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Sunday, August 24, 2014

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Part Five

I think it was very clever of James Reavis to choose tiny  Saford, Arizona, capital of Graham County, to file his first claim related to the Peralita grant. The entire county had less than 5,000 residents in October of 1882 when James Reavis chose this as the spot to start his game. The collection of bars and stables built around water wells sat in a fertile nook of the barren Sonora-Chihuahuan Desert, at the foot of the isolated Pinaleno Mountains, 165 miles east of Phoenix. But it was only 30 miles west of the New Mexico territorial  border, and just 100 miles north of the border with old Mexico.  In short, it was not near anywhere else, except an exit should anyone react strongly..
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 paperwork, the probate court lacked authority to judge the validity of the Peralta Grant itself. And Reavis did want them to. The town was now  within the confines of the grant, which ran into New Mexico, but could it be 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? It did not matter for long, because his next move made a very large and well publicized 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 the 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. One story says that Reavis 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 - roughly from 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 Peralta in consideration of and as a reward for distinguished military services rendered to the Crown in the war of Spain...”
Now, Joseph Robbins, might be the Surveyor General for the Arizona territory, but he was a political appointee, with 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. But as he watched his staff notarize the seemingly endless series of documents, many with what looked like 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 the combined states of Maryland and New Jersey, with the District of Columbia thrown in as well..
Second of the documents was the 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 confirmation, then a statement written by Don Miguel Nemecio Silva de Peralta de la Corboda himself, describing the exact location he chose for the grant. Then from the trunk was drawn the petition from Peralta to Carlos III of Spain, requesting confirmation of the grant, followed by that confirmation, granted 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 1864 quick claim bill of sale signed in Black Canyon, selling the entire grant over to George Willing . 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, the largest town which fell within the claim. Suddenly every business owner, home owner, mine owner and farmer knew their property rights were in question. The town's two newspapers, the Herald and the Gazette, both declared war on James Reavis. Both papers questioned the validity of the grant, urged their readers not to sign any agreements with Reavis, and condemned the practice of "quit claim" sales. It looked for a time that the territory would present a untied front. But almost immediately there were three serious defections.
The first 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 silver a year. In June of 1883 the old cavalryman paid Reavis $25,000 for a quit claim 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.
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, and in November word was leaked to the Herald that McNeal had indeed paid a quit claim for all his property, including the Gazette's office. McNeal was threatened on the streets, and even his friends stopped speaking to him. The newspaperman tried to return his quit claim to Mr. Reavis, and get his money back.  But Reavis was no longer in town..
James Reavis and his lawyer Cryil Baratt were down in Guadalajara, looking over the shoulder of the man
Surveyor General Robbins had sent down to Mexico to investigate the claim -  Mr. Rufus C. Hopkins. But Rufus would prove to be a terrible choice as an investigator.
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