Friday, September 12, 2014


"He's the kind of man a woman would have to marry to get rid of."
Mae West
I wish William Bright (above) had been more of a hero. In reality he was racist, and with such bad timing that he struggled his whole life against his own bigotry and bad timing. First, he was a Democrat, which in the late 1860's was the definition of political irrelevancy. In 1867 Bright emigrated westward, to South Pass City,  a sort of rest and resupply stop astride the 7,500 foot high wagon route through the Rocky Mountains. The transcontinental railroad was in the process of making the town and the pass irrelevant. What had drawn the 44 year old William and his new wife, along with 2,000 miners, to South Pas was the nearby discovery of gold. Not that William was much of a miner, but the he used what little he had made trading in mining claims to buy a saloon...just as the gold was running out. By the end of the year South Pass City had a total population of just 60 people, and a disturbing number of them were temperance supporters, making even Mr. Bright's saloon irrelevant..
"The only good woman I can recall in history was Betsy Ross. And all she ever made was a flag."
Mae West
Nationally, by 1869 the Democrats were an endangered species on the national stage. Victorious in the Civil War, the party of Lincoln dominated the 41st Congress, controlling the Senate - 57 Republicans to just 9 Democrats, and 150 Republicans to just 65 Democrats in the House of Representatives. Thus it was no surprise that newly selected first governor for the new Wyoming Territory, he would be a good Republican – Ohioan John A. Campbell.  Arriving in the railroad town of Laramie, the new Governor promptly called elections for the Territorial Legislature to be held on Tuesday, August 3, 1869. And shortly thereafter the newly appointed U.S. Attorney for the territory, another good Republican Joseph Carey, issued a legal opinion that because of the new 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, no person could be denied the right to vote because of their skin color. And that was the start of all kinds of Wyoming insanity
"Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly."
Mae West
The turnout on election day was disappointing. Only 5,266 men showed up to cast ballots. More might have voted but for the gangs of drunken Democrats flashing guns and knives around all the polling places because they did not believe blacks or Asians or people who thought blacks or Asians should be allowed to vote, should be allowed to vote. Still, it seems unlikely better order at the polls would have significantly changed the outcome. The census taken the following year found only 6,107 men in the entire territory. And when the new legislature convened in Cheyenne in October of 1869 it consisted in total of 12 Representatives in the lower house and 8 Councilmen in the upper house -  and they were all Democrats.
"A man in the house is worth two in the street."
Mae West
One of the most prominent Democrats elected was the racist from South Pass City (above), William Bright. He was so respected by his fellows that he was named President of the Council (the upper house) before the legislature got down to work. And they were very busy, passing 86 laws and 13 memorials and resolutions by mid-December. One law ensured that male teachers should not be paid more than women teachers, while another guaranteed that wives would retain property rights after separating from their husbands. And then there was the  “Act to Prevent Intermarriage between White Persons and those of Negro or Mongolian Blood,” which was self explanatory. Governor Cambell vetoed that one, but the legislature passed it again over his veto. And then, wrote the Wyoming Tribune, “amid the greatest hilarity, and after the presentation of various funny amendments and in the full expectation of a gubernatorial veto, an act was passed enfranchising the women of Wyoming.”
"Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often."
Mae West
William Bright introduced the measure, labeled Council Bill (CB) 70 on November 30th.  It read, in full, “Section 1. That every woman of the age of eighteen years, residing in this territory, may at every election to be held under the laws thereof, cast her vote. And her rights to the elective franchise and to hold office shall be the same under the election laws of the territory, as those of electors. Section 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage.” And according to his supporting speech, William's primary reasons for introducing such a revolutionary measure – there were only about 1,000 females over the age of ten in all of Wyoming - was that, as an unnamed Councilman said, “if you are going to let the n--gers and the pigtails (Chinese) vote, we will ring in the women, too.”  Three members of the council disagreed on grounds that even as a joke, neither women nor Negros nor Chinese should be considered intellectual or moral equals to white men. But CB70 passed the same day, 6-2 with one abstention.
"Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before."
Mae West
When things got to the other side of the Rollings House hotel, where the legislature was meeting,  Benjamin Sheeks, also from South Pass, led the opposition. He tried to permanently table the bill, and when that failed he and his allies tried adding “poison pill” amendments, such as the addition of the phrase,  “colored women and squaws” to section one, and substituting the word “ladies”, as in “ladies of the evening” for the word “women”. These attempts produced some laughter, but they were both defeated. Then Sheeks moved to temporally table the bill, so the House could consider more “pressing matters” first. That passed, but it bought the opponents only two days to lobby against the measure.
"Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can't figure out what from."
Mae West
When the debate was resumed, opponents tried moving to adjourn three times in a row, hoping to catch somebody in the outhouse or off sneaking a shot of whiskey or a beer. All three attempts failed. Then it was moved that CB70 should be reconsidered on July 4, 1870 – seven months after the house permanently adjourned. Amid all the laughter and snickering, that maneuver was also defeated . But Sheeks did finally amend CB70, raising the voting age for women from 18 to 21. After all a joke's a joke, but let's not go crazy here. And then, finally, at 8:20 that night the house approved CB70, 7 to 4. It was immediately moved to reconsider the issue, but that was just as quickly defeated. And with that, finally, the issue of female suffrage was dumped into the lap of the Republican Governor, with a snicker..
"The score never interested me, only the game."
Mae West
Governor John Cambell was a bit young, but he was nobody's fool. He knew this bill was intended to mock Republicans for giving the vote to African-American males, and because Edward M. Lee, the appointed Republican Territorial Secretary, was an ardent supporter of female suffrage. As the measure had moved through the legislature, Cambell had asked advice from everybody he knew, looking for the least embarrassing option. And in the end, he decided the best thing to do was to not take the bait, meaning not fight the issue as he had with the mixed race marriage bill. After considering the matter for a few days Governor Cambell decided to simply sign it without comment, which he did on December 10, 1868. In Wyoming, females now had the right to vote.
"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."
Mae West
Back in South Pass City, Justice of the Peace R.S. Barr decided to deliver the punch line to Mr. Bright's joke. On Valentine's day 1870 he placed an ad in the newspaper, offering to resign his position “whenever some lady elector shall have been duly appointed ti fill the vacancy.” Ha, ha, and no lady appeared. But they did serve on a grand jury, and they did vote at the next territorial election, in 1871. And the world did not dissolve into an estrogen mush 
"I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it."
Mae West
William Bright would not stand for re-election. His bar went bankrupt in 1870, and he moved to Denver, and from there back to his hometown of  Washington D.C.  On May 3, 1912 the Cheyenne State Leader ran his obituary. “Mr. Bright was 86 years of age, and had been for twenty years past an employee of the government printing office...(He) moved to Wyoming and...drew up and fought through the bill for woman suffrage, which was the first law of its kind ever presented to a law-making body in the United States.” And often, that is how you become a hero -  in retrospect and with heavy editing
"I use to be Snow White, but I drifted."
Mae West
In 1871, at the next meeting of the Territorial Legislature, the male politicians, led again by Mr. Sheek, passed a bill to overturn female suffrage. Governor Cambell vetoed it, and the attempt to override by a two third margin failed, but only just barely. Women in Wyoming retained their voice in their government by one slim vote.   But it would be 1910 before a woman would be elected to serve in the Wyoming legislature, and into the 1950's they were routinely blocked from serving on juries. And yet, Wyoming insists on calling its self the “Equity State”. It seems to me, that is something of an gross exaggeration.
"To err is human - but it feels divine."
Mae West
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Wednesday, September 10, 2014


I guess it was inevitable that once these two met, their relationship would turn from unpleasant to downright ugly. Widow Jane Leland Stanford was a rigid, humorless, devoted temperance adherent who worshiped a vengeful God. She was described by an acquaintance as a lady with “ an assured position in the social and financial world."  In other words, she was born with a stick up her bum, and after the death of her husband, she exchanged the wood for steel. Her antagonist, Ashley David Montague Cooper, was what was once politely called a bohemian, but more accurately he was a hedonist, an inveterate gambler, a constant drunk, a profligate womanizer, and an atheist. He was also a very good painter. About the only thing these two agreed upon was that if there was a hell, then A.D. Cooper going there in a hand cart. And it was fitting that their relationship, such as it was, sank completely when it ran aground on her rocks.
Jane Stanford's jewelry collection was the guilt on the gilded age. During her lifetime she was known as the queen of diamonds, and her private hoard remains famous to this day because after her husband died in 1892 the United States government slapped a $15 million tax lien (half a billion in 2012 dollars) on his estate. Jane refused to pay even a portion of it, even though the drawn out legal battle threatened to destroy the memorial to her only child.
The story that Stanford University was founded when Harvard rejected Leland Stanford Jr. is a myth. The reality was that in 1884, when he was sixteen, the boy's doting parents rewarded Junior with a “grand tour” of Europe. It was while exploring the temples of Greece that the boy contracted typhus, and he died in Florence, Italy. The parents were heartbroken, and the little comfort Jane's husband could offer was to tell her, “Now, all of California will be our child”. He might have actually said that, as reason for founding the University that bares his name. Stanford University was supposed to be free for all qualified students, women admitted equally with men, and to “qualify students for personal success and direct usefulness in life.” And when the cold hearted tax collectors prevented Jane from transferring money to the university, Jane decided to sell her bling to keep the young university afloat. But first, she thought it would be a good idea to memorialize her donation. Consider it a sales pitch.
She carefully arraigned the 34 diamond studded tiaras, necklaces, cameos, bracelets, rings, ear rings, lockets, watches, diadems and other assorted brick-a-brack, on a red velvet piano cover, and had it photographed. And then, because the resultant black and white image (above) did not do justice to the $100,000.00 ($3 million today) collection, Jane decided to have the jewelery painted. In the spring of 1898 she hired the most talented (and expensive) painter she could find, Ashley David Montague Cooper. The idea of donating what she intending on paying Cooper, to the cash strapped university, never seems to have occurred to the lady.
By the time he was thirty, A.D. had already painted the President's official portrait – U.S. Grant. But his most famous painting was titled “Inquest on the Plains” and depicted a small circle of American buffalo in the snow, surrounding a dead Indian warrior. Subtle was not A.D.'s approach to art. Said a critic, “When he was good, he was brilliant; when he was bad, he was laughable.” Most of his darkly romantic western allegories were hanging in the finest homes from New York City to San Francisco. His studies of nude females, on the other hand, were hanging over most of the bars between San Francisco and his home and studio in Santa Cruz. He used them to pay off his own and his friend's bar bills. A.D. had many friends and he was generous to a fault. And that may have been why, when the messenger arrived from Jane Stanford, A.D. agreed to the climb up Nobb Hill to her 50 room San Francisco mansion.
The lady had a few rules. First, while he was working on the still-life of her jewelry, A.D. was to wear formal dress. Secondly, he was to arrive at work sober, and since no alcohol was allowed on the premises, he was to do no drinking on the job. To be certain that her rules were adhered to Jane's personal secretary, Bertha Berner, was to be in the room at all times. A.D. readily agreed, so Jane showed him the piano cover she had draped her jewelry upon, and the jewelry itself. To be honest, it did not seem like that complicated a job, a bit like asking Leonardo Da Vinci to paint a rumpus room. It wasn't as if the dowager was going to be looming over A.D. while he painted. The hedonist must have wondered, what could go wrong?.
What went wrong with A.D.'s plan was Bertha Berner. She was a slightly younger version of Jane Stanford; her hair locked down in a tight white bun, her bedroom and office adjacent to Jane's bedroom, upstairs. By A.D.'s second session with the hoard, once it was clear Bertha was not going away, A.D. snapped. According to Bertha, ““he rose … made a deep bow with a flourish, drew a flask from his pocket, and took a drink. Then he said, ‘Now you watch me put a little fire into that sapphire!’” Bertha probably reported this transgression to her mistress. But judging the work in progress, Jane decided to keep A.D. on the job and Bertha watching over the work..
Twice over the next few weeks A.D. became so inebriated Bertha had to be send him home. But climbing back aboard the wagon each time, he returned and forged ahead, memorializing this six foot by four foot record of wealth in every precise detail, until he had finished. A.D. was paid and discharged, and the painting hung in Mrs. Stanford's mansion's art gallery. For a few days it seemed the intrusion of the reprobate had been a mere bump in the broad serene calm which normally pervaded the Stanford mansion.
Then one morning a policeman knocked on the mansion's front door, delivering disturbing news. The officer reported to Bertha that a duplicate of the jewelery painting, this one on redwood, had appeared in the front window of a saloon in San Jose. And worse, the items depicted were prominently identified on the canvas to be the property of Jane Leland Stanford. It was like an advertisement for any thieves looking for a new target. A.D. had even showed the chutzpa to have boldly signed the copy.
What Jane Stanford supposedly said was recorded by her faithful servant Bertha. "What a sad thing,” she supposedly said. “All that talent, dulled by John Barleycorn.”  She thereupon dispatched a servant and the police officer via the San Francisco, San Jose, Monterrey Railroad to retrieve the copy of her painting. A little cash smoothed the transfer of the art from the saloon's window into the servant's hands, and it can be assumed that some silver also made its way into the police officer's pocket. Three hours later the copy was in Jane's hands, and promptly destroyed. And in any normal household that would have been the end of the entire affair.
It was not ended for Jane because, first, as a temperance supporter she had been made a laughing stock in front of her Nobb Hill sophisticates. And secondly, when Jane traveled to London to sell her jewels, she learned the unpleasant lesson all jewelry owners must eventually learn, about the difference between an insurance value of diamonds and the market value. Diamonds, it turns out, are for forever only until you try to sell them. Jane found buyers for only about ten of the jewels in the painting. Still that was enough to endow the University with $20, 000 a year to buy new books for the library. The fund is still being used for that purpose today, and is called “The Jewel Fund”. Also immediately upon her return to San Francisco Jane had A.D.'s original painting taken down from her gallery and placed in storage. The queen of diamonds found it too painful anymore to gaze upon her jewels. The next year, 1898, the Supreme Court ruled for the Stanford estate, and Jane no longer had to sell her diamonds.
A.D.'s original painting stayed in the basement of the Stanford Nobb Hill mansion until Jane's death in 1905. The old lady died while hiding out in Hawaii. She was convinced that someone was trying to poison her. The Hawaiian police suspected strychnine, but most people considered that nonsense. Jane had left Bertha $15,000 ( half a million today) and a house. Meanwhile the vast majority of Jane Stanford's estate, about $40 million (over a billion in today's dollars) went to the institution which bears her only son's name, Leland Stanford Junior University.
Ashley David Montague Cooper continued on his road to perdition, unimpeded by public disapproval or personal regret until 1919, when at the age of 62 “grey-haired, but stalwart and erect” the old reprobate married 36 year old Charlotte George. The couple shared five happy years together until A.D. died of tuberculosis, in September of 1924. Presumably he was exhausted. His painting of "Mrs. Stanford's Jewel Collection" was brought out of hiding after her death. Now considered "one of the most extraordinary still-lives of our time"  it hangs in Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford University campus. 

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Sunday, September 07, 2014


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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