I think, for all the pain and anxiety caused by James Reavis in the Peralta Grant scam, the most heinous crime he committed was what was he did to the woman known only as Sophia. She was an orphan, a woman and a Mexican living in a sexist, racist culture. She had no family for economic or emotional support, no dowry to secure a supportive husband. She was adrift in the world, forced at a tender age to face what we all must face in our adulthood, that we are largely alone in this world. And then, in 1877, she met a stranger on a train, who told her was from a noble, wealthy family. And over the years this man continued to tease her with hint after hint that seemed to confirm her personal fairy tale. And then he swept into her life again, and offered to lift her into a world of wealth and privilege. And all he asked in return was that she believe him. And that she marry him.
She was working as a servant girl in a hotel in the Stanislaus River ferry crossing village of Knights Landing, California – about 20 miles north-west of Sacramento. The opening of the transcontinental railroad nad sent the community into a decline, and the hotels and rooming houses were closing one by one. And this working class girl who had no past, was facing a bleak future when James Reavis arrived on the Southern Pacific to rescue her. They were married on December 31, 1882, after his second scheme to steal from the citizens of Arizona had failed. And in January, she was enrolled in a convent school, to train her in the social skills expected of a well born lady.
While the girl studied, Reavis journeyed to San Francisco. From Collis Huntington and Charles Crocker (above) and other financial supporters he collected letters of introduction to several important Washington power players. He also met with San Francisco banker Maurice Herr, who put up $25,000 to fund "The Arizona Development Corporation". This was a step forward in the plan to fleece the citizens of Arizona. Where Reavis' "Peralta Grant" scam had only sought to blackmail the people of Arizona, this corporation could add investors world wide to its list of victims. Reavis had finally learned the secret lesson of capitalism, from his hidden financiers – a thief is a man who robs a bank, while a financial wizard is a banker who robs everybody. At the same time James Reavis met with John W. Mackay, whose holdings in the Comestock Lode produced half of all the silver in the United States. Mackay wanted to get an inside track on the Peralta Grant, and offered to finance Reavis' Spanish research, paying him a stipend of $500 (the modern equivalent of $11,500). a month. It seemed James Reavis and wife and party, would be traveling to Spain in style
They stopped off in New York, where Reavis used his letters of introduction to bond with powerful Senator Roscoe Conkling, former Congressman and lobbyist Dwight Townsend and Bankers Henry Potter and Hector de Castro. A few weeks later the Reavis party boarded ship for Spain; the reprobate ex-lawyer Cyril Baratt, the short, violent thug Pedro Cuervo, the newly minted lady, Baroness Sophia Reavis ne Peralta , and the new version of James Reavis with the new name – James Reavis -Peralta, Baron of Arizona.
Once again, luck was with Reavis. His party arrived in Spain at the perfect moment. The 27 year old Alfonso XII (above - aka “The King without good fortune:) was entering his 10th gilded year on the throne, his monarchy having been restored at the end of December 1874. Valuing noble blood was de regueire in Spain at this time. And fortuitously for Spanish society, at this opportune moment, a long lost New World American royal cousin appeared, the lovely, regal Sophia Peralta, and her charming, debonair paramour, the man who had rescued her from commonality, James Reavis-Peralta. The public and the nobility were both primed to see her as she saw herself, as a fairy tale come true.
Reavis made a tour of the great cathedrals of Madrid. The civil government of the Spanish municipios had only begun recording births and deaths in 1831. Records of all christenings, deaths and weddings before that could be found only in church records, in the cathedrals, like Iglesia de San Andrés or the San Pedro el Viejo for example. It took weeks before James was able to discover the codicil to the will of Don Miguel Perlata's leaving everything he owned, including the Peralta grant, to his only surviving daughter, Sophia.
When he was not laboring alone over the ancient dusty documents, Reavis-Peralta was wandering through the second hand shops and flea markets of Madrid, buying the occasional painting or daguerreotype of a forgotten nobility, which had lost its fortune during the brief Republic before Alfonso's restoration. James picked those which showed a resemblance to Sophia, on other words those which could be presented as being her ancestors. And in his weaving of her tale to his young bride, they became her ancestors. And the living members of Peralta family were as willing to believe that this rich American had discovered an image of their long lost distant cousins. Wasn't she graceful? Didn't she carry herself like a baroness? You do not learn those things in a California Catholic finishing school. True nobility is born with grace and culture. Sophia Peralta Revis was obviously born with noble blood.
In December of 1885 the King, Alfonso XII, fell ill with tuberculosis. His last words were, “What a struggle. What a struggle!” He was succeeded by his pregnant wife, Queen Maria Christina. Her son, and the new king, would not be born until five months later. By then, the delightful Baroness Sophia Peralta Revis and her gracious American husband were so well accepted by the nobility, they were even presented to the Queen. Then, in a cloud of fond farewells, the noble couple returned to America, arriving in New York City in November of 1886
As they say, everybody loves a winner, and the Peralta brand was clearly winning. On their return to America they received the endorsement the powerful Missouri Republican James Broadhead (above), who endorsed the claim, referring to James Reavis-Peralta as, “a man of remarkable energy and persistence." Republican Senator Roscoe Conkling vouched for the validity of the claim, and said he believed Sophia “to be the person she believes herself to be...the lineal descendant of the original grantee.” Back in California in 1887, James was able to add to his list of supporting documents a testimonial from Alfred Sherwood, of San Diego County, who swore he had known Sophia all her life, and even her parents as well.
In August, the Revis-Peralta's journeyed by Southern Pacific railroad train to Arizona. And fortuitously, while pausing in Phoenix, they took a carriage ride into the mountains, and stumbled across yet even more evidence, the "Inicial Monument”, the very great stone which Don Miguel Peralta had carved his family crest upon when first coming to the grant in 1758. Wasn't that lucky. James even posed Sophia next to the carving (above), and included the photo in his new claim, filed in Tucson on September 2, 1887. Now his claim was simple and direct, and no longer rested on a single scrap of paper bill of sale . He was the grantee, by benefit of his marriage to the direct ancestor of old Don Miguel Peralta, Doña Sophia Micaela Maso Reavis y Peralta de la Córdoba, third Baroness of Arizona.
James Reavis-Peralta began calling himself the Baron of Arizona. And he formed the "Casa Grande Improvement Company", to exploit his land. He sold $3 million in stock (above), based on his plans to build a massive damn on the Salt River, which would allow irrigation systems to make the desert bloom. Never mind that most of the year, the Salt River was a bed with no water in it. But for all his plans, James barely paused in his fortress at Arizola. They had built or bought homes where their investors lived – in San Francisco, St. Louis, New York and Chihuahua, Mexico. It was while in New York City that Sophia adopted a two month old orphan and named him Fenton, after James' father.
It looked as if the land commissioners in Arizona had little choice but to approve the grant, and make James Reavis Peralta a multi-millionaire and Sophia a fairy tale princess. And I have no doubt that would have happened – except for one man – the Surveyor General for Arizona, Royal Johnson.
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