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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Friday, August 01, 2014

TOO MANY GOVERNORS

I am surprised that nobody got lynched in Nebraska during the winter of 1890-91. Tempers were tense on the prairie that winter,  and the newspapers all had a dog in the hunt, so to speak, and they could be trusted to be neither fair nor accurate, but certainly unbalanced. In the election on November 4, 1890, the Republicans and Democrats split between them seven seats in the state senate and forty-six seats in the house. But every other seat, eighteen in the senate and fifty-four in the house, gave a clear majority to an upstart third party, the so called “hogs in the parlor”, the People’s Independent Party. And to those who dream about the transforming- the log-jam busting magic -  of a third party in Congress, let the experiences of the PIPs be a lesson in reality.
Cornhusker politics have often been more colorful than the reticent citizens are wont to admit to outsiders. What other state’s tourism motto could boast with a straight face “We go both ways”? Either they don’t think anybody else is bright enough to get that joke, or they aren’t. And either possibility is not a compliment to the denizens of Nebraska.
Even before Nebraska was admitted to the union, on January 7, 1859, a fracas of fisticuffs fractured the Nebraska territorial legislature, between those who lived north and those who lived south of the Platte River. It may seem pointless to be divided by a stream famously described as “too thick to drink, and too thin to plow”, a river which, in the late summer, resembles more plain than flood plain, but politics is rarely about reality and doubly so in Nebraska, where reality is so flat and peppered with cow poo. After the brawl the South Platte faction removed themselves across the river to the hamlet of Florence, which had, according to the newspaper “Nebraskian”, “…been, for months, laboring assiduously to delude strangers that it was a city”.
The entire place only became a state over President Andrew Johnson’s veto in 1867. And in the 1870 Supreme Court decision “Baker V. Morton” the justices had to slap down the state’s power structure for stealing land from a poor sod buster and using it to bribe state legislators, in the infamous “Skiptown scandal”. But all of this would prove a mere foretaste to the bounty of bovine pie hurling offered up after the election of 1890.
To the farmers living on the Nebraska prairie in the 1880’s it seemed the railroads were standing on their throats. And to those concerned about Health Care Reform or Union busting, I urge you to study the century long struggle against the railroad monopolies. All across the American west, farmers had bought their land from the railroads. The banks which held their mortgages were owned by the railroads. The only way to get their wheat and corn to market was via the railroads. The only silos to store their harvested crops while awaiting shipment were owned by the railroads. The railroad monopolies set the shipping rates and the silo rates and there was no appeal to their heartless bookkeeping.
Try and start a bank to break the railroad monopoly, and the state legislators would make it illegal. Try and build your own silo, and the state legislators would make it illegal. Politics in Nebraska were so rotten it was said the Union Pacific Railroad picked one of the States’ two Senators, while the other was chosen by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.
Theoretically the American two-party system should offer the oppressed a choice. But by 1890, thanks to political contributions from the railroads,  the Democrats supported a laissez faire approach to capitalism, while the Republicans were tied to an activist government in favor of the capitalists (i.e. the railroads). The oppressed majority were cow pied out to luck.
Thus was born the Farmer’s Alliance, which morphed into the People’s Independent Party. It was forged in response to decades of railroad corruption, railroad influence selling, and political stagnation - sound familiar? (I'll give you a hint - substitute the word bank or insurance company for the word railroad)  And then on top of that, a drought not equaled again until the dust bowl of the 1930’s reduced many Nebraska farmers to poverty. According to one mocking Republican observer, the ideal world envisioned by these “hayseeds” was a combination of a Victor Hugo plot and a Baptist revival meeting. But the truth was, all that most of these farmers wanted was for somebody to just acknowledge the railroads were standing on their wind pipe. It was their hoarse cry for justice which had produced the results of the election of November 1890. And when the Nebraska legislature convened in joint session in January of 1891,  things very quickly developed into that Victor Hugo melodrama.
To begin with, the new speaker of the House, Independent Sam Elder, decided he was going to bypass the acting President of the Senate, Republican Lieutenant-Governor George Meiklejohn, and preside over both houses of the legislature all by himself. That was plainly illegal and extra-constitutional but Sam figured that desperate times called for desperate measures.
However, Elder’s plans for a grand investigation of election fraud and a remaking of state government were derailed when Meiklejohn grabbed the gavel off the podium and refused to return it. There was a shoving, grasping cat fight for the precious totem, which Meiklejohn eventually won. From this point the business of government in Nebraska got very noisy and ground to a complete halt, all over the issue of the certification of the new governor.
As these things were normally counted, the clear election loser was the Republican candidate L.D. Richards, who received just 68,878 votes. The Democrat, James Boyd, had received 71,331 votes, and was, according to county election officials from across the state (who were all either Democrats or Republicans, of course), the winner. But Speaker Elder was certain the actually winner had been John Powers, the candidate of Elder's People’s Independent Party. Officially Powers had received 70,187 votes, making him second by 1,144 votes. But Elder believed with good reason that 2,000 fraudulent votes had been cast for Boyd in Douglas County, centered on Omaha. And Speaker Elder was demanding an immediate investigation.
With the Republicans siding with the Democrats against the Independents, neither side dared to adjourn. Elder presided from the podium, calling on speakers and announcing votes, while Meiklejohn sat at the clerk’s desk, doing the same. Nobody got anything done because nobody could hear anybody else. Sometime after midnight, with the Republicans caucusing with their Democratic allies in an anteroom, Speaker Elder ordered the doors locked and told the sergeant-at-arms to admit no one without a written pass from him; check.
Meanwhile, the presumed victor, James Boyd, had requested and received an immediate hearing before the State Supreme Court. Boyd was asking for a writ of mandamus (“…a court order that required another court, government official, public body, corporation or individual, to perform a certain legally required act”). Boyd’s attorney argued his case before three judges of the Nebraska state Supreme Court, in a hearing room crowded with armed angry spectators from various political factions. After the hearing it was expected the judges would retire to consider the arguments. Instead the justices held an immediate huddle and after a few moments Chief Justice Cobb announced that the weighty issues of freedom of speech, suffrage, democracy, public order and good government were all irrelevant. The court had decided that certifying election results was simply a clerical duty and not a matter of choice. Cobb signed the writ of mandamus on the spot and then ran for the exit; checkmate.
The spectators were so stunned they were frozen. And that was probably the only reason none of the freshly disenfranchised voters in the room started shooting. The sheriff of Lancaster County (a Democrat), surrounded by deputies (more Democrats), smashed down the locked doors of the legislative chamber, charged to the front of the room and forcefully served the writ upon Speaker Elder. They practically threw it in his face.
And to everyone’s surprise, Speaker Elder did as he was ordered to do. John Boyd was officially declared the official governor of the state of Nebraska. “Thus”, said Judge Bayard Paine forty-five years later, “tragedy was averted in Nebraska statecraft.” Instead, tragedy was converted into low comedy.
At that point in time the most hated man in Nebraska was probably the outgoing governor, Republican John Thayer. It was Thayer’s open kowtowing to the railroads over the previous year which been most responsible for the defeat of the Republican Party in the past election. And he now refused to surrender his office, saying he would “hold on to the chair, the seat, and the office of Governor until the cows come home.” Whatever happens in Nebraskan politics, one way or the other, it always seems to come down to cows.
While the legislature bickered downstairs, Thayer barricaded himself in the governor’s offices upstairs. He called on 25 men of the State militia under the appropriately named Captain Rhody, and the Omaha Police Department, to stand guard over his self. Having finally taken the oath, Boyd moved into other offices in the State House and dispatched the Lincoln County sheriff (again) to take procession of the executive suites. But this time the sheriff ran up against an armed militia which refused to surrender. Fist fights again broke out, until Boyd ordered his side to retire.
On January 10th it finally occurred to Captain Rhody that he and his little band of men had been maneuvered out on a limb, and if that limb collapsed he was the one most likely to be lynched from it. Rhody announced to outgoing Governor Thayer that “I have saluted you for the last time”, and then marched his little army back to their barracks. Abandoned, Thayer surrendered the Governor’s offices, and Boyd moved in.
But Thayer was far from ready to give up. He hired his own attorney and on January 13th 1891, appealed to the state Supreme Court. His argument was inventive; John Boyd was not qualified to be governor because he was not an American citizen because he had not been born in America. And that made John Thayer the original “birther”.
Indeed Boyd had been born in Ireland in 1834. His family had immigrated to America when he was 14. His father had begun the naturalization paperwork in 1849 but events, both personal and political, had intervened. In 1856 the Boyd family had moved to Nebraska territory and had become involved in business and local politics. They were still residents in 1867 when Nebraska had been admitted to the union over President Andrew Johnson’s objection. But Boyd’s father had never completed the naturalization paperwork. Ergo, argued ex-Governor Thayer, John Boyd was not qualified to be the current governor of Nebraska.
And on May 5th, 1891 the State Supreme Court agreed with Thayer. Of course most of the judges had been appointed by Thayer, but Boyd chose not to call the Lincoln County Sheriff again. Boyd was out and ex-governor Thayer was Governor again. The Nebraska governor's office was beginning to resemble the prize in a game of musical chairs, but without the music. But what Thayer had done was a desperate power grab and doomed to failure in the long run, if for no other reason than it assured that any Irish Republicans in Nebraska were not likely to vote Republican again in the near future.
More immediately, Boyd appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their decision was announced by Chief Justice Fuller: “Manifestly,"  he said, "the nationality of the inhabitants of territory acquired by conquest or cession becomes that of the government under whose dominion they pass…The judgment of the supreme court of Nebraska is reversed…” It was an 8 to 1 judgment, issued on January 2nd, 1892. And thus the election of 1890 was finally decided, over a year later. Boyd resumed his office on February 3. But, since the Governor of Nebraska served just a two year term, the antics of Governor Thayer and Speaker Elder, had effectively cut Boyd’s term in half.
And that is the kind of political victory that only makes sense when figured by the quarterly profit and loss statements of a corporate boardroom. Politically, the Republicans were still out on that limb, in strong disfavor in Nebraska, and the Democrats made the smart move of courting the Independents.
The frustrated farmers and their leaders had come to the realization that to fight the large railroads would take a national political movement, and the Nebraska Independents, along with similar groups around the nation, found themselves drawn toward the Democratic Party. And in the Presidential election of 1896 they aligned themselves behind Nebraska Democratic Senator William Jennings Bryant, for President. He lost.
And that defeat deflated the Independents. nationally. They never gave up. But they never completely beat the railroads, which retained a great influence over national politics well into the 1950’s. But rather than the Democrats absorbing the Independents, in fact the Independents absorbed the Democratic Party. What came out of their joining was a populist Democratic party, a party that saw government as a force to redress grievances, a party which, for all its numerous failings, was a people’s party. And in that small way, the Nebraska populists won.
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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

THE EMPEROR'S OLD CLOTHES

I know where this particular version of the Emperor's New Clothes begins - in a two story white stucco building outside of Montgomery, Alabama. I know when it began - in the wake of the combined tragedies of World War One and the Great Depression. And I know who its prophets were, men known for their ideological devotion as the “Bombing Mafia”. And I know when the denouement of this tale was reached, not in a child's harmless observation of an obvious truth, but between noon and three on the Thursday afternoon of 14 October, 1943, in a frozen bloodbath. It was the day some of the best brains in the United States military had a “come to Jesus moment” and were forced to face the results of their own hubris.
It was just after four in the morning when the lights were switched on in metal huts at 14 airfields across southern England, awakening any of the 2,900 young men who had been able to sleep. They had half an hour to wash up and dress before breakfast, and another hour to eat and then report for their briefings. It was in those chilly rooms they learned their assignment for this day, mission number 115, was to again attack the ball bearing plants in the southern German town of Schweinfurt.
In August of 1931 Austin Hall (above) on Maxwell Air Field, outside of Montgomery, was dedicated as home for the Air Corps Tactical School. Tasked with training the next generation of pilots and planners, and facing dwindling depression era budgets, the ACTS saw the salvation of their new service in technology. General Oscar Westover decreed, “Bombardment aviation has (the) defensive fire power...(to) effectively accomplish...its assigned mission without support.” Thus was born the Air Force's “father, son and holy ghost”: bombers will always get through, a well trained crew can “drop a bomb into a pickle barrel from 30,000 feet”, and pinpoint shock and awe bombing of the “industrial web” by itself would destroy an enemy's ability to and will resist. The temple where this faith was practiced was the Boeing B-17 bomber.
In the cold and damp the ten mechanics assigned to each bomber had been struggling through the night to prepare for the mission. All four 1,200 horse power Wright “Cyclone” turbo charged radial engines were serviced. The manual control services (there were no hydraulic assists) on each 74 foot long bomber were tested. The tanks in the 103 foot wings were filled with 100 octane aviation fuel. The armament team loaded and armed 3,880 pounds of bombs in the bomb bay, and loaded and checked the eleven .50 caliber machine guns that gave each “Flying Fortress” its nickname. Close to 55,000 pounds of weight now depressed the two rubber tires on the concrete. At about 7:30 that morning the flight crews arrived to bring the aluminum behemoth to life.
First introduced in 1936, the Boeing B-17 was the embodiment of General Westover's creed. The commander/pilot and co-pilot in the cockpit were backed up by the flight engineer, sitting directly behind them. He controlled the fuel mixture and monitored the performance of all four engines, as well as manning the twin .50 caliber machine guns in the electrically powered top turret. Below and behind him was the bomb bay. Forward and below the cockpit, crouched in the nose of the aircraft, worked the navigator and bombardier, who also manned a single .50 caliber machine gun each. Behind the bomb bay sat the radio operator, who also manned a single fifty caliber gun. Rear of the radio compartment was the new (in the “F” model B-17) electrical ball turret, which was lowered after take off. With his knees level with with his head, this gunner fired twin .50 caliber guns, as well as reporting on the bomb strikes. Behind him two waist gunners, each manned a single .50 caliber machine gun. And crouched on his knees, beneath the 19 foot high tail, was the rear gunner, firing twin 50. caliber machine guns.
The concept preached in the ACTS was that the a porcupine-like cone of fire around the bomber would destroy any attackers foolish enough to approach. But survival above 10,000 feet in the unpressurized plane required a heavy electrically heated suit plugged into the plane's electrical system, thick insulated boots and gloves, an oxygen mask and hose tied to a heavy tank, a bulletproof vest, a steel combat helmet and goggles to keep the crewman's eyes from freezing in the ten degrees below zero air . All guns not in power turrets had to be manhandled against a 150 mile wind howling across the aircraft. It was quickly apparent that no one, burdened in such bulky gear, could track a heavy machine gun in three dimensional space, fast enough to accurately shoot at a single engine fighter approaching at up to 500 miles an hour. German fighter pilots were terrified by the heavy tracer rounds reaching out for their planes, and sometimes they were killed. But they attacked anyway, and they were horribly effective.
In the three missions just prior to Black Thursday, the U.S. Eighth Air Force had lost 90 B-17's to enemy action and accidents - 900 highly trained crew killed or captured in just three missions.   American production and population could quickly make good the losses. But survivors were already doubtful of living through the 25 combat missions of their tour of duty. And at 8:15, as the engines were started, there were few who did not dread what was coming. Four days earlier, the medical officer for one of the 17 groups taking part in mission 115 noted “moral is the lowest that has yet been observed.”
At 8:30 the 12 to 16 bombers in each squadron rolled forward, and followed the leader down their taxi ways. By nine each of the big bombers had powered its way into the sky, climbing to 7,000 feet, and then began flying six or seven loops, each 15 miles long by 5 miles wide, until a group of four squadrons (48 to 60 bombers in total ) would be staggered vertically and horizontally into a three dimensional combat box, 3,000 feet top to bottom, over a mile deep and half a mile wide and moving at 140 miles an hour. Each group then flew to an assembly point over southwest England, where the seven groups were formed into two wings. Then the complete formation the 350 bombers started the 25 minute climb to their operational altitude of 22,000 feet, while setting off for the Belgium coast. It was just about 11:15 in the morning.
The “experts” at ACTS had reduced the problem to numbers. At best a 600 pound bomb dug a crater 2 feet deep and nine feet wide, and was lethal out to 90 feet. And in prewar training each individual bomb, dropped from 23,000 feet at 160 miles an hour, had only about a 1% chance of landing within 100 feet of the aiming point. In essence, the United States Air Corp, using the most complex weapons system yet designed, was reduced to Napoleon's 300 year old strategy of maneuvering massed men to put the maximum metal in the general target area, and rely on the rule of averages to destroy the target. The prewar devotes at ACTS figured it would take at least 220 bombers to destroy any individual target. .
Joining the bomber formation over southern England were the “Little Friends”, British Spitfires, and American massive P-47 Thunderbolts (above) and the twin engine twin tailed P-38 fighters. Technological advances now allowed the fighters to match the bombers for altitude, and more than double their speed. But these escorts could only reach the German border at Aachen, before they had to turn back. By then 26 bombers had already aborted the mission because of mechanical problems.  The remaining 250 B-17 bombers were now alone in the sky, surrounded by a swarm of 700 German fighters. It was about two in the afternoon.
Almost immediately, closing at 500 miles an hour, six waves of ME-109 (above) and FW 190 fighters swept toward the bombers, firing rockets, and with their machine guns and 20 millimeter cannons blazing. After the last wave hurtled through the lead formations, 37 Flying Forts had been shot down or forced to turn back for England. There are now fewer than 225 bombers to complete the mission..
The coordinated attacks continued for half an hour, coming at the bombers from all sides. Some multi-engine German aircraft even flew above the bomber stream, bombing the bombers. As the B-17's approached the target, the fighters pulled away and the ground based anti-aircraft guns around Schweinfurt began firing. Every black, blue and red puff and white star burst marked the center of thousands of shards of metal that sliced apart aluminum, ripping control and fuel lines and flesh. Between 2:40 and 2:57pm the bombers dropped their loads. As they pulled away, the fighters, which had landed and rearmed, returned.
It was now a vicious melee in the cold sky, as the German pilots, desperately defending their homes and families, formed up with any available formations to press their attacks. One surviving navigator recalled, “The fighters were unrelenting; it was simply murder.” The desperate situation for the bombers was made worse because fog in England had prevented the Little Friends from launching to protect the B-17's on their homeward leg. The mauling did not end until the bombers staggered over the English channel.
All five ball bearing factories in Schweinfurt had been damaged, and production was cut by 40%. Two hundred seventy-six civilians had been killed. In addition just under forty German fighters had been destroyed and another 20 damaged. However the factories were soon returned to full production, and dispersed across Germany to make them a less tempting target. And the cost to America had been staggering.
Only 33 bombers landed without damage. 77 B-17's were lost. Sixty had been shot down, one had ditched in the channel, and five had crash landed back in England. One hundred thirty-three planes were damaged, 12 so badly the had to be cannibalized to keep the others flying. Out of 290 crew members who had flown the mission, 59 had been killed and 65 survived to be taken prisoner. In addition a single P-47 fighter had been shot down.
The British Bomber Command called the second Schwienfurt raid “America’s Waterloo.” And General “Hap” Arnold, commander of the Eighth Air Force was forced to admit that his bombers had no clothes. For the rest of the war his  “war winning” bombers were reduced to being sacrificial lambs, used as bait to draw German fighters up to defend their homeland, where they could be destroyed by the long delayed long range P-51 Mustang fighters, which Arnold finally began shipping to England two months after Black Thursday.
Like the pre-World War One theory that French spirit could over come German machine guns, that battleships would always fight off airplanes, and that armored nobility could never be defeated by common archers, the theory that bombers could win a war by themselves, was just another fantasy. And the American military has continued insisting that the Emperor has new clothes for at least another half a century, and maybe longer.  
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Sunday, July 27, 2014

GREAT EXPECTATIONS - PT ONE

I want to share with you a story of the way in which privilege and wealth are subject to the cruel whims of fate, and a Cinderella adventure of royalty in disguise . Our story begins in 1742 when 32 year old Don Miguel Nemecio Silva de Peralta de la Corboda set foot in the city of Guadalajara, New Spain. He was on a secret mission, and carried papers identifying him as the “vistador del rey”, a visitor from the King, marking him as a wealthy and accomplished man, with powerful friends. He wore the gold collar of a Knight of the Golden Fleece, a title which placed him above the law, as he could only be arrested on a warrant signed by six other Knights, and there were only fifty of those in all of Spain. He was also a member of the order of Montesa, warrior Knights who served under Cistercian beneficence. Eventually he would become the “Baron of the Dry Area”, in Spanish the “arida zona,” but that would carry only those privileges he could make of them.
Two years later, pleased with Don Miguel's performance of his mission, Philip V of Spain promoted him and gave him an enormous grant of about 1,328,000 acres of land, leaving it up to Augustin de Ahumada, the Viceroy of New Spain, to pick the exact spot. It took Don Miguel ten years of searching for the best location. Finally on January 3, 1758, the Viceroy designated the grant as lying north of the Mission of San Xavier del Bac, on the Santa Cruz River, eastward from the confluence of the Salt and Gila Rivers. In May of that year Don Miguel, accompanied by a priest and two military officers traveled to the desert site and consecrated the grant on a barren hill he named the “Inicial”, or first, monument. Here Miguel scratched his mark upon a large rock, and laid claim to his new world empire.
Don Miguel Peralta immediately took physical possession of his land, establishing a base camp around the Pueblo ruins of Casa Grande. But the local Apache Indians did not recognize the claims of a far off Spanish monarch,  and their constant raiding forced Don Miguel to return south of the Gila River, to the Mexican state of Sonora. Here he bought land and settled here. And his retreat was not without its benefits. In 1770 he married the lovely Sofia Ave Maria Sanchez Bonilla de Amaya y Garcia de Orosco. He settled his new bride in Guadalajara. In 1776 Charles III reaffirmed Don Miguel's grant to the north, even though the vassal still dare not take physical possession of the land. And in 1781 Don Miguel and Sofia had a son, Jesus Miguel Silva de Peralta.
Jesus Peralta showed little interest in his arid inheritance, and built his life in and around Guadalajara, accustomed to wealth and privilege.  He did not settle down until he he was forty, marrying a local girl, Dona Juana Laura Ibarra, in 1822. In February of 1824 his father, Don Miguel Peralta, died at the fantastic age of 114 years, and Jesus Miguel inherited the family estates in and around Guadalajara, as well as a ranch in Sonora. There was also the still unoccupied desert grant to the north, but Don Jesus Miguel made no effort to claim that land or even show an interest in it. And after mortgaging and then losing his Guadalajara properties,  Jesus took Dona and retreated to the ranch in Sonora. There they  produced their only child, a girl named Sophia.
Sophia Peralta grew to be a pretty girl, but the eligible bachelors were few and far between. And the bride's family was by now, not considered the best, even in the limited social world of the empty desert lands south of the Gila River. Dona Sophia Peralta did not find a husband until she was 28. And only after the vows were exchanged in 1860 did it became apparent the union had been a gamble for both sides of the aisle. Don Jesus Peralta had thought he had matched his daughter to a wealthy man. But Sophia's new husband, Jose Ramon Carmen Maso, was in reality a professional gambler, and periodically down on his luck. And only after the wedding did Jose Maso discover his new wife's family estate was heavily mortgaged. This was why, in 1862, Jose Ramon was plan a trip to Spain,  in hopes of collecting some old gambling debts. He took with him his entire family, and his in-laws. Dona Sophia was forced to travel with him, even though she was pregnant.
Their timing was very bad .The Great Flood of 1862 (which began in December of  1861) was devastating the western coast of North America from Oregon to Mexico. Directly in the family's path,  the mountain road into San Diego was washed away in dozens of places, and the little town of Aqua Mansa, at the headwaters of the San Gabriel River, was destroyed. Only the alarm raised by the bell at the Mission of San Salvador de Jurupa prevented the loss of life there. And it was at the Mission, in February, that the flooding forced the party to pause,  and where Dona Sophia went into premature labor and gave birth to twins, a boy and girl. The newborns were weak, as was Dona Sophia, so while the women stayed on, Jose Ramon and Don Miguel Peralta continued over the mountains to San Diego, where they caught ship, first for San Francisco, and then for Spain.
The newborn boy soon died, followed by his mother Sophia. And the infant girl was not expected to live. And as there was little food in the region, both grandmothers then abandoned the sickly child and returned to Sonora. But the child did not die. She lived, cared for by a wet nurse hired by Mr. John A. Treadway, who was a friend of the gambler Jose Ramon. But Treadway died shortly thereafter on a business trip, and both Jose Ramon and Don Miguel died while in Spain. And the grandmothers also passed away on  their way back to Sonora. The abandoned child was raised by locals out of their loyalty to the departed Mr. Treadway.  But everything about her family was forgotten, except her first name. Sophia was raised by local; villagers until she was eight, when she was entrusted to a local businessman, John Snowball, who employed her first as servant and then as a cook in his roadhouse along the route between San Diego and Arizona.
Then, in 1877 a chance encounter on a train changed the orphan's girl's hard life. A well dressed gentleman with large whiskered sideburns approached the 17 year old and inquired about her background. The girl nervously admitted she was an orphan, and did not know her family name or history. The stranger suggested she might be the missing daughter of a wealthy family. She had never before heard the name he suggested: Peralta. The girl was uncertain whether to believe his story or not, but she wanted to believe it was possible.
But it was not. The entire story I have just shared with you, save for the storm of 1862, from the streets of Guadalajara, to the battered remains of a mission in the California desert, every word and document supporting it was based upon was the invention of the fevered imagination of one of the most determined and resourceful con men in American history. His name was James Addison Reavis (above). And at one time he came very close to owning most of the state of Arizona.  And what follows is the tale of how he did that, and how it all fell apart. 


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