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Sunday, June 24, 2012

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Pt. Nine THE BEST DEFENSE


I am always surprised by people who despise politics, because that is like despising vaccination needles; try living without it. And the way in which James Reavis-Peralta responded to Royal Johnson's report is a perfect example. Of course he sued the United States, claiming the government was stealing a million and a half acres from his “Arizona Development Corporation”, and demanded compensation of $11 million ($2.5 billion today). That got a lot of headlines. But more practically, he called on his allies in Washington. The railroad's man in the President's Cabinet (and therefore Huntington's man), Secretary of the Interior John W. Noble, put pressure on the Commissioner for the Land Office, Lewis Groff, who was technically Johnson's boss. On February 20, 1890, Commissioner Groff fired off a critical letter to the Arizona Surveyor General - Royal Johnson. The letter said Johnson's report was biased and instructed Johnson to “strike the case from your docket and notify Mr. Reavis of the action, allowing the usual time for an appeal to the Hon. Secretary of the Interior.” In other words, John W. Noble. Problem solved – except for the lawsuit.
Lawyers for Reavis-Peralta and the Development Corporation were Harvey Brown, Robert Ingersall and James Broadhead, who had already publicly endorsed the Peralta claim. All three men were also attorneys for Huntington's Southern Pacific Railroad. Mr. Huntington must have been a little annoyed he'd been forced out of the shadows on this point. Never-the-less the lawyers began a delaying action while Senator Roscoe Conkling (another Huntington ally) came to the rescue, pushing for the creation in March of 1891, of the U.S. Court of Private Land Claims, which was given jurisdiction over old Mexican and Spanish land claims, i.e. the Peralta grant.
While all of this was going, in California James Reavis-Peralta's personal attorneys managed to find just the right people who were willing to swear under oath they had known the little orphan girl Sophia Peralta at various stages in her life. One man even claimed to have been a employee of John Treadway, who had supposedly provided for the child after her father's death in Spain. And in February 1893, an express wagon pulled up in front of the Land Office in Sante Fe, New Mexico and unloaded “an array of boxes and packages, all...marked 'Peralta Grant.' This was the evidence attacking the Surveyor General's report. Along with the mass of documents, old and newly discovered, was a large oil portrait of the Marquis de Peralta, to put a face on the fraud. James Reavis-Peralta and Sophia now moved back into their desert fortress of Arizola, where, on March 8, 1893 , Sophia argued her own case by giving birth to twin boys, thus proving, said James, that she had been born a twin herself. Also that spring, another group of investors were lined up to supply another $2,500 (today's equivalent of $60,000) a month, for operating expenses..
At the same time the prosecution was also getting ready. The newly formed Court of Private Land Claims had hired Mathew Reynolds to defend the government, “"a lawyer of splendid ability”, and he fought to hire William Tipton an expert on document analysis, Sevaro Mallet-Prevost, a Mexican-American who was an expert in Mexican and American land laws, and Henry Flipper, an expert surveyor. All these men and their staffs were a major investment by the government, but with his lawsuit Reavis had changed the economics of the case, making it reasonable to invest the time and money needed to prove Reavis was a fraud. It was James Reavis' first really big mistake. He had overplayed his hand.
In January of 1894 Mallet-Prevost and Tipton went to Tucson to examine the original claim files. Once that task was completed, Mallet-Provist went on to Mexico City and Guadalajara. There he found that the Royal  Cedula naming Don Miguel Peralta as the Baron of Arizona was real, but it had been altered. Originally it had been a Credula advising the City of Guadalajara that the Count of Fuenclara was the new Viceroy of New Spain. In June Mallet-Prevost moved on to old Spain. While in Seville he discovered that the Spanish authorities had actually caught Reavis trying to slip a doctored document into a library, and had issued a warrant for his arrest. But Reavis had used his connections with Spanish royalty to discourage the police from pursuing their case.
Meanwhile, Mathew Reynolds had gone to California, where he was contacted by the lawyer for Mrs Elena Campbell de Nore, who had a signed contract between her husband and James Reavis, in which Miguel Nore (the husband) was promised $50,000.00 in exchange for lying for Reavis – Hell, it seems, hath no fury like a wife cut out of a payoff. Also, he made a side trip to the grave of John Treadway, the friend of Don Peralta who had supposedly agreed to care for the infant Sophia. According to the dates on his tombstone, Treadway had died six months before Sophia was born.  As details of the evidence being collected in Mexico, Spain and California began to leak out, Reavis' investors began to quietly drop away. As the money dried up, Reavis' lawyers quit, one after the other. By the time his case came to trial, James Reavis-Peralta was flat broke.
The trial was supposed to begin in Santa Fe, at 10:00 Monday morning, June 2, 1895, but nobody from the Reavis-side showed up. The court adjourned until 1:00 that afternoon, when the only business was a motion from  J.T. Kenney,  a lawyer representing 106 Peralta family members from Arizona. They had filed a companion suit, hoping to catch some dribbles from Reavis' bounty, but after reviewing the government's evidence, Kenney told the court, “from a cursory examination... it (the Peralta Grant) is a fabrication...We wash our hands from all of it.” First thing Tuesday morning the court began taking testimony from government witnesses, even though Baron James Reavis-Peralta was still no where to be seen.
The Government case was laid out in full. There never was any one named Don Miguel Nemecio Silva de Peralta de la Corboda. There had never been a grant of land issued to the nonexistent Baron. The nonexistent grant had not been approved by the Inquisition, and had not been confirmed by the Viceroy, who had died a few days after her did not sign the nonexistent grant. The nonexistent Don Miguel Peralta had never married, and he and his imaginary wife had never had children, who, of course had not had children, who had not had children, who, needless to say, had not delivered sickly twins in an isolated California mission, where the nonexistent mother had not died along with her nonexistent male twin, and there had been no Sophia Peralta who survived, because her mother had not existed. The supposed friend of the nonresistant Baron Parlata had existed - John A. Treadway was real. But he had died six months  before the nonexistent Sophia Peralta had not been born.
Documents supporting the Peralta claim had been forged, usually badly, and inserted into existing files and books. Legitimate entries in diaries and record books had been erased to make room for forged names and titles. The entire Peralta case was a tale of lies, cheats and broken promises, and had survived in the courts as long as it did only because of the support by rich and powerful men like Huntington and Crocker, who had become rich and powerful because they had no scruples about lying and cheating to make money.
Finally, on June 10, 1895, the Baron of Arizona, James Reavis-Peralta showed up in court in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the flesh, to answer the Government's charges. He should have stayed in bed.
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