James Reavis: The Man Who Stole Arizona

James Addison Reavis’s affair hits scales. Declaring himself the son of the Spanish Crown aristocrat and the owner of considerable land in the United States, he took charge for the permit to build on the land he didn’t own. the affair brought him 300,000 dollars (60 million dollars worth now).

James Addison Reavis, the so-called Baron of Arizona, was born in Missouri in the family of a worker and an heiress of an impoverished noble family from Spain. It is due to his mother’s stories about old times that small James truly believed that he had to live in a magnificent castle and luxuriate.

In his youth Reavis volunteered for the Confederate Army. while serving in the army, he discovered his talent of a fraudster forging leave passes and documents for ammunition and food.

In 1863 Reavis deserted to the Union army. There he wanted to continue his fraud, but he was immediately disclosed. He had to flee again.

In 1869 escaping to St. Louis, Reavis began working as a tram driver. He was not satisfied because of the small income, and he was making up a new plan to get rich.

He opened his own real estate agency. Things were not going very well until the fall of 1871 when Dr. George Willing came to his office and told an amazing story, which marked the beginning of a great affair.

Dr. George Willing said that he had the rights to a large Spanish land grant over 5,000 square kilometers, located in what is now Arizona. He purchased it from a Mexican named Miguel Peralta for huge money.

adventurous Reavis bought Miguel Peralta’s documents which turned out to be faked. But James didn’t get disappointed, as he had outlined a plan of action long before, which did not foresee the use of Willing’s documents. In the story with Miguel Peralta he was interested only in the idea in the pure form. In other words, James Reavis decided to totally mystify the entire project from the beginning to the end. the world history of fraud had not seen such a scam!

Reavis went to Mexico City and Guadalajara, where he had been studying the state archives for many months, learning the ins and outs of doing bureaucratic documentation in an old Spanish style.

In the end, the fraudster made a pile of false documents, confirming the existence of a noble dynasty of Don Miguel, whose ancestry dated back to the Spanish King Philip IV. Naturally, he himself turned out the sole heir to the dynasty.

Due to the all forged documents, his possessions now covered huge land spot equal to 48 and a half thousand square kilometers! In general, James Reavis’s land surpassed the size of Maryland, New Jersey and the District of Columbia taken together.

Upon arrival in San Francisco Reavis got an appointment with Collis Huntington, a local railroad magnate. it appeared that James Reavis as heir to Miguel Peralta had to get into the ownership of a good half of Arizona state, so he decided to bestow Huntington with the proposal of the century: Reavis was ready to grant a concession for the construction of the southwestern railway on the whole territory of Arizona in exchange for a mere trifle: some 50 thousand dollars. And, surprisingly, Huntington began to bargain. In the end, they shook hands and agreed on 2 thousand prepaid, and the rest – upon legalization of Miguel Peralta’s grant. It is hard to say how Reavis fascinated the crafty capitalist, but, nevertheless, he became ” Huntington man.”

Soon Colonel James Barney, president of the mining company “Silver King” was aware of Reavis’s claims to land. 25 thousand dollars in cash was the sum of quitclaim which Barney paid. The precedent was set! first a spring, then a raging torrent of honest citizens of Arizona who were ready to settle the matter amicably and pay the rent to stranger “Baron” for their own land came to Reavis.

Those who did not want to put up with the Reavis’s claims and refused to pay suffered from the most unexpected trouble. More often the ranch, barns and sheds of “dull” citizens were burnt. However, it happened that some were even beaten, and some disappeared altogether.

For building on his “own” the land he received in terms of the current rate almost 60 million dollars. Then James Reavis built in “his” city three mansions and went traveling around Europe, meeting with Queen Victoria and the Pope.

Reavis nevertheless was disclosed. In 1889 the six-year investigation initiated by the chief surveyor of Arizona was over. On October 12 a detailed report on the work done was sent to Washington, the essence of which was to prove that Reavis’s documents were a large-scale fraud, surpassing all previously known scams to American justice. The fraudster got six years in prison.