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By Jan Siegel
Editor’s note: This is a multipart series. The first part ran here.
In 1866, Fr. Joseph Mut arrived as priest of the Mission. If Fr. O’Sullivan is considered the Great Restorer of the Mission, then Fr. Mut should be called the Saver of the Mission. Without his intervention, Pryor may well have been successful in his property claims. Fr. Mut is the one who put a fireplace in the Padre quarters at the Mission. He also added the upper floor, but he did not have money for a staircase, so he used a ladder. He knew that repairs were needed on Mission buildings, especially Serra Chapel, but he had no money for repairs, so he tried to hold up the roof of Serra Chapel as best he could. He saved it for Fr. O’Sullivan.
Fr. Mut always considered himself a champion of the poor. The Native Americans loved and respected him. Longtime resident Juan Olivares said “that the rich didn’t like him.” Fr. Engelhardt wrote, “Fr. Mut, by his counsel, endeavored to save the little property they (the poor) had always regarded as their own. He even at great expense sent an agent to San Francisco in order to thwart the machinations of land sharks.”
The agent that Fr. Mut selected was Henry Charles. Charles found the maps that had moved the “cienega” (marsh) miles from the original place. Fr. Mut went to San Francisco and, along with Charles, were able to get the government to reject the Strobel map in 1870 and save San Juan Capistrano.
Both Charles and Fr. Mut had made serious enemies of real estate men and lawyers who lost money on this ruling. They tried to get Mut transferred, but the Church supported the priest. One night, someone stabbed Fr. Mut at the Mission. While not seriously hurt, it did scare him.
Pablo Pryor would not give up. He tried, unsuccessfully, for next six years to draw up bogus maps, only to have them turned down. A final survey of Rancho Boca de la Playa made in 1875 was approved in 1879 back to the original acreage. But Pryor did not live to see that ruling. He had died seven months before.
Perhaps his funeral procession was more to honor his wife and father-in-law, Don Juan Avila, than for Pryor. And there is more … Pryor was known as a playboy, and there is corroboration of at least one daughter born out of one of his escapades. An Avila descendant, currently living in the Capistrano area, confirms this relationship. Yes, Pryor was poisoned. But by whom and why? The mystery continues.
Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.