DECEMBER 2019

DECEMBER   2019
Please, Have a Merry. Please. Oh, and get rid of the Orange Jerk!

Translate

Saturday, August 25, 2018

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Chapter 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. 
- 30 -  

Friday, August 24, 2018

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Chapter Five

I think it was very clever of James Reavis to choose tiny  Sanford, Arizona, capital of Graham County, to file his first claim related to the Peralita grant. The entire county had less than 5,000 residents in October of 1882 when James Reavis chose this as the spot to start his game. The collection of bars and stables built around water wells sat in a fertile nook of the barren Sonora-Chihuahuan Desert, at the foot of the isolated Pinaleno Mountains, 165 miles east of Phoenix. But it was only 30 miles west of the New Mexico territorial  border, and just 100 miles north of the border with old Mexico.  In short, it was not near anywhere else, except an exit should anyone react strongly..
Reavis filed his papers with the probate court, laying claim to George Willing's ownership of the Peralta grant. But other then stamping the date on his paperwork, the probate court lacked authority to judge the validity of the Peralta Grant itself. And Reavis did want them to. The town was now  within the confines of the grant, which ran into New Mexico, but could it be that the master forger was nervous? Or had he been traversing the empty dessert, leaving false clues to the grant's validity, and was now anxious to get started? It did not matter for long, because his next move made a very large and well publicized splash.
It was Tuesday, March 27, 1883, when an odd trio of villains stormed into the Tucson offices of Joseph W. Robbins, Surveyor General for the Arizona territory, and demanded service. First came the bewhiskered well dressed James Reavis (above), followed by Cryil Baratt, a dis-bard California lawyer and alcoholic, serving as James' legal adviser. One story says that Reavis found Cyril in a San Francisco gutter and the kindred spirits had formed an immediate bond. Bringing up the rear was a fire plug named Pedro Cuervo, carrying in three large trunks of documents, one after another. Pedreo was Reavis' new body guard and  enforcer. And once those trunks were opened, Reavis would need all the protection his wealthy California backers could afford.
His filing began boldly; “The petition of James Addison Reavis respectfully sets forth: That he is owner, by purchase from the legal heirs and representatives of the original grantee, of a certain tract of land (12 1/2 million acres - roughly from Phoenix, Arizona to Silver City,  New Mexico),  granted on the third day of January, 1758, by the Viceroy of New Spain to Don Miguel Peralta, Baron of the Coloradoes under royal decree of the King of Spain, directing such grant to be made to the said Peralta in consideration of and as a reward for distinguished military services rendered to the Crown in the war of Spain...”
Now, Joseph Robbins, might be the Surveyor General for the Arizona territory, but he was a political appointee, with no experience with a theodolite, .and he knew almost nothing about Spanish or Mexican history. He'd been a newspaper owner in Wichita, Kansas and a good Republican before receiving his current position. But as he watched his staff notarize the seemingly endless series of documents, many with what looked like the official stamps and seals of Spain and Mexico, a panic began to build in this throat. These men were laying claim to an area larger than the combined states of Maryland and New Jersey, with the District of Columbia thrown in as well..
Second of the documents was the typed translation of Phillip V's royal credula, dated December 20, 1740. This was followed by the report of the Mexican Inquisition favoring the grant, and the 1758 Mexican Viceroy's confirmation, then a statement written by Don Miguel Nemecio Silva de Peralta de la Corboda himself, describing the exact location he chose for the grant. Then from the trunk was drawn the petition from Peralta to Carlos III of Spain, requesting confirmation of the grant, followed by that confirmation, granted January 20, 1776,. in Madrid. Next Reavis produced a letter to Don Meguel's son, signed by Santa Ana, President of Mexico. There were even three photographs of pages from the record book of the Mission of San Xavier del Bac, showing the originals of the previous documents. Then Reavis and Cryil Baratt, produced a copy of Miguel Peralta's will, dated January 1788, and the 1864 quick claim bill of sale signed in Black Canyon, selling the entire grant over to George Willing . Last but not least, came the power of attorney from May Ann Willing to James Reavis. All of that was in the first trunk. And there were two more trunks of documents to go.
Public notice of the claim was now filed in newspapers in Tucson, Phoenix and Prescott. The reaction was strongest in Phoenix, the largest town which fell within the claim. Suddenly every business owner, home owner, mine owner and farmer knew their property rights were in question. The town's two newspapers, the Herald and the Gazette, both declared war on James Reavis. Both papers questioned the validity of the grant, urged their readers not to sign any agreements with Reavis, and condemned the practice of "quit claim" sales. It looked for a time that the territory would present a untied front. But almost immediately there were three serious defections.
The first to cut a deal with Reavis was Col. James M. Barney (above). He had bought the Silver King Mine a few years earlier, paying over half a million dollars. That mine was now digging on an 87 foot wide vein of silver ore, on three levels, the deepest 110 feet down, and was producing over $6 million of silver a year. In June of 1883 the old cavalryman paid Reavis $25,000 for a quit claim on his mine. It was chump- change to Barney, and just good business. But it sent a shiver down the spines of every other property owner in the territory.
This was followed by word that the Southern Pacific Railroad, which was building its way eastward toward Phoenix, had also bought a quitclaim for a right-of-way into the territory for $50,000. What the terrified residents did not know was that the owners of the S.P. -  Huntington, Crocker and their partners, were also the men who were funding Reavis and his vultures. In essence, the S.P. was paying itself for the right of way into Phoenix.
The next major defector was an even harder blow to resisters. Homer H. McNeil was a significant property owner in Phoenix, and the owner and publisher of The Gazette. When notice of the Peralta Grant had first appeared, his paper had joined the Herald, in urging residents to remain united in opposition. But rumors started when the Gazette began to tone down its editorials, and in November word was leaked to the Herald that McNeal had indeed paid a quit claim for all his property, including the Gazette's office. McNeal was threatened on the streets, and even his friends stopped speaking to him. The newspaperman tried to return his quit claim to Mr. Reavis, and get his money back.  But Reavis was no longer in town..
James Reavis and his lawyer Cryil Baratt were down in Guadalajara, looking over the shoulder of the man
Surveyor General Robbins had sent down to Mexico to investigate the claim -  Mr. Rufus C. Hopkins. But Rufus would prove to be a terrible choice as an investigator.
- 30 -

Thursday, August 23, 2018

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Chapter Four

I suppose the luckiest moment in the history of Phoenix, Arizona occurred when the first settlers decided to reject the suggestion of its founder,  Jack Swilling,  that they should name the new town “Stonewall”, after the Confederate General "Stonewall Jackson".  Instead they listened to the more educated voice of Phillip Darrell Duppa, an Englishman who had been versed in the classics. Phillip liked to call himself “Lord Duppa”,  a  title delivered with a self depreciating grin. The limey  had the romantic idea that the ugly little adobe town founded between the White Tank Mountains and the Salt River was a place of rebirth, a spot where new life could rise from the ashes of the old, like the Phoenix Bird. And that appealed to the survivors of the Civil War, from both sides. On the other hand it was bad luck when James Reavis stepped off the California stagecoach in Phoenix, to raise the Peralta Land Grant from its ashes.
Phoenix was not legally a town yet when Reavis arrived in April of 1880. That would happen in February of the following year. But already the town had almost 2,500 citizens, a couple of churches, a school on Center Street, 16 saloons, four dance halls, a bank and a telegraph line connection to the outside world. And Huntington and Cooke's  railroad was already reaching out from San Diego, although it had not reach the town yet. But James Reavis showed no interest in any of that. He told people he was a subscription agent for the San Francisco Examiner, but he sold very few subscriptions. He read the local paper, he listened when people talked , and he gauged the spirit of the place. He even traveled the 15 miles out to where the seasonal Salt River and the perennial Gila Rivers met, and clambered about over the hills for an hour or so. On his return to town, he boarded the stagecoach for the terrible one hundred mile journey north, into the mountains, to the territorial capital of Prescott.
Repeated conflagrations had forced the mining town of less than 2,000 to begin building in brick, including a new court house (above).  It was in that building in May of 1880 that James Reavis presented a letter from George’s Willing's widow, granting him authority to act in her name and take possession of the bill of sale for the Peralta land grant. And once he had this bill of sale in his hand, James caught the next coach bound for San Francisco.
Once back in San Franciso, Reavis now oversaw an English translation of  the Royal Credula -  “The King's Debt” - the land grant supposedly made by the Spanish King. This had of course originally been written in English, by Reavis' conspirators back in St. Louis. But now Reavis had actually seen the land, and could make minor changes in the translation to reflect the actual terrain.  
After discussions with Huntington and Crocker, James Reavis decided to expand the size of the grant, placing its very center at the confluence of the Salt and Gila rivers,.which he had visited on his day trip. Contained within the grant now were the towns of Phoenix, Tempe and Casa Granda. Fifty miles east, and still covered by the grant, was the richest claim in the territory, the Silver King Mine, producing $10,000 out of every ton of ore pried from its tunnels. Reavis added a helpful note from the powerful Inquisition of New Spain, dated 1757, assuring the Viceroy there was no impediment to the grant, and a statement from the lucky recipient, Don Miguel de Peralta, himself, dated 1758, which defined the western boundary so as to reach all the way to Silver City, New Mexico territory, and the silver deposits under Chloride Flats north of there. Preparing this new old paperwork took the entire winter of 1880-81.
In July of 1881 Reavis finally made it to Sacramento, to repay Florin Massaol and get his hands on the mineral rights George Willing had pawned back in 1874.  In the end, however, Massaol was so impressed by the people backing Reavis, the forger got what he wanted for only the cost of a railroad ticket. All he had to do was sign yet another promissory note, agreeing to pay Massol $3,000 if and when the Peralta grant was confirmed by an American court. In exchange Massaol signed over power of attorney on the mineral rights to Reavis  That's all Reavis wanted, anyway. It as not as if he had any intention of ever digging for gold or silver himself.
Reavis then boarded a train for Washington, D.C., seeking the record book of the Mission San Xavier del Bac, located just south of Phoenix, Arizona, and a benchmark used for the grant. The book had been the territories' contribution to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. After the Exhibition had closed, the book along with other exhibits, had been moved to Washington. It was still there, and Reavis was permitted access to the book because of his contacts with wealthy Californians. Had the book still been in Arizona such “friends” might have been a source of suspicion, but in far off Washington the other rule about museum curators came into play - they never miss an opportunity to impress a potential wealthy patron. Reavis was allowed to spend several days in private,  going over the book. In September he continued his odyssey in Mexico City, and then on to Guadalajara..
In both Mexican cities James Reavis bonded with the archivists, the librarians and probate clerks in charge of the documents and records he needed. He told them he was a correspondent for San Francisco newspapers, looking for stories about the roots of California families, and probably paid them for small “favors” he received. And when he returned to California in late November of 1881, he had photographs of the documents, as well as typed translations and certified copies, all paid for by his wealthy investors. Six months later he was in Lexington, Kentucky, agreeing to pay George Willings widow, May Ann, $30,000 for the free and clear ownership of the Peralta grant – 50% more than George had paid for it in 1863 – a transaction which, in reality, had never taken place.
This proves again the central rule of capitalism, which is that everything has a value, defined as what people are willing to pay for what they want. And in most capitalist endeavors, the first step is to create the want. And that is what James Reavis was about to begin doing.
- 30 -

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Chapter Three

I doubt most Americans remember James Gadsden (above) . In 1840 this ex-army officer became president and primary shareholder in the South Carolina Rail Road Company.  He had big dreams of a southern transcontinental railroad, beginning in Charleston and driving across Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. There were only three things that stood in his way. First, his railroad was only 135 miles long and went no further west than the Georgia border. Second, it was over $3 million in debt ($64 million today). And third, in 1840 everything west of Texas belonged to Mexico. But Mr. Gadsden was not willing to concede defeat before even starting. And because he was not, James Addison Reavis would have a golden opportunity to become one of the richest men in America – call it another unforeseen consequence.
By 1840 there were two routes under consideration for the first transcontinental railroad. The central route, favored by the business interests in New York and Chicago, started in Missouri and followed the trail blazed by wagon trains already heading to the newly discovered California gold fields. The route favored by Mr, Gadsden and most southern politicians, started in either South Carolina or Texas.  However, the southerners could not decide between themselves on how to finance the work. The slave owners suspected the Boston banks would end up owning California. And Gadsden was too arrogant to form a consensus from his allies. .The only thing the southerners could agree upon was that they would not allow the central route to be used. So as long as the south had a veto, any transcontinental railroad would remain a dream.
The Mexican War (1846-1848) had given America a vast new empire north of the Rio Grande River, comprising what would be the states of  Texas, California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.  But even this conquest failed to supply an acceptable route for a southern transcontinental railroad. And the "Compromise of 1850" made things even worse. In exchange for relieving Texas of its huge public debt, Texas came in as a slave state and California was admitted as a “free” state. After that, no matter who built the transcontinental railroad or where they built it - and they couldn't sidetrack into Mexico, because slavery had been outlawed there since the 1845  -   the end of the line would now be a  “free state”.  Desperate to lure the Golden State back to the slavery side, even it it required cutting it in half, in 1851 Gadsden himself offered to supply 1,200 new settlers, if California would also admit “not less than two thousand...African domestics” into southern California. The ploy fooled nobody, and the proposal never got out of committee in the California legislature.  Defeated again, Gadsden decided to salvage what small part of the plan he still had some control over.
If he couldn't find a way around the Mexican border beyond Texas, Gadsden decided to move the border. With assistance from Mississippi's Jefferson Davis, who at the time was President Franklin Pierce's Secretary of War, Gadsden won appointment as an agent of the United States Government, authorized to buy a southern railroad route. Now, again, the one thing James Gadsden did not have were negotiating skills, and the minute he arrived in Mexico City and opened his mouth,  he offended the entire nation of Mexico. But Gadsden was in luck, because at the time (1853), the entire Mexican government consisted of one ego maniac, General Antonio Lopez de la Santa Ana.
This was Santa Anna's sixth go around as President-slash- dictator of Mexico. He is remembered in America for his capture of the Alamo, and killing “Davy” Crockett. But in Mexico he is remembered because he never seemed to learn from his mistakes, which constantly seems to have surprised the Mexican people. Every time a crises occurred, they turned to Santa Ana,  and he kept responding by looting the country and then burning it down to destroy the evidence. Typically, in 1853, Mexico was broke, and unable to pay her army. So no matter how many ways James Gadsden insulted him, and he did many times, Santa Anna could not walk away from the negotiating table,  because Gadsden was offering cash money.
The resulting Gadsden Purchase acquired 30,000 square miles of fertile farmland and valuable mineral deposits, and a railroad route over the Rocky Mountains, at the bargain basement price of $15 million – about thirty-three cents an acre. From the American point of view it was a great deal. From the Mexican point of view, it was rape. But really, nobody actually involved in the deal got what they wanted. The generals Santa Ana paid off with the cash were so offended by the deal, they overthrew Santa Anna again, and sent him into retirement for the sixth and final time. James Gadsden had so exhausted him self offending the Mexicans, he died the day after Christmas, 1858, and so missed the start of the American Civil War. But when the south went into rebellion in 1861 the north was free to finally build the transcontinental railroad via the central route  - which they finished in 1869. And when the southern transcontinental would finally be built in 1881, it would be by the same western men who had built the original central route out of California -  Huntington and Charles Crocker.
Crocker was a 49'er from Indiana, who made his first fortune selling shovels to miners in Sacramento. Then he went into banking, and he was one of Big Four who formed the Central Pacific Railroad, the western end of the transcontinental railroad. In fact "Charles Crocker and Company" was the prime contractor on the Central Pacific Railroad. Of course the shareholders in "Croker and Company" were the same men who owned the Southern Pacific. This is known as the "heads I win, tails you lose" school of finance. By 1877, the big Hoosier had so much money, he was running out of things to buy. And at that fortuitous moment, who should Croker meet but a slightly sleazy newspaper man named James Addison Reavis.
Reavis told Croker the story of the Peralta land grant. Of course he probably did not mention that the land grant was a myth. Probably. But Crocker and a few other select California investors were willing to fund more research into the claim. Did they ever believe in the validity of the grant? They would have smiled at that question, and regarded it as unimportant. The only thing that matters in the world of Capitalism, is what you can afford to prove in court.  And James Reavis could now afford to research the heck out of the Peralta land grants. And this old forger figured he stood a pretty good chance of finding every single document he went looking for. In fact, he could guarantee it.
- 30 -

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Chapter Two


I reject the idea that people are born evil. Lord knows we often do evil. But my reading of people and history sees little evidence of the level of competency in for example the cruelty required to spend ten years patiently inflating the dreams of a lonely and abandoned young woman, before smashing her psyche into a billion pieces on the anvil of your own ambition, almost as an afterthought in a plot to steal the modern equivalent of $116 million. Nobody is that smart or that evil. Rather, I see the subject of this story as a lucky, amoral selfish sociopath, like a common street thug or a banker.  Please, allow me to explain.
His name was James Addison Reavis and he was the second son of a Missouri store owner. And to those racists seeking a genetic component to crime, I hasten to point out that he was half Welsh, one quarter Scots and one quarter Mexican. James grew up fluent in both Spanish and English. And, as any young creature entering the world, his initial survival depended on the skills nature had provided him and his ambition. In James' case, nature had made Missouri a border state, torn between Union loyalties and Southern sympathies. When civil war broke out in 1861 the 18 year old James volunteered for military service in a Confederate regiment, where he  discovered he had a facility for forging his commanding officer's signature. He supplemented his army pay by selling passes to his fellow soldiers, until the officers grew suspicious. Before things got to too hot, James wrote himself a pass and changed sides, enlisting in the Union Army. After the war James returned home with confidence in his own survival skills, and, oddly, having added the Portuguese language to his skill set.
James Reavis now fell in with a group of organized criminals - real estate agents. They put his skill with a pen to work again, creating the missing link in many a legal ownership trail. And it was as a real estate agent in 1871 that James met what was to be his life's work, in the person of the aptly named George Willing. Willing wanted James' help in validating yet another land claim. But this one, while thinner than any other claim Willing had handled before, had the advantage of being romantic.
Willing claimed that in October of 1864, while working on a mining claim in Black Canyon, Arizona Territory - about 50 miles north of Phoenix -  he had bought mineral rights for a poorly defined grant of land from a Miguel Peralta (Spanish for "high rock" or mountain) in exchange for $20,000 in gold, some equipment and mules. He had written the bill of sale in pencil, explained Willing, on the only piece of paper in the camp. But he did not record the sale until three years later, in Prescott, Arizona, the territorial capital. This type of claim, called “a floater” was not unusual in mining districts, and was popular with scam artists because the real mine owners would often settle the suit out of court, just to avoid the expense of proving the claim false. And it turned out there were several established mines already working the land which Willing was now claiming title to. But so familiar were the local miners with this particular scam that George Willing's filing quickly resulted in threats of tar and feathers. So George Willing had retreated, eventually all the way to Missouri, looking for some financial backing to pursue his claim in a safer venue - the Federal courts.
In Missouri over the next two years, James and George spent many hours discussing how best to secure the backing they required. They teamed up with a lawyer named William Gitt, who was an expert, of a sorts, in old Spanish land claims, including one out of Guadalajara, Mexico dating back to 1847. Mr. Gitt had been forced to abandon that particular case after a Mexican bench warrant had been issued for his arrest for fraud. Gitt lectured James and George about the intricacies of Mexican and Spanish land law. And in January of 1874, on Gitt's advice, James and George formed a legal partnership. Then, they separated. George Willing took the paperwork they had “discovered” (meaning created) by rail and horseback back to Prescott, Arizona, to re-file his claim. James Reavis took a train to New York, where he boarded a ship, bound for San Francisco.
The plan was for James to go first to Sacramento, California, to meet up with a merchant named Florin Massol.  Massol had been duped into loaning Willing money years earlier,  with collateral as some fraudulent mining rights on the mythical Miguel Peralta land grant. Paying back the loan would provide a seemingly valid paper trail.  The plan was for James to arrive in Prescott later that summer with the mineral rights now free and clear, appearing unconnected to George's earlier filling for the same Peralta grant.   The idea was that two seemingly unconnected individuals filing separate claims on the Peralta grant would increase the pressure on the mine owners to settle the suits even quicker. But upon arriving in San Francisco, James received a startling letter from an Arizona Sheriff.
The letter was addressed to the only name found in George Willing's address book -  James Reeves, care of general delivery, San Francisco. According to the sheriff, George Willing had safely arrived in Prescott in March of 1874, and had immediately filed his claim at the Yavapai County Court house. Willing had then checked into a hotel, eaten a hearty dinner and retired to his room  In the morning, he was found dead. George Willing was willing no more. The sheriff offered no cause of death. Maybe it had been a heart attack, or maybe someone remembered George Willing from his earlier adventures in questionable mining claims. The sheriff was only interested in preforming his civic duty, and finding someone to pay the undertaker. And with that shocking news, the partnership was dissolved and whatever plans had been assembled to profit from the mythical Peralta land grant, died with George.
James Reeves was in a terrible fix. He was not interested in paying for poor George's funeral. He wasn't even happy about being connected in public with George's claim. But, according to the sheriff's letter, the papers James had forged to support George's  claim on the mining lands, were still on file at the Yavapai County Court house. James could not pursue the claim without those papers. But, if George's death had not been accident, traveling to Prescott might not be the safest thing to do right now. James needed time to think. So, on May 5, 1874, he got married.
The lucky lady was Ada Pope. After a short honeymoon, James went looking for work and Ada never saw him again.. Six years later the unfortunate lady finally filed for divorce. In the meantime, James had found a job as a school teacher in the tiny Orange County farming town of Downey, in Southern California. After two quiet years there,  James returned to San Francisco, where he became a newspaper correspondent for "The Examiner" and "The Call", specializing in covering the Public Land Commission. He also made himself familiar to the most powerful men in the city, such as those who had just built the Southern Pacific Railroad, the western half of the transcontinental railroad, Collis Huntington and Charles Crocker - two of the biggest crooks in American history.. By now a plan had formed in James' mind, a way to re-assemble the pieces of his search for wealth and security.
It would be a great gamble. But then America had been built on gambles, usually with other people's money. And that was just what James Addison Reavis was going to try to do - use other people's money to steal a personal fortune for himself. 
- 30 -

Blog Archive