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J.P. Morgan as a young man in his own words - "The Public Be Damned."

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Part Six

I think Guadalajara is one of the most surprising cities in North America. It's name has Arabic roots, wadi l-ijara, meaning “the valley of the stones”, which hints at the Medieval Moorish occupation of Spain, mother country to Mexico. At the same time Guadalajara's university, founded in 1791, helped make the capital of Jalisco province an economic power house. But when James Reavis, Cryil Baratt and Rufus C. Hopkins arrived in the winter of 1882, the town was struggling to recover from 60 years of racial bloodshed, during which Indian tribes rebelled against enslavement and oppressive government rule 27 separate times. It was only the Catholic church's obsession with order and precedent which saved the region's history. And that is what drew our trio of gringos to this cultural island.
Rufus C. Hopkins was probably not the worst man Surveyor General Robbins could have picked to send on this mission, but about his only qualification was that he could read the Spanish used in old land grants. He was 70 years old, and Reavis and Baratt hovered around the old man, introducing him to the archivists, the priests and clerks, and were ever eager to point out important documents and even discovering a previously unknown copy of the 1748 "cedulare" approving the Peralta grant. This latest discovery was important, since nothing would discourage doubters looking closer into the grant than the threat they would only stumble over more evidence supporting it. The old man was clearly convinced. His report would support Reavis' claim. Unfortunately for James Reavis, back in Tucson Arizona, things had taken a turn for the worse.
Rufus Hopkin's boss, Joseph W. Robbins, had died of tuberculosis while the trio were down in Guadalajara. His replacement was his chief clerk, Royal A. Johnson, and he was healthy and had a healthy skepticism about Rufus Hopkin's report on the Peralta grant. He noted that tucked away in the back of Hopkins' report was the note that the only records in Guadalajara which mentioned the Peralta Grant, were those which specifically dealt with it. In discussing the desire for Spanish troops to deal with the Apache, for instance, there was no mention of the grant, even though it was smack in the middle of their land, and it was claimed Don Miguel Peralta had been driven off “his” grant by the Apache. This was why Rufus Hopkins' report, like all good historical scholarship, could only say that after a cursory examination there was nothing to disprove the legality of the grant.
James Reavis (above), of course, took much more forceful interpretation of the report. He and Cryil Baratt began spreading the rumor that the American government was about to offer him $100 million for the Grant. And given Huntington and Croker's political friends in Washington, that was not impossible. Reavis had already refused to sell another right-away quick claim, similar to the one Huntington's Southern Pacific had bought, to the competing Texas and Pacific Railroad, which was trying to fulfill James Gadsden old dream of connecting the southern states to the Pacific ocean. With all land rights in Arizona now uncertain, and without a quick claim of its own, the banks withdrew their support for the Texas and Pacific, and progress on that railroad ground to a halt. Crocker and Huntington's investment in Reavis was already paying dividends.
Meanwhile Reavis' bodyguard, Pedro Cuervo had recruited a small army of thugs who were shaking down every farmer, rancher, miner, home and business owner in Arizona for anything from $1,000 to a free meal in exchange for an immediate quit claim on their properties. Many paid up. Those who resisted found their businesses vandalized, their employees beaten, crops and barns burned and wells fouled. Typical of Reavis' methods was the treatment for the Tom Weedin, editor of the "Florence Enterprise" in Pinal County, about 40 miles southeast of Phoenix.  Reavis offered Weedin the standard bribe, and when Weedin said no, his offices were burned to the ground. But Weedin responded by forming an “Anti-Reavis” committee, to raise money to oppose his thugs in court. Similar committees sprang up in Phoenix, Tucson and Tempe. To Weedin it felt like rowing against the tide. Cuervo's bandits squeezed an estimated $5.3 million out of Arizona in 1884. Organized crime had been turned loose on the libertarian wonderland of the Old West, where almost everybody carried a gun. And contrary to modern theory, the result was that citizens were left screaming for government activism – and immediately!
Reavis was feeling confident enough to build himself La Hacienda de Peralta, a fortress with a nine foot wall enclosing servants quarters, stables, barns, a well, and a ten room redwood mansion (above), with running water inside. He built his outpost just south of the ruins of Casa Granda, about 80 miles south of Phoenix and about 60 miles north of the Mexican border - should a quick escape be required. He called it Arizola, and began referring to himself as the Baron de Arizona.
The only trouble was a lawsuit filed by the Territorial Attorney General, Clark Churchill, claiming that Reavis had no right to property owned by the Territory of Arizona, because he lacked clear title to the grant. It was the weak point in Reavis' claim. There were still people alive who had been in Black Canyon in 1864 and none of them could recall a Miguel Peralta working a mine there. And in May of 1885 the territorial court granted clear title to the Attorney General. The Tucson Citizen newspaper headlined, “Reavis Nailed Up” In a letter dated May 2, 1885, The Arizona Land Commissioner, W.A. Sparks, wrote to Surveyor Royal Johnson, “The essential foundation of a recognizable claim under the laws of Spain and the treaties and laws of the United States does not appear in this case. It is my opinion that the futile work in which you have been engaged for a year...should forthwith be discontinued.” Johnson agreed, writing back that he hoped “...the many schemes concocted by bad men...will now cease....(and) we shall have no further connection with this grant.”
Almost over night, income from the shakedowns for quit claims dried up and Cuervo's thugs returned to whatever they had been doing before Cuervo had hired them. Feeling the ground shifting under his feet, Reavis caught a Southern Pacific train for California. But if James Reavis was looking for more support from his financial backers, Huntington and Crocker, he did not get it. The delay of the Texas and Pacific railroad had been their primary concern, and it had been stopped. But another ally did appear, when George Hearst, new owner of the San Francisco Examiner, and father to William Randolph Hearst, decided to back Reavis with favorable publicity in his paper. Still Mr Crocker warned that the weak point remained the 1864 bill of sale to George Willing. It had been written on a scrap of paper, and, frankly Mr Huntington had doubts as well that it would stand up in any court. Didn't Reavis have anything stronger?
Once again, as had happened so many times before in this story, James Reavis did have something stronger. He had a little lady he had met on a train back in 1871. Reavis had stayed in contact with her, exchanging letters, and even paying for her to attend "finishing" school. And now she was right where and when Reavis needed her to be, and she was even who he needed her to be; Sofia Peralta, sole surviving heir to the Peralta Land Grant. With her appearance, the bill of sale became irrelevant. 
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