I can't figure out why James Reavis chose Saford, Arizona, capital of Graham County, to file his first claim related to the Peralita grant. The crude little town at the foot of the isolated Pinaleno Mountains was 165 miles east of Phoenix, only 30 miles west of the New Mexico border, and 100 miles north of the border with old Mexico. It sat in a fertile nook of the barren Sonora-Chihuahuan Desert. In short, it was not near anywhere else. At this time the county was just receiving a trickle of Mormon emigrants, but the entire county had less than 5,000 residents in October of 1882 when James Reavis chose this as his starting point. So why toss the first stone into the water here?
Reavis filed his papers with the probate court, laying claim to George Willing's ownership of the Peralta grant. But other then stamping the date on his filing, the probate court lacked authority to judge the validity of the Perlita Grant itself. And he never asked them to. The town was still within the confines of the grant, which ran into New Mexico, but there must have been places closer to Phoenix or the territorial capital of Prescott where James Reavis could have filed such paperwork unnoticed by the world at large. Why did he travel to such an out of the way spot to make his first move? Could it have been that the master forger was nervous? Or had he been traversing the empty dessert, leaving false clues to the grant's validity, and was now anxious to get started? We will never know now, especially since his next move made such a splash.
It was Tuesday, March 27, 1883, when an odd trio of villains stormed into the Tucson offices of Joseph W. Robbins, Surveyor General for Arizona territory, and demanded service. First came the bewhiskered well dressed James Reavis (above), followed by Cryil Baratt, a dis-bard California lawyer and alcoholic, serving as James' legal adviser. The story is that Reavis actually found Cyril in a San Francisco gutter and the kindred spirits had formed an immediate bond. Bringing up the rear was a fire plug named Pedro Cuervo carrying in three large trunks of documents, one after another. Pedreo was Reavis' new body guard and enforcer. And once those trunks were opened, Reavis would need all the protection his wealthy California backers could afford.
His filing began boldly; “The petition of James Addison Reavis respectfully sets forth: That he is owner, by purchase from the legal heirs and representatives of the original grantee of a certain tract of land (12 1/2 million acres from roughly Phoenix, Arizona to Silver City, New Mexico), granted on the third day of January, 1758, by the Viceroy of New Spain to Don Miguel Peralta, Baron of the Coloradoes under royal decree of the King of Spain, directing such grant to be made to the said Perlita in consideration of and as a reward for distinguished military services rendered to the Crown in the war of Spain...”
Now, Robbins had no experience with a theodolite,.and he knew almost nothing about Spanish or Mexican history. He'd been a newspaper owner in Wichita, Kansas and a good Republican before receiving his current position as a political reward. But as he watched his staff check in the seemingly endless series of documents, many with the official stamps and seals of Spain and Mexico, a panic began to build in this throat. These men were laying claim to an area larger than Maryland and the District of Columbia, and New Jersey, combined.
Next there came a typed translation of Phillip V's royal credula, dated December 20, 1740. This was followed by the report of the Mexican Inquisition favoring the grant, and the 1758 Mexican Viceroy's grant of the land, a statement in writing by Don Miguel Nemecio Silva de Peralta de la Corboda himself, describing the exact location of the grant. Then from the trunk was drawn the petition from Peralta to Carlos III of Spain, requesting confirmation of the grant, which confirmation was dated January 20, 1776. in Madrid. Next Reavis produced a letter to Don Meguel's son, signed by Santa Ana, President of Mexico. There were even three photographs of pages from the record book of the Mission of San Xavier del Bac, showing the originals of the previous documents. Then Reavis and Cryil Baratt, produced a copy of Miguel Peralta's will, dated January 1788, and the deed signing the grant over to George Willing, dated 1864. Last but not least, came the power of attorney from May Ann Willing to James Reavis. All of that was in the first trunk. And there were two more trunks of documents to go.
Public notice of the claim was now filed in newspapers in Tucson, Phoenix and Prescott. The reaction was strongest in Phoenix, which fell within the claim. Suddenly every landowner knew their property rights were in question. And the town's two newspapers, the Herald and the Gazette, declared war. Both papers doubted the validity of the grant, urged their readers not to sign any agreements with Reavis, and condemned any quitclaim sales. It looked for a time that the territory would present a untied front. But then there were three serious defections.
The first man to cut a deal with Reavis was Col. James M. Barney (above). He had bought the Silver King Mine a few years earlier, paying over half a million dollars. That mine was now digging on an 87 foot wide vein of silver ore, on three levels, the deepest 110 feet down, and was producing over $6 million of ore a year. In June of 1883 the old cavalryman paid Reavis $25,000 for a quitclaim on his mine. It was chump- change to Barney, and just good business. But it sent a shiver down the spines of every other property owner in the territory.
This was followed by word that the Southern Pacific Railroad, which was building its way eastward toward Phoenix, had also bought a quitclaim for a right-of-way into the territory for $50,000. What the terrified residents did not know was that the owners of the S.P. - Huntington, Crocker and their partners, were also the men who were funding Reavis and his vultures. In essence, the S.P. was paying itself for the right of way into Phoenix. But the deal also funded an army of rift-raft hired by Reavis to begin posting notices on every business and small farmer on the Peralta Claim., and demanding cash to leave them alone.
The next major defector was an even harder blow to resisters. Homer H. McNeil was a significant property owner in Phoenix, and the owner and publisher of The Gazette. When notice of the Peralta Grant had first appeared, his paper had joined the Herald, in urging residents to remain united in opposition. But rumors started when the Gazette began to tone down its editorials against Reavis, and in November word was leaked to the Herald that McNeal had indeed bought a quitclaim for all his property, including the Gazette's office. McNeal was threatened on the streets, and friends stopped speaking to him, and he returned his quitclaim to Mr. Reavis But Reavis was not in town.
James Reavis and his lawyer Cryil Baratt were in Guadalajara, looking over the shoulder of the man
Surveyor General Robbins had sent down to Mexico to check out the claim; Rufus C. Hopkins. It would prove to be a terrible choice.
- 30 -