The Baron of Arizona
Born in 1843, James Addison Reavis was unusual in that he served in both armies during the American Civil War beginning with the Confederates and changing to the Union side when they fared better. In 1871 in St Louis he met Dr George Willing who had recently bought some Spanish deeds to American land from a Mexican, Miguel Peralta, for $1,000. Two years later, Reavis met the owners of the Southern Pacific Railway. He mentioned the Peralta deeds and they paid him $2,000 to find the deeds, realizing that it would allow them to extend their railway.
When Reavis located them he realized that they were worthless but, undeterred, he set about forging a history of the Peralta clan, beginning with Don Miguel, the first Baron Arizoniac who died when he was 116 and ending with Don Miguel Jr who lost the family fortune and had to sell to Dr Willing. In 1879, after failing to stake his claim in Tucson, Reavis went to San Francisco where he arranged backers, including William Randolph Hearst’s father George.
In March 1883 Reavis staked his claim for 47,000 sq km (18,750 sq mi), more than a tenth of what was soon to become the state of Arizona. In 1884 Reavis was exposed as a fraud and returned to California. Four years later, he returned to stake his claim once more, this time with a wife he claimed was Baroness Peralta, the great-granddaughter of Don Miguel, whom he had married on 31 December 1882. The next year on 12 October 1889, Royal Johnson, the surveyor-general, published his report, a document that was six years in the making, exposing Reavis as a fraud.
In 1893, Reavis filed his claim once more, this time in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He did not realize that the real Peraltas had founded the city and they claimed the deeds. On 3 June 1895 the land court finally heard the case of James Addison Peralta-Reavis, his wife Dona Sofia Loreta Micaela Reavis and Clinton F. Farrell (a Reavis financier who never appeared) vs. the United States of America. Reavis did not show up to court until day four and spent four days outlining his case.
On 28 June 1895, the claim was ruled fictitious and fraudulent and the documents as clever forgeries. As he left the court, Reavis was arrested for fraud and spent a year in jail awaiting trial which took place on 27 June 1896. He was jailed for two years and fined $5,000.
Reavis was released on 18 April 1898 and attempted to begin developments in Arizona but no one was interested. His wife also left him.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
It was said that Reavis spent his last days in public libraries reading newspaper articles about his life. He died on 20 November 1914.