The story of San Juan Capistrano's historic Tysting Tree


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The Trysting Tree


Our wonderful old historic Sycamore tree on the north end of town has one more significant credit for its existence. This impressive tree, known as the "The Trysting Tree," was recently picked by the American Forests Champion Tree Project as the most majestic California Sycamore. Editor from the Register, Jonathan Volzke reported the significance of this award and how the Tree of Life Nursery, located on the Ortega Highway east of San Juan, was selected to clone the tree. Quite a coup for this imposing tree located in front of the new Sycamore Commons office complex on Junipero Serra. Here she stands at 94 feet tall, 344 inches around and estimated to be 300 years old. Some fantastic old legends abound about this tree to the point that the State Highway commission changed the course of the road connecting the freeway off-ramp in order to protect it.

A story has always been around that Joaquin Murietta, the famous "Robin Hood of the West" bandito of the nineteenth century, used to visit San Juan Capistrano; in fact, the Rios family has a strong legend that this fellow used to hide out in the attic of the Rios Adobe on Los Rios Street, when he came to town.

Well, when the State Highway Commission in 1957 planned to build the new I-5 freeway through here, the local citizens found out that the off-ramp on Junipero Serra would caused this beautiful old tree to be destroyed. So a group headed up by former Mayor Carl Buchheim and assisted by Editor Larry Hernandez of the former Coastline Dispatch, concocted a story for the Highway Commission that this was a very historical old tree that must be preserved. They said it was no less than the tree where Murietta would meet with his fellow desperados to plan their escapades or split the loot from their raids.

The highway officials believed this tale to the extent that they changed the location for the off-ramp. After it was finished, a state delegation came to town and was ready to conduct a ceremony to present a bronze plaque commemorating this famous "historic" tree. Our locals had to 'fess up to the concocted story and the officials left in a huff with their plaque.

However, there very well may have been another desperado that did use this very tree for the gang's nefarious purposes. Bill Smith, author of The Capistrano Story, details the tragic history of one notorious Tiburicio Vasques, whom he claims used San Juan Cpaistrno and this same tree for his gang's own purposes. The gang used the tree as a base to meet and divide up the spoils after a raid, secure food in San Juan, and then head for the hills to hide out in the same manner attributed to Joaquin Murietta. Vasquez was quite active in this area. His gang raided pueblos, stole cattle, and even held up the Seely and Wright stage coach that traveled between Santa Ana and San Diego. But for some reason our local tree protectors never used this story. Vasquez was later caught in Santa Ana. He escaped the hangman's noose but ended up in San Quentin in 1861. The fate of Joaquin Murietta is in question. One story is that he escaped to Mexico and raised a family. Another is that he was caught, decapitated, and the head was pickled and put in a jar for display in a saloon in San Francisco. This head was later lost in the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. A lot of other banditos had used Murietta's name and the headless body may have been one of them Sycamore Commons, a new business center, has a Historic Depiction plaque commemorating the history of this noble tree in the park between their two buildings.



Story and photo supplied by Don Tryon

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