Skip to main content

The Prince Of Swindlers

July 2024
20min read

Janus Addison Reavis got rich—for a time, anyway—on his Peralta land fraud. But in the end he went to jail .

The power of the imagination to triumph over the world of practicality has so Car i’ound its chieC American exemplar not in any creative artist, philosophical visionary, or religious zealot but in a gold brick salesman. His name was fames Addison Reavis. He lent the full range of his talents to only one undertaking, but in so doing he accomplished what neither Indian tribes nor foreign nations were ever able to achieve. For twelve years he held the upper hand in a struggle with the United States over a major slice of its continental territory.

The man who became architect of this gaudy and complex crime had an otherwise undistinguished history. Born in Henry County, Missouri, on August 20, 1841, he was brought up on a farm. Following service in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, he drove a streetcar in the clays when such vehicles had whiffletrees. Like another famous Missourian, he peddled haberdashery. After a brief look at South America, he drifted into the real-estate business in St. Louis, still a shark waiting for its pilot fish.

It was not until 1871 that Dr. George M. Willing, Jr., entered his office. Willing, a Calilornian, was only a minor swindler; but he was to Reavis what the hack who wrote the original play about Hamlet was to Shakespeare. Dr. Willing'* pet racket, when he was ready to talk, turned out to be Spanish land-grant claims. Under certain conditions these were recognized by United States courts, and there were just enough valid ones to make the lakes plausible.

With these facts as an initial point Willing had mapped out a monstrous land grant. The locus of this hornswoggler’s mirage was in sketchily charted Arizona. Out of it the doctor planned to claim an area thirty leagues wide and ten leagues deep, something larger than the sovereign state of Delaware. This grant was supposed to have been given to a Spanish nobleman named Don Miguel tie 1'eralta, whose last lineal descendant had passed it on to Willing.

Now, except that it was located in central Arizona, the grant wasn’t nailed down. What the doctor had in mind was then called a “floater,” a claim whose indefinite boundaries made it valuable as a legal nuisance, though not lor much else. By moving a floater in where settlers had taken land, a con man could count on finding some who would get nervous about the validity of their own titles and would pay off.

Reavis was interested, but he wanted to see the general site of the claim before he committed himself. He took that look in 1876, and while he was making the survey inspiration paid him its first tentative visit.

What he envisioned was the possibility of having the doctor’s huge floater established as an actual land grant, to have and to hold. According to his own subsequent statement, though, he did not confide as much to Willing, nor the fact that lie planned sole possession for himself.

Meanwhile Dr. Willing had gone to Prescott, the territorial capital, to file a claim on the property. Its basis was a deed which purported to show that he had been given the land by a certain Miguel Peralta of San Diego, heir of the original grantee, in 1864. It had been foreseen that the claim would be contested, however, and that was where [âmes Addison Reavis came in. He was scheduled to show up later and be retained by WiI- ling as an expert on the intricacies of real-estate law.

What Dr. Willing, at least, had not foreseen was that he would die in Prescott before Reavis got there. While it is obvious that two con men could not profitably pass as possessors of the same imaginary grant, this fatality is one of the mysteries of the case. Death was supposedly due to poison, but no one was charged with giving it. The most that can be said with assurance is that it happened because it had to happen. A petty craftsman was moved out of the way, leaving genius a free hand.

After a suitable interval Reavis also reached Prescott, where he represented himself as a correspondent of the old San Francisco Alta California . Having learned that a prominent California citizen had died in Arizona, the newspaper’s editor had, Reavis announced, commissioned him to investigate the circumstances.

What he wanted and what he got was a piece of Willing’s luggage. In it was a deed to the grant, made over to a third party whose name had been left blank. This had been the cautious doctor’s way of leaving himsell a quick out in case a storm arose.

Having pocketed this document, Reavis then set about determining what it would entitle him to claim. What he staked out was an empire of a magnitude which even the eloquence of a seasoned real-estate barker could not exaggerate.

After a late start, central Arizona was booming, once irrigation had proved that the Salt and Gila river valleys were fantastically fertile. The towns of Phoenix, Tempe, and Florence had sprung up, and many more were inevitable. The mighty bonanza of the Silver King mine had been discovered, to name only one of many glory holes. Some of the finest cattle country in the world was there, and the beef woidd be on it as soon as growing railroads could run their tracks across the territory.

Not wishing to leave out anything of value, Reavis had to stretch the claim. The grant to Don Miguel de Peralta, given him by the king of Spain in 1748, allowed him 300 square leagues, but the league was a measurement which varied in different countries and at different periods. Reading the dead king of Spain’s mind, Reavis decided that what His Majesty had intended was a league of five miles. For a claim about the size of Delaware he thus substituted one which was nearly the size of New Jersey.

He placed his western border a little east of the junction of the Gila and the Salt. Running 49½, miles horn north to south, it bracketed the richest section ol’ both valleys, which were encompassed by lines stretching east for 149½ miles. Thev included millions of acres Reavis counted on making his own by a right of tenure, which would enable him to deal with the United States in the capacity of a sovereign power. For backing he could point to a provision of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, later echoed by the Gadsden Purchase agreement, which pledged Uncle Sam to honor all land grants made while the territory which Mexico was turning over to the United States was under Mexican or Spanish dominion.

The American diplomats who had conceded such a point had done so with the thought that only a lew square miles, scattered here and there, would be involved. They had not envisaged the generosity of the king of Spain, as conceived by Dr. Willing and enlarged by Reavis; but the principle woidd hold good il the validity of the title could be established.

Once that had been done, cities would have to pay fames Addison Reavis lor the right to continue on location. The pioneers who had fought the Indians and the wilderness in the course of developing their ranches would not be freeholders but tenants. The mining companies engaged in gouging gold and silver from the area would have to pay or go out of business.

As Reavis once admitted, the possible stakes were so enormous as to stagger even his imperial imagination. He readily saw that in order to have his claim honored he must know as much about land grants and all that pertained to them as the combined experts whom the United States would pit against him. He had to be an authority on international law. He had to be thoroughly at home in the Spanish of the Eighteenth Century. He had to have a !lawless knowledge of Spanish legal jargon and to know the ins and outs of Spanish colonial procedure. He had to inform himself as to just how Spanish and Mexican records were preserved.

In 1881 and again in 1883 he was in Guadalajara, Mexico, seeing to it that the proper documents in the cise of the Perulta land grant did exist. What is more, he obtained statements from Mexican notaries vouching lor the I’act that papers in his possession were accurate copies of state papers which they themselves had seen, filed just where Reavis said they were.

First, of course, it had been necessary lor him to identify the man whom a monarch had rewarded with an estate in Arizona, to show why the king of Spain had delighted to honor him and to trace the steps by which the grant had finally come into the hands of an American physician. The first tentative version demonstrating this sequence of lortunate events was a relatively simple matter.

In 1742 Don Miguel de Peralta de la Cordoba, a native of that city and a captain of dragoons, was scut to Mexico on a confidential mission by King Philip V. Skulduggery was a loo t in this distant province, and the King was not receiving his proper slice of the revenues. Looking around lor complete loyalty, unfailing courage, and a closed mouth, all in one package, Philip picked out Don Miguel. In spite of the hazards confronting him, the latter finally succeeded in straightening out the revenue tangle; and Ferdinand VI made him a grandee of Spain with the title of Damn of the Colorados.

That was in 1748, and somewhat later in the same year Ferdinand told the vice-regent of New Spain that he ought to Rx the new grandee up with a piece of property to be baron of. Another man might have had Don Miguel in Arizona by Christmas, but Reavis had observed the deliberation with which vice-regents of New Spain moved, even when carrying out a royal older. The Baron was therefore handed goo square leagues or 19,200,000,000 square varas of Pimcria Alta in 1757, with authority from the government of New Spain to occupy it as of January of the following year.

Although his main estate was in Arizona, Don Miguel preferred to live nearer to civilization. He had property in Hermosillo, Sonora, and he eventually married a lady of that city. For nineteen years there was no fruit of this union, but when the Baron was in his seventies Don Miguel de Peralta de la Cordoba y Sanrhez was born. It was this Second Baron, finding himself without an heir in his old age, who had deeded his Arizona estate over to his friend and physician, Dr. Willing.

So far so good; but there was then the problem of how the grant passed from the hands of Willing to those of Reavis. As far as the deed was concerned, it vas simple, lor the space left blank by the doctor had long been adorned with James Addison Reavis’ name. To make this post-mortem transfer credible was not so easy, however.

Reavis’ solution was to fuul a man called Florin Masol, a lormer business associate of Willing’s, whom he endowed witli power of attorney lor the doctor. 1-xercising his prerogative, Masol had turned the deed over to Reavis a couple of years before Willing died.

Commencing to press his claim on that basis, Reavis decided for himself that there was a hole in it bigenough for the Peralta grant to drop through. This was his inability to give a satisfactory reason why the property of a married man should have been left to a friend instead of the deceased’s relict. Reavis therefore looked up the woman whose widowhood had been his first necessity and obtained from her a bill of sale for the property, one of the few genuine documents in the case.

By that time he had spent seven years in study and the forging of testimony; but now at last he felt ready to take on the so far unsuspecting United States government. In 1883, following his second trip to Mexico, he filed his claim in the office of the surveyor-general of Arizona Territory. Significant of his confidence was the name he had adopted, which was James Addison I’eralta-Reavis.

Manifest Destiny never received such a setback. The entire program of settlement in central Arizona faced destruction through a wholesale revoking of land grants to the region’s pioneers. As Reavis himself stated the case, the United States could not dispose of territory to which it had no legal title.

Hired publicity men as well as newspapers spread the tidings among the anguished settlers of the Salt and Gila river valleys. The title to the great Peralta grant was ironclad, and it included all mineral and water lights. Ferdinand VI of Spain had been a loresighted fellow, and he had specifically mentioned them when awarding the giant to the Baron of the Colorados.

There were roars of protest from the pioneers, but they received little comfort from any direction. Local representatives of the federal government reported that, although naturally the matter of title would be thoroughly investigated, the claim had every appearance of being valid.

It was then that Reavis began to harvest where he h;id so patiently and dexterously sowed. Many were anxious to have the status of their property settled right away and came forward with oilers to buy, lease, or pay for operational franchises. Reavis skimmed oft $50,000 worth of cream in one easy motion when he charged the Southern Pacific that much for having run tracks across his property.

After that the panic was on in earnest. The railroad companies of the period were better known as rapacious predators than as easy marks. Many reasoned that if a railroad could be induced to pay off there was no use in trying to fight the case. Some promptly abandoned their houses, barns, irrigation ditches and cultivated fields. Others who had previously held out called on agents of the new owner to see what they would have to pay in order to be permitted to stay where they were. Mine operating companies did the same thing, the Silver King alone handing over $25,000 as an initial payment.

How Reavis had financed himself in the beginning is not clear. As his knowledge and confidence increased, however, he had begun to test his claims to title by submitting them to prominent West Coast attorneys. When these opined that his legal position was very sound, he had started to prosper. Next to wealth in the pocket the rich admire the promise of wealth, and big business soon put funds at the disposal of a man who looked as though he would soon be able to reciprocate handsomely.

One effect of this bounty was that—a year or so before he filed his claim—Reavis found it possible to take over the guardianship of a pretty half-breed girl called Sophia Treadway. An orphan, she did not know the nature of her ancestry until Reavis broke the news to her. Although she had been reared as a house servant, she was really the great-granddaughter of that Spanish grandee, Don Miguel de Peralta de la Cordoba.

This was Reavis’ deepest game, and it took some years for it to mature. For one thing, the waif had to be given an education and schooling in the social graces suitable to the lineal descendant of a baron.

That was still being attended to when Reavis finally pressed his claim and learned the joys of baronial estate at first hand. Money was rolling in, and he was a glad exponent of the theory that cash should be kept in circulation.

The headquarters of his domain was Hacienda Peralta at Arizola, a now vanished town near Casa Grande, but he was seldom there. In part this was due to prudence, for he knew enough about pioneers to realize that many would make no bones about shooting him. In the main, however, he eschewed Arizona because it was on the frontier, and his tastes were all for the opulence which only centers of civilization afford.

In proof of his own opulence he leased a mansion near New York, another in San Francisco, and a third in St. Louis, where he had once been a streetcar jockey. In these he entertained the wealthy and politically influential; and wherever he went the same ingredients of society gave him a 2i-gun salute.

Yet while he was enjoying himself, he never forgot that his duel with the federal government was still going on. After many months of trying, the United States had not found a way to save its threatened territory, but Reavis knew that its representatives had not given up. Day after day dogged employees of the State Department were looking for an excuse to thwart him. Like a chess master who plays dozens of opponents, he had to ponder the possible moves of each, so that he could outmaneuver them.

What he had long realized, for instance, was that the weakest link in the chain of his claims to title was none other than the originator of the basic scheme, Dr. Willing. The king of Spain had given land to a loyal subject, whose legitimate heirs could own it without doing violence to the ratifying clause in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; but the transfer of the property to a California physician was something which might well be disallowed on a point of order. Reavis had had to use Willing at first, for the doctor had formed the only explanation as to how the Peralta grant could have wound up as his own. What he now felt ready to do was to keep the land without switching the chain of title away from old Don Miguel’s descendants.

It was then that he introduced Dona Sofia Loreto Micaela Maso y Peralta de la Cordoba, his pretty ward, to eastern society.

New York’s Four Hundred were delighted to have such aristocracy in their midst, though they did not have much time to enjoy it. Dona Sofia’s guardian was anxious to carry her off to the land where her ancestors had flourished for countless generations.

In Spain, where she was presented at court by right of being a daughter of a noble house, Dona Sofia was also feted. Meanwhile her studious guardian haunted repositories of old records in Madrid and Seville. He also studied Spanish genealogy, finding much to interest him.

Thus enjoying themselves in their separate ways, they spent a couple of winters, but in July of 1887 they presented themselves before Edward H. Strobel, secretary of the United States Legation at Madrid. To him Reavis showed a contract of marriage between himself and his ward which dated back to 1882. Actually Reavis had just prepared it, but the secretary of the legation formally recognized it as binding.

The girl clearly accepted the situation because she found James Addison Reavis himself the most wonderful thing in the world he had created for her. As for her husband, he had his own motives for wedding. To his claim of having acquired the Peralta grant by purchase he could now add ownership through having married the woman who was rightfully entitled to inherit the land. Upon his return to America he filed this supporting claim, together with documents giving the history of Dona Sofia.

What had happened was that in the course of seeking to justify Dr. Willing’s claims to title he had discovered that the second Miguel de Peralta had sired children, contrary to his original belief. There had been twins, of which the son had died in infancy. The other child, Dona Sofia Laura Micaela Suva de Peralta de la Cordoba de Sanchez de Ybarra de Escobeda had survived, however, to marry a wealthy Spanish gentleman named Maso, among a great many other things, and bore him twins, of whom the boy also perished in infancy. The girl, born on March 4, 1862, was now the wife of James Addison Peralta-Reavis. She was also the Third Baroness, the sole rightful owner of the Peralta grant, of which actual possession had been denied her through a chain of adverse circumstances.

The birth of this heiress had taken place on an estate called the Bandina Ranch near San Bernardino while her family was en route from Sonora to San Francisco. The mother died shortly afterward, and the child was an orphan before she could talk. Both her father (Maso) and her grandfather, who was Don Miguel the younger, left for Spain within the year, and there death separately overtook them. The baby girl and her grandmother, Dona Carmelita, of the house of Maso, had been left meanwhile at the home of a man called Alfred E. Sherwood. The death of Dona Carmelita eventually left the child without a natural guardian. She had thus been raised in ignorance of her due position until Reavis had run across a record of her birth and succeeded in locating her.

As usual Reavis was able to produce evidence in support of his statements. There were parish records of both the birth and baptism, and anybody who wanted to could go to a certain church and read of these matters himself. Reavis also had affidavits from people who had been associated with the Peralta and Maso families while they were in the States.

For four years Reavis had enjoyed the financial and social emoluments derived from his unshaken claim to the Peralta grant, previous to filling in his wife’s name in 1887. Having staggered government officials with that blow, he went unchallenged for three years more. Meanwhile he had developed a fine new racket. In three states and territories he organized Peralta grant development companies, selling stock in them which was eagerly bought.

Finally, in 1890, the United States made its first countermove. Royal A. Johnson, surveyor-general of Arizona Territory, responded to the pleas of desperate settlers by publishing An Adverse Report on the Alleged Peralta Grant .

In it, Johnson noted that Reavis had shifted his ground, throwing up a new smoke screen when the old one had seemed in danger of being penetrated. The original documents which Reavis had exhibited were not as old as they purported to be, either. A newspaper editor had pointed out that the type on one allegedly ancient state paper had not been invented in the Eighteenth Century, while the stock had a watermark indicating it had been made in Minnesota. Adding these and a few other facts together, the surveyor-general pronounced the claim a fraudulent one.

A lesser thief would have taken that report as a cue to run for cover, but for James Addison Reavis crisis created the finest hour. He responded to Johnson’s charges by suing the United States for $10,000,000. The grounds for this test case were that the federal government had wrongfully given to others property which belonged to his wife.

The United States had to, gird itself to meet this new attack, and its operatives were far from confident. On the other hand, Reavis was; nor had he lost the confidence of the influential men with whom he now regularly consorted. Numbered among them were some of the best legal and financial minds in the nation, including that of one of this country’s most famous skeptics.

Colonel Robert Ingersoll, able as a lawyer as well as an iconoclast, looked over what Reavis had to offer and pronounced his case airtight. John W. Mackay, launcher of the Postal Telegraph Company, was another who so believed, while Charles Crocker, one of the founders of the Southern Pacific, had died in that faith a couple of years earlier. Henry M. Porter, of the American Bank Note Company, was in Reavis’ camp, and so was Edward S. Stokes, who had killed Jim Fisk over Josie Mansfield. It was said that Roscoe Conkling was on the Peralta team, while W. E. D. Stokes and other Wall Street wolves certainly were.

They had no choice but to believe, once Reavis had revealed to them the full fruits of his studies in Spain. The documents he had found there, and of which he had copies notarized as being true to the existing originals, not only supported the proofs he had found in the old colonial archives in Mexico but went far beyond them.

To begin with the original grantee, his full name was Don Miguel Nemecio Gomez de Suva de Peralta y Garcia de la Cordoba. Genealogical tables clearly traced his lineage back to men distinguished for mighty deeds as well as noble blood. The honors bestowed on Don Miguel were also revealed in full, for in documents signed by three different kings he had been cited as an aide-de-camp and ensign of the royal house, a gentleman of the king’s chamber, and a knight of the orders of the Golden Fleece and Our Lady of Montesa, not to mention his membership in the Royal Order of Carlos III and the equally regal College of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Royal documents showed now that, although Don Miguel had been referred to as the Baron of the Colorados in Mexican documents, this was a mistake. What King Ferdinand had conferred, when making him a grandee, was the honorary title of the Caballero de los Colorados; but after he came into possession of his estate he was the Baron of Arizona, sometimes called Arizonaca.

One other thing, and that of the first importance, was also made clear by this new array of evidence. When the barony of Arizona had been given to Don Miguel its included total of so many square leagues and varas of land had been particularly specified as “ancient” leagues and varas, which were half again as big as those which Reavis had first mistakenly used in his computations. The dimensions of the barony were not a mere 49½ by 149½ miles; the correct measurements were 75 miles deep by 225 wide. To use easily locatable map points, it stretched from the Four Peaks to Picacho Pass, and from just east of the confluence of the Gila and the Salt to just west of Silver City, New Mexico. As for its area, instead of being about that of New Jersey, it was roughly that of New Jersey and New Hampshire combined.

Reavis thoroughly understood that a lie gains face if it is backed by another lie. Don Miguel had asked two successors of the original royal donor to confirm his title to the barony, thus furnishing an excuse for more substantiating documents. Reavis carried out this theory with respect to the two wills which he forged.

The First Baron of Arizona had lived to the unusual age of 116, giving him ample’ time to leave a codicil which repeated his original intention of leaving the barony to his son. The latter also attached a codicil to his will, just before he died in Madrid. In this he reiterated that the infant Dona Sofia was to get every square vara of the baronial estate.

With the area of threatened territory more than doubled, the defensive energy of the United States increased in proportion. Correspondence with Spain and Mexico had served only to confirm the seriousness of the situation. Every copy which Reavis exhibited found recognition in a duly filed original. In desperation the State Department dispatched a trio of special agents to study this material at first hand. William H. Tipton and Severo Mallet-Prevost were hustled off to Madrid, while Levi A. Hughes was entrusted with studying the Mexican records.

Reavis, in the meantime, was making the government collect testimony in his own favor in the Court of Private Land Claims, Chief Justice Joseph R. Reed presiding. Beginning in San Francisco in October of 1890, he had produced numerous witnesses who supported every statement he had made relative to the birth of Dona Sofia, the departure of the Second Baron of Arizona for Spain, and his speedy death there.

As these and other witnesses, examined in May of 1893, had been very well paid, it is not surprising that they vouched for statements previously made by Reavis. What is remarkable, however, is that they made such good witnesses. Or rather it would have been astonishing if they had been coached by anybody else. Only a master swindler could have schooled them to hit the right note between remembering distant events too carefully and not being uncertain about the principal points at issue.

Finally Reavis pulled a skillful bilingual act; in Mexico he had all the royal decrees pertaining to the Peralta grant printed in Spanish, complete with all the notarized statements swearing to their authenticity, later published in San Francisco under the name of Muniments of Title .

During that same year of 1893 the suit to collect $10,000,000 from the United States of America was formally pressed in the Court of Private Land Claims, this time in Santa Fe. By then Reavis had been seigneur of his barony for ten years, and far from gaining anything in the long struggle against him, the federal government had lost ground, both figuratively and literally.

Reavis expected to go on winning, wherefore he pressed plans for developing his property on a heroic scale. It is interesting to note, incidentally, that he was miles ahead of the government in this respect too. For example, he had planned to provide power as well as irrigation water by damming the Tonto Basin. The Roosevelt Dam, which serves both of these purposes, was not started until 1906.

But while building his empire up with one hand, Reavis was using the other to bombard the government with his unending series of proofs, of which the two most ingenious had not so far been noticed. Having exhausted the resources of law, history, genealogy, and international diplomacy, he turned to the arts. He produced ancient Spanish poems which recited the glories of the Peraltas and the allied house of Garcia. Moving from poetry to painting, he published reproductions of portraits, showing how several generations of the Peralta clan had looked to various Spanish painters.

It was the special agents of the State Department, operating in Spain and Mexico, who at last proved a match for Reavis. They found the ancient documents in the ancient volumes in the ancient repositories, but, not content with that, they subjected them to minute scrutiny and a careful comparison with similar Eighteenth-Century papers. They furthermore enlisted the aid of government officials of the other two nations, as well as specialists in the fields of Hispanic history, law, and language of the period in question.

Reavis had wrought wonderfully, but his manifold forgeries could not all stand up against all the tests to which they were subjected. First a few discrepancies were observed, and these showed where to look for others. With a few foundation stones pulled out from under, the whole marvelous edifice collapsed.

Actually what took the collaborating representatives of three governments so long was that they could not believe that Reavis had had no help whatever from fact. They could not believe that all the documents were absolute fiction as well as daring forgeries. They could not believe that old Don Miguel, complete with his genealogy, descendants, and vast Arizona estate, had never lived at all , and that the grandees and their ladies in the portraits were sheer invention. Only after many months of studying the pooled information at their disposal were the special agents able to comprehend that for more than a decade the United States had been waging a losing war with a man whose only weapons were his brains and effrontery.

William H. Tipton undertook to present the findings of himself and his associates in 1895. The occasion was the $10,000,000 damage suit which Reavis was then pressing, with every prospect of success, in the Court of Special Land Claims in Santa Fe. Tipton’s testimony made it plain at last that the claims made by Reavis had never had the slightest connection with actuality at any time. The test case which Reavis had come so near winning was thus lost, and so was his empire.

The long reign of America’s peerless peer (1883-1895) ended with the adverse verdict of the Court of Private Land Claims, with the piper yet to be paid. Having at last regained control of the territory included in the Peralta grant, the government wanted blood as well.

It wasn’t easy to get. Tried for conspiracy, Reavis handled his own case; and in spite of all that the government’s representatives had on him, he made the prosecution sweat to win a conviction. What federal counsel found especially difficult to break down was the skein of court testimony which had established the birth and family ties of Doña Sofia.

That poor woman, who had borne Reavis twin sons, was eventually proved to be the posthumous daughter of a squaw man named John A. Treadway. Officially deposed as Third Baroness of Arizona by the court decision which convicted Reavis in 1896, she eventually got a divorce from the man who had ennobled her, on the grounds of nonsupport.

To do him justice, Reavis was in no position to support anybody from July 18, 1896, to April 18, 1898, as he spent that much of his six-year sentence in jail. Light as his punishment was, however, he emerged from it as fallen grandeur without the power to rise again. During the score of years which remained to him he tried other promotional schemes; but the strength of his genius had apparently been exhausted on his one master scheme, for he was never again successful.

Meanwhile all that remained of the barony of Arizona was the crumbling brick hacienda in the dying town of Arizola and the sore hearts of Reavis’ grand army of dupes. Time has by now taken care of their sufferings, leaving the prince of hornswogglers a solitary monument. This is a rock at the western end of the Maricopa Mountains, which was used as the initial point of survey for the Peralta land grant. Before the wrath of defrauded pioneers played havoc with it, there was a map scratched on this rock which plainly showed the territory with which the king of Spain rewarded the unswerving devotion to duty of the nonexistent Don Miguel Nemecio Gomez de Suva de Peralta y Garcia de la Cordoba, Knight of the Colorados and First Baron of Arizona.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.