces and pursued the Indians all day upstream and for three hours into the night. Two scouts found the Indians hiding in another fortification so Vallejo ordered his and troops and cannon upstream.

On the morning of May 31st, Vallejo counted 40 Indian warriors inside the palisade as well as women. Enforcing silence, he and his men crept toward the village hoping to take the Indians by surprise, but the Indians detected them and a battle was started. Vallejo tried to negotiate through a captured Indian but the Indian told the people in the fortress and the woods not to believe Vallejo’s offer. He was immediately shot.

Vallejo fired his cannon at the palisade but this one was even stronger than the one downstream. Eventually Vallejo had to stop firing due to a lack of ammunition. Vallejo decided to retreat due to the lack of ammunition and the fire he had earlier set raged out of control. Some of his men grabbed up knives and rushed into the bushes anyways to see how many Indians they could kill before leaving.

As the Indians fled, many were shot down or butchered with knives.

Estanislao himself survived the attack of Vallejo and his men. He eventually went back to Mission San Jose and begged for a pardon from Father Duran who hid him at the mission. A pardon was received on October 7, 1829. In his later years, Estanislao would spend his life between spending time at his village and at the mission. He continued to raid ranchos and missions up into the early 1830’s when a plague struck the valley and killed three-quarters of the Indian population.

On August 24, 1834, Estanislao returned to the mission for good and taught the Yokut language and culture to the padres. He would die on July 31, 1838. It is believed that he died from a case of smallpox. He was 45 years old. Several Indians would continue the fight against the Mexicans after Estanislao’s death. Gradually, his people would dwindle with the last Yokut dying in 1933.