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Sunday, September 14, 2014

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Part Eight

I doubt James Reavis-Peralta (above), the self styled Baron of Aridzona, could have imagined a worse person to review his new filing for the Peralta grant than Royal A. Johnson. He was a lawyer, the son of a New York lawyer, and had never expressed an interest in politics. He had come west out of curiosity, and stayed because he found a good job as a clerk in the Arizona Territory Surveyor General's office. He'd been one of the clerks who had received the original voluminous Perlata Grant filing in 1883. And from that morning he'd been suspicious of Reevis. Royal had risen to second in command of the office when his boss, Joseph W. Robbins, had died, and was universally approved as Robbins's replacement.
Then in 1884 Democrat Grover Cleveland won the White House, and in the wholesale shifting of political favors, Royal was replaced as Surveyor General the Democrat John Hise. Thus, when Reavis-Peralta filed his new claim, it was John Hise who was to pass judgment on the it. However, Hise was also suspicious of Reavis, and delayed making his decision. Reavis appealed to Hises' boss, looking to shake things up, but that failed. And then 1888 the Republican Benjamin Harrison was elected President, and in July of 1889 Royal Johnson, the one man who knew almost as much about the Peralta Grant as James Reavis-Peralta,  was back in as Surveyor General.
Even during the four years he was out of office, Royal had continued to investigate the grant. So in September, when the acting United States Commissioner of Land sent Royal a letter asking, “"please report to me the exact condition of said grant...and all the information you can obtain in regard to it.", Royal was loaded and ready to fire. His broadside was fired on October 12th (Columbus day), 1889 and the title said it all; “Adverse Report of the Surveyor General of Arizona, Royal A. Johnson, upon the alleged Peralta Grant”. The word “alleged” must have particularly stung the Baron.
First, Johnson noted that the Royal Cedula, the document which had supposedly started the entire enterprise, was written in a form different than every other Royal Cedula every issued, and in such bad Spanish that Royal suggested it must have been written by an American using “bad California Spanish”. In addition the seal on the Royal Cedula had been printed on the page, and not impressed into it, as it was in every other Credula. Finally, the signatures had been made with a steel pen, not invented until a century after the 1748 date on the page.
Considering the report of the "Mexican Holy Inquisition", Royal observed that the seal was legitimate, but it had been glued on the page and not impressed, and it was cracked and had a brown tinge, suggesting it had been heated and removed from another document. And when discussing the Viceroy's decree directly awarding the grant, Royal wrote, “No certificate of a modern date nor any other reliable certification appears on the copies which would point to the originals being at present in the custody of some custodian of archives where they could be readily located and seen...to enable me to ascertain the whereabouts of originals or to prove their existence, and if they were to be obtained it is the duty of the claimants to produce them or to obtain and submit undoubted proof of their existence in their proper archives ... .”
In fact, at times the Surveyor General seemed to be scolding Reavis. “...it seems in poor taste that the old books of the San Xavier Mission, wherein were recorded the births, marriages and deaths of persons under the cognizance of the Church, should be selected to have inserted, and rudely inserted, among its withered leaves a copy of the grant of Peralta by the viceroy, and a copy of Peralta’s will." Royal went on to point out the obvious signs of a forgery committed under time constraints and in difficult places. "In the first place, the (forgery) is pasted in at right angles to the other sheets and is one-third larger than the regular sheets. The upper end of the pasted-in sheet is inserted in that part of the binding that holds the back of the large book together, instead of being in regular order...”
Royal further noted that under the laws existing the 16th century, the King would not have communicated to the Viceroy of New Spain, but rather through the bureaucracy, to the Council of the Indies, who would have then contacted the Viceroy. And there was no copy of the Peralta Grant in the Council's archives. And, asked Johnson, why was there no record or even mention of the noble deeds achieved by Maguel Peralta anywhere in any other records? Given that this was the largest individual land grant made in the Americas by the Spanish crown, should not the achievement equal its reward? And, noted Johnson, Spanish law at the time said, “No memorial from any person whatever shall be received for services which shall not be supported by certificates from viceroys, Generals, or other chiefs under whom such services shall have been performed, except those persons who shall have served in the councils.” And, again, the Council of the Indies had no record of the Peralta grant.
Royal also noted that although the Inquisition was extremely powerful in Mexico, no obsessive Spanish bureaucrat – and any good bureaucrat is obsessive - would have asked that body to investigate the Peralta Grant. It should have been reviewed by the Audiencia Guadalajara Nuev Galidia. And in those records there was no mention of the Peralta Grant. Then, Royal Johnson dealt with the conflicts between the 1883 and 1887 claims. Noted the Surveyor General, if the 1864 Willing bill of sale was legitimate, then that superseded Sophia's inheritance. And as to the photograph of Sophia standing next to the “Inicial Monument” (above), Johnson showed that the Peralta family crest carved into the rock was, in reality, Indian holography.
The report went on to detail the vagueness of the boundaries of the claim, pointing out that under long established property law in America and in Mexico, you cannot claim what you cannot locate. “Speedy and final action should be had on this base claim in order that the people of this territory may enjoy their homes with peace of mind. And parties guilty of forgery or the fabrication of papers that have caused so much trouble should be vigorously prosecuted by the government and that without delay. I recommend that the alleged grant should not be confirmed as it is prayed for, it being to my mind without the slightest foundation in fact and utterly void.”
The Baron of Arizona, James Reavis-Peralta,  responded as any good con man would respond when he was caught red handed. He sued the United States government for $11 million.
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