Peralta Grant

by J. J. Bowden
 
 
 

On March 27, 1883 James Addison Reavis petitioned[1] the Surveyor General of Arizona, Joseph W. Robbins, seeking the confirmation of the Peralta Grant. In support of his claim, Reavis filed a number of Spanish documents. 

The first was a printed copy of a Royal Cedula which showed that on December 20, 1748 Ferdinand VI directed the Viceroy of New Spain to grant Miguel de Peralta, Baron of the Colorados, three hundred square leagues or 12,467,456 acres of land on the northern frontiers of New Spain together with all waters and minerals located therein in consideration of and as a reward for the distinguished military services he had rendered the crown as a Captain of Dragoons during the wars and for other services. Upon receipt of this Cedula, the Viceroy referred the matter to the Royal Tribunal of the Holy Inquisition of Mexico for “the proofs of the petitioner to the concession.” On October 10, 1757 the Inquisitors advised the Viceroy that Father Francisco Paner,[2] minister of the Mission of San Xavier, Father Garcia, missionary of the northern countries, and the Bishop of New Mexico, Pedro Tamaron, each had reported that they knew no obstacle to the granting of the concession. Therefore, the Inquisitors recommended that the grant be issued in such a form as to include the Gila River. As a result of this favorable report and in compliance with the Royal Cedula August de Ahumada y Villalon, Forty Second Viceroy of New Spain, on January 3, 1758, granted Peralta:

… three hundred square leagues of land of the dominion of the King, which shall he located to the north of the Mission of San Xavier in Primaria Alta, in the northern portion of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and shall be measured ten leagues, from north to south, and shall extend thirty leagues from east to west and be of such form as to include the Gila River; to hold and possess in perpetuity all the minerals, lands, water and streams and all other things thereunto pertaining.

 Peralta issued a statement on May 13, 1758 in which he designated the western boundary of the grant as being a line:

... running from north to south to the base of the Maricopa Mountains, to the east of the Sierra Estrella, in a direct line to the west of the mouth of the Valley of the Santa Cruz, crossing the river Gila and the Salt River ...

Since the lands selected by Peralta had not been described specifically in the Royal Cedula of December 20, 1748 or the granting decree of the Viceroy and in view of the fact they contained so many known mineral deposits which generally were reserved as a prerogative of the sovereign, assurance that the king recognized his rights to such minerals, prompted Peralta, notwithstanding the recitation to that effect in the Royal Cedula to petition Carlos III on August 1, 1768, seeking the confirmation of his title to the land and minerals. After a lapse of eight years, Carlos III, by Royal Cedula dated January 20, 1776 decreed:

… with much pleasure the King of Spain recognizes your great and many valuable services, rendered in the armies of the Crown, and approves the location by you as before described.

Continuing, Reavis asserted that a copy of the grant papers was on file in the Archives in both Mexico City and Guadalajara. In order to connect himself with Peralta, he filed a copy of Peralta’s will, which had been made on January 13, 1788 at Guadalajara and devised the grant to his son, Miguel de Peralta y Sanchez. Peralta lived to the ripe old age of 116. Upon his death, on February 2, 1824, title to the grant passed to his son, who conveyed it to George M. Willing by deed dated October 20, 1864 for a stated consideration of $1,000.00. George M. Willing granted a Power of Attorney to F. A. Massol on May 11, 1864 who, in turn, conveyed the grant to Reavis on May 22, 1867. The final instrument in Reavis’ chain of title was a deed from Willing’s widow, Mary Ann Willing, to Reavis dated May 1, 1882.
 

At first glance Reavis’ claim appeared to Robbins to be valid, however, its immense size called for a careful examination, not only of the documents submitted, but also of the archives in Mexico. Therefore, he ordered one of his clerks, Rufus C. Hopkins, an expert on Spanish and Mexican grants, to go to Mexico and inspect the original papers. Meanwhile, Reavis had become quite friendly with Hopkins and, as an accommodation, he offered to accompany Hopkins in order to introduce him to the archivists and assist him in locating the grant papers. Since Hopkins was quite elderly, he readily welcomed the offer. Peralta and Hopkins stayed in Mexico for several weeks, and upon their return to Arizona early in 1884 they found that Robbins had died and had been succeeded by his Chief Clerk, Royal A. Johnson.

In his report to Johnson, Hopkins stated that he had examined the documents pertaining to the grant in the archives at Mexico City and Guadalajara, and while he had some reservations concerning the validity of the king’s signature on the Royal Cedula and notwithstanding the fact that Peralta was not specifically mentioned in some of the documents, he concluded that the claim was well founded. Johnson was disappointed with Hopkins’ work and especially his failure to critically examine the instruments. In an effort to obtain a better understanding of the claim, he wrote the United States Legation in Spain, requesting a copy of the Royal Cedula and the United States officials in Mexico asking for a copy of the grant by the Viceroy. Much to his surprise, he was advised that these documents could not be found.[3]
 

In the meantime, Reavis started spreading rumors that Johnson was on the verge of approving the claim and encouraging persons occupying land with the exterior boundaries of the grant to secure a quitclaim deed from him before it was too late. It has been estimated that he received $5,300,000 from such sales.[4] Reavis also intimated that he and Johnson were close friends. This caused Johnson no little embarrassment, for the newspapers suggested that there was a conspiracy between Reavis and Johnson, and demanded a forthwith rejection of the claim as a fraud. Pressure from the inhabitants of the grant and news media finally prompted the Commissioner of the General Land Office, William A. J. Sparks, to write Johnson a letter[5] on May 2, 1885 in which he stated:

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 and a half in the direction of investigating an alleged claim which, from your own statement of its uncorroborated character, had not been placed before you in a condition to be entitled to consideration, should forthwith be discontinued. The only effect of your actions and proceedings has been to needlessly alarm citizens in lawful and peaceful possession of homes and property, to imperil valuable mining interests, and to intimidate settlements upon public lands.

Johnson, in his answer, advised Sparks that he would strictly comply with his instructions, and hoped that “...the many schemes concocted by bad men to excite the people against this office will now cease, inasmuch as we shall have no further connection with this grant.”[6] Thus, the claim was cast into limbo, and Reavis, who was a man not to be daunted by a setback, was forced to re‑evaluate his position. He realized that something had to be done to overcome Sparks’ objection that his documentary evidence was “uncorroborated and undeserving of further consideration.”[7] He knew that the weakest link in his chain of title was the October 20, 1864 deed, which was written on a piece of common wrapping paper, whereby Miguel Silva Jesus de Peralta conveyed the grant to Willing.[8] Therefore, Reavis decided that in order to sustain the claim, he would have to find and acquire the interest of a direct descendant of the original grantee. During the next two years Reavis travelled extensively, searching for such a person and further data.

On September 2, 1887 Reavis filed an amended petition[9] to the property under the title of his wife, Sofia Ave Maria Sanchez, and his only child, Miguel Peralta de la Cordoba y Sanchez, as his sole and universal heirs to the end that they might take and inherit ... the Barony of Arizona.…” A codicil was made by the Baron on January 13, 1788 in which he devised the entire grant to his son. He also filed the will of Miguel Silva de Peralta y Sanchez, Second Baron of the Colorados, dated January 2, 1863, under which the grant was devised to his granddaughter, Sophia Loreto Micaela Maso y Peralta de la Cordoba. In this instrument he Second Baron carefully set forth the genealogy of his granddaughter, stating that he married Juana Laura y Vara, that they had a daughter, Sophia Laura Micaela de Peralta de Peralta de la Cordoba y Vara, who was married to Jose Ramon Carmen de Maso, that both his daughter and her husband were deceased and that they were survived by one of their twin children, Sophia Loreta. The will also set forth an authentic copy of the grant papers, which included the statement by Father Paner, Cristobal Vega and Andres Galves:

We have given possession, in the name of His Majesty the King, by command of the Viceroy of New Spain. Done at the eastern base of the aforesaid Maricopa Mountains and the drawing made on the rock on this thirteenth day of May, 1758.

The Second Baron added a codicil to his will on April 9, 1865 in which he reaffirmed the bequest of the grant to his granddaughter for the sole object of granting her “the permission legally necessary to enable her to take possession of the grant.” A number of depositions were also filed showing that following the First Baron’s death in 1824 his son, who had been softened by the luxury of an aristocratic life, failed to take possession of his inheritance, which was located on the frontier and at best offered only a hard and solitary life. Finding it necessary that he go to Spain on urgent business, the Second Baron, in 1862, decided to take with him his daughter, his son-in-law and his son-in-law’s mother, Carmelita de Maso. The party planned to go overland from Guadalajara to San Francisco and from there by boat to Cadiz. However, at Agua Mansa, near the present town of San Bernardino, California, Sofia Laura, who was heavy with child, unexpectedly was seized with labor pains and gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. They were baptized at the Mission of San Salvador by Father Fernando Gonzales. The boy was named Jose Jesus Nemesio and the girl Sofia Loreta Micaela. The birth was difficult and both the mother and the son died within twenty-four hours. The last link in Reavis’ chain of title to his wife’s claim was certificates from the records of the mission evidencing such births and deaths. Sophie Loreta was left in the care of her grandmother while her father hurried on to Spain. The Baron tarried in San Francisco for about ten months in order to recover from the shock of his loss before proceeding to Spain. Pending their return Carmelita de Maso and her infant granddaughter went to live with a close friend of the family, John A. Treadway. The Baron passed away at Madrid in 1865; and, since nothing further was heard of Jose Maso, it was presumed he met an untimely demise in Spain. When Sofia Loreta was five years old, both her grandmother and Treadway passed away, and she became a waif. Alfred Sherwood took her in for a few years. At the age of eight, she was adopted by John Snowball and went to live with him at Knights Landing. When she was fifteen, she was sent to Los Angeles to learn dressmaking. During a train trip from San Bernardino to Los Angeles in the spring of 1877, Reavis met the girl and was struck by her resemblance to the wife of the Second Baron. He spoke to her, and when she told him that she was Sofia Loreto Maso he knew he had found the lost heiress to the Peralta Grant. They were married on December 31, 1882.

Reavis also requested a preliminary survey of the grant, which he described as:

Beginning at the west end of the “monumental” stone, with a map about 12 x 36 inches upon the south face; thence north crossing the Gila and Salt Rivers a distance of 24.883 miles to a point; thence east 149.3 miles to a point; and from the west end of the “monumental” stone, the place of beginning; thence south a distance of 24.885 miles to a point; and thence east a distance of 149.3 miles to a point; and thence north 49.77 miles to the point described as the eastern extension of the northern point of the western boundary ….

In connection with this application, Reavis filed a picture of the Baroness standing by the “monumental” stone, which had been referred to in the Second Baron’s will. He also offered to deposit the sum of $10,000 to pay the cost of the survey. The request was denied on September 23, 1887, and Reavis appealed to Commissioner of the General Land Office Strother M. Stockslager, who, by decision[10] dated April 16, 1888, upheld the Surveyor General’s decision on the ground that the effect of such a survey would be to segregate the land from the public land and give Reavis the power of eviction under local laws and vest in him such presumptive rights as to force the inhabitants of the land covered by the grant to repurchase their homes from Reavis. In closing, Stockslager held that a preliminary survey should not be made until after a claim had been favorably reported upon by the Surveyor General. On October 12, 1889 Johnson issued a long and carefully considered opinion,[11] which was supported by an argument by the Attorney General of the Territory, Clark Churchill, in which he held that the claim was a gigantic fraud. First, it was pointed out that a grant probably had never been made to Peralta. In support of this finding, it was noted:

1. The Royal Cedula directing the Viceroy to grant the land to Peralta was in a form entirely different from all other Royal Cedulas of the kings of Spain. The Spanish used in it was a barbarous jargon with more English idioms and construction than Spanish. Thus, it would appear that the author was an American writing bad California Spanish of the mid‑nineteenth century. For example, it contained the phrase “Fueron Aprobodas” instead of “Que Fueron Aprobadas.” This error would not have been made by a native Spaniard. While the phrase “en el servicio del Rey” was good Spanish, it was contrary to the habit of the Spanish monarchs who universally used the phrase “en mi servicio.” Likewise, the phrase “Yo Elí Rey” was not used in 1748 but was written “Por Mandado del Rey” or “Por Mandado del Rey, nuestro Senor.” Numerous grammatical errors were also noted. For instance, in the phrase “Passo ante mi fecha en Madrid a dos de Decembre de mill setecientos y Setenda y dos,” there were three glaring errors. “Passo mi” should have been “Paso por me,” “Decembre” for “Diciembre,” and “mill” for “mil.” Carlos III just would not have made these horrendous mistakes! It was also noted that the Royal Cedula was printed in a modern style type which was not used in 1748. In this connection, the letter “S” was especially noticeable as being modern. Attention was called to the fact that the seal on the Royal Cedula Copy of Royal Cedula of December 20, 1748 was a small printed seal instead of being the customary large official seal impressed or affixed to the paper. It was noted that it would not be difficult to secure a blank sheet of this type paper and add the printed matter above the printed seal. It was also pointed out that the seal in question was not in existence prior to 1776. The rubric affixed to the Royal Cedula following the notation that the Royal Cedula had passed before the king on December 2, 1772 appeared to have been traced. Many of the other signatures on the instrument undoubtedly had been signed with a steel pen, which had not been invented at that time.

2. In regard to the alleged report of the Holy Inquisition of New Spain, Johnson noted that the large seal of that ecclesiastical tribunal had been pasted upon the instrument instead of impressed thereon with a metal seal. The seal was cracked and had a scorched brownish appearance which indicated that it had been heated and removed from another instrument.

3. Coming next to the Viceroy’s decree, Johnson stated:

... it must be borne in mind that the all important paper in this claim, the paper whose existence must be proven or the claim that such a grant ever existed for a moment must fall to the ground, is the original grant of the Viceroy ... . To this end are produced the papers under consideration. No certificate of a modern date nor any other reliable certification appears on the copies which would point to the originals being at present in the custody of some custodian of archives where they could be readily located and seen, but the certification of the copies is remarkably ancient and unsatisfactory, and nothing is at hand of an acceptable nature in a court or in this office to enable me to ascertain the whereabouts of originals or to prove their existence, and if they were to be obtained it is the duty of the claimants to produce them or to obtain and submit undoubtable proof of their existence in their proper archives ... . The photographs filed purport to show that a copy of Peralta’s will and the Viceroy’s grant were among the leaves of the old mission record. To my mind the production of these photographs of supposed copies shows to what straits the claimants were driven to obtain corroborating evidence that the Viceroy ever made the grant. It is evident the claimant’s intention to jump up from every conceivable corner something touching on the fact that the Viceroy did make the grant, but it seems in poor taste that the old books of the San Xavier Mission, wherein were recorded the births, marriages and deaths of persons under the cognizance of the Church, should be selected to have inserted and rudely inserted among its withered leaves a copy of the grant of Peralta by the viceroy, and a copy of Peralta’s will. It must be borne in mind that these books have been out of the custody of the Church for many years, and that we know very little as to their history in that time. The photographs produced show that what appears to be the regular pages of the old book bear every indication of age; the sheets are regular in shape and size and present an even appearance in matter of age, handwriting, etc., with the exception of the very sheet that the claimant Reavis relies so much on. Here we have a radical change, a complete departure of perspective. In the first place, the sheet is pasted in at right angles to the other sheets and is one‑third larger than the regular sheets. The upper end of the pasted‑in sheet is inserted in that part of the binding that holds the back of the large book together instead of being in regular order, nor is this the only singularity about it. The writing ink and paper is different from the regular leaves of the book, the entries proper being in a regular hand, written with a quill pen, and the sheets proper bear an appearance of having been written about the same time, while the sheet pasted in, I unhesitatingly pronounce written with a steel pen, which would, of course, have been impossible if the sheet was pasted in there at the time it was made to appear, as the date was fully half a century before steel pens were made at all successful. I am firmly convinced that the sheet referred to was pasted in at a comparatively recent date.

4. Continuing in this same vein, Johnson pointed out that under the laws existing at the time of the grant the king would not have issued a recommendation to the Viceroy of New Spain to make the concession, except through the medium of the Council of the Indies. Therefore, the inability to find a copy of the Royal Cedula in the archives of the Council of the Indies cast further suspicion upon the claim.

5. Johnson also called attention to the fact that the concession which was the largest made to an individual within the United States, allegedly had been made as a reward for services rendered by Peralta, a mere Captain of Dragoons; however, history was strangely silent concerning both him and the valiant deeds he had performed to warrant such an extensive and generous reward. Johnson was of the opinion that such a grant would not have been made without compliance with Law 43, Title 2, Book II of the Recompilacion de Leyes de los Reynos de las Indias which provided: “No memorial from any person whatever shall be received for services which shall not be supported by certificates from viceroys, Generals, or other chiefs under whom such services shall have been performed, except those persons who shall have served in the councils.” Such certificates were to be furnished to the Council of the Indies. Therefore, the absence of a copy of such a memorial in the archives of the Council of the Indies was further evidence against the validity of the claim.

6. Proceeding, Johnson noted that the mere size of the grant aroused suspicion. Here a mere Captain sought and allegedly secured a princely estate the size of the states of New Hampshire and Massachusetts as a reward for his military and other services while the Viceroy who made the concession died without means and left a poverty-stricken widow. Johnson doubted that the king would have lavishly rewarded a man who was not even mentioned by the Audiencia of his own district, while his personal representative lived in a destitute condition. In this connection, ho pointed out that Law 164, Title 15, Book II of the Recopilación de Leyes de los Reynos de las Indias required the Audiencia to keep a register of all claims for compensation for past services and give the Council of the Indies a report concerning their validity. In his opinion, one of the weakest points in connection with the alleged grant was that the recommendation favoring the issuance of the grant had been made by the Holy Inquisition instead of the Audiencia.

7. Johnson stated that, even if the grant were assumed to be valid for the sake of argument, he seriously questioned both Reavis and his wife’s titles to the property. First, he noted that Peralta had made no attempt to harmonize the Willing claim with his wife’s and presumed that the former had been abandoned, especially after the deed from F. A. Massol, Attorney in Fact for George M. Willing, to James Addison Reavis had been proven to he spurious. Next, he pointed out that if Peralta conveyed the grant to Willing in 1864, then Sofia Loreta would have acquired nothing under the Second Baron’s will and codicil. At this point, he attempted to discredit the Willing title by showing that Peralta was a common Spanish name and there was little evidence to show that the grantor in the deed to Willing was the son of the First Baron. He also pointed out that the Baroness’ genealogical evidence consisted of a number of self-serving documents which were of little or no real value.

8. Finally, Johnson noted that the mode of allowing Peralta to locate the boundaries of the grant was a radical departure in the usual and customary procedure attending the establishment of the boundaries of a Spanish grant. He showed that the description of the location of the controlling western line was so vague that it could be located anywhere within a twelve mile area. Thus, according to long-established principles of property law, the claim must fail due to the inability to define its boundaries.

Since Reavis had rested his whole claim upon the fortuitously discovered “monument” stone, Johnson went to great lengths to show that the “map” on rock was nothing more than Indian hieroglyphics, which were common in the area, and had nothing to do with the grant.

Johnson closed his report with the recommendation that:

Speedy and final action should be had on this base claim in order that the people of this territory may enjoy their homes with peace of mind. And parties guilty of forgery or the fabrication of papers that have caused so much trouble should be vigorously prosecuted by the government and that without delay.

I recommend that the alleged grant should not be confirmed as it is prayed for, it being to my mind without the slightest foundation in fact and utterly void.

Reavis, who was disappointed but undaunted by Johnson’s adverse report, was determined not to give up without first exhausting every legal remedy open to him. His next step was the filing of a suit[12] on January 27, 1890, in both his newly assumed hyphenated name of Peralta-Reavis and his wife’s name against the United States in the Court of Claims asking for six million dollars as compensation for the damages they had suffered due to the loss of the lands and water lying within the exterior boundaries of tie grant which illegally had been sold by the government to settlers under the Public Land Laws or reserved for its own use and another five million dollars as damages for the government’s interference with their development of the water and mineral rights on the grant. They also sought an injunction against the government to prevent similar interferences in the future. In addition to his voluminous documentary evidence, Reavis offered the oral testimony of a number of witnesses which traced Sofia Loreta’s life history in great detail and seemingly established, beyond reproach, her claim as the sole heiress of the fabulous Peralta estate.

The testimony of Miguel Luro Peralta y Vasquez of California, who claimed to be a third cousin to the Baroness, while somewhat confusing, could be interpreted as showing that he had executed the deed conveying the grant to Willing. Thus, Reavis sought to explain and discredit his first claim which had been based on the Willing deed as an unauthorized conveyance of the property by a distant relative with a similar name.
 

After filing the suit, Reavis left on an extensive tour of Mexico and California, during which he spent most of his time searching for and found additional significant information to bolster the grant. He spent weeks going through the voluminous archives of the Ayuntamiento of Guadalajara for the first time. His search was rewarded with the discovery of the probate proceedings of the first Baron’s will. He also found a proceeding before Notary Public Juan Ballesteros in which Miguel Silva de Peralta certified that Miguel Silva de Peralta y Sanchez was his legitimate son. A copy of the grant papers, the Peralta Coat of Arms, a book consisting of 3 leaves showing the genealogy of the First Baron, and the testimony of four witnesses who testified as to their knowledge of the Second Baron’s ancestry and nobility were presented during this proceeding. However, the most important find was a small red book bearing the Peralta crest and containing five Royal Cedulas. In the first, Felipe V, on January 31, 1742, appointed Peralta as Royal Inspector, under secret instructions, to the City of Guadalajara, Mexico. This instrument, which listed Peralta’s titles as Baron de Arizonaca, Knight of the Golden Fleece, and a member of the Order of Montesa, ordered the officials and inhabitants of Guadalajara to obey and respect Peralta:

… as one who represents my person, and to do whatever may be necessary, to do in order to execute that which I have directed in my secret instructions .... and I will consider myself well served; and on the contrary, if you should do otherwise, it will be very much my royal displeasure.

Felipe V was pleased with the results of Peralta’s inspection trip, for on November 13, 1844, he issued a second Royal Cedula which referred to him as Agent of the City of Cadiz, Attorney in Fact of the Licenciado Don Jose Nemesio Montes de Oca, Canon of the Distinguished and Royal Order of The Peralta Coat of Arms Of Lady of Guadalupe, Aide de Camp, Ensign of the Royal Houses, Lieutenant of Dragoons, Baron of Arizonaca, and Gentleman of the King’s Chamber with privilege to enter at will, establishing the Barony of Arizonaca and directing the Viceroy of New Spain to give the proper “order, to the end that he may select, locate and establish said Barony ... .” The third was the appointment of Peralta as Captain of Dragoons on December 20, 1748, at the request of the Royal Inquisition and in consideration for his great and valuable services. The fourth was a recommendation by the King dated December 20, 1748, and addressed to Viceroy of New Spain that Peralta be granted three hundred leagues of land on the northern frontiers of New Spain. It also bestowed upon Peralta the title of Caballero de los Colorados with the rank of Grandee. The last one was by Charles III and dated August 26, 1778. This instrument referred to Peralta as “Grandee of Spain, Caballero de los Colorados, Baron de Arizonaca, Captain of Dragoons, Knight of the Military Orders of the Toisón and Montesa, Knight of the Royal Order of Charles III, Insignia of the Royal College of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” and confirmed the grant together with the “minerals and other things thereunto belonging… .” In California he was able to locate additional witnesses who had known the Second Baron and his family and the circumstances surrounding the rearing of Sofia Loreta. This new data appeared to cure the defects raised by Johnson’s Adverse Report and conclusively establish the validity of the grant and the Baroness’ claim. However, before his Case[13] came up for trial in the Court of Claims, the Court of Private Land Claims was created and Reavis elected to prosecute his claim for the recognition of the grant before that forum. On February 18, 1893 he filed a petition[14] asking the court to confirm the grant to him and his wife. A similar suit[15] was filed on February 27, 1893 by some one hundred and six heirs of Miguel Peralta, the original grantee. The two suits were consolidated[16] on February 14, 1895 and tried under Cause No. 110.
 

When the government’s attorney, Matthew G. Reynolds, commenced his investigation of the case, he was worried, for the claim was based on properly authenticated documents, which, as translated into English and before being analyzed, made as clear and complete a case of a grant as he had ever encountered. He was especially impressed by the fact that so many documents came from Spain and Mexico, properly certified by the keepers of the appropriate archives, with certificates from the United States Legation, thereby making them prima facie evidence before the court.

The first concrete evidence which Reynolds obtained that something was amiss was the receipt of a letter from W. N. Allen, a San Francisco attorney, in which he stated that he had a copy of a contract between Reavis and a witness, in which it was agreed that the witness would be paid a contingent fee of fifty thousand dollars if he would testify to a certain statement prepared by Reavis. In response to Reynolds’ request, Allen furnished him with a copy of the contract, which was dated June 2, 1892, and was between Reavis and Mrs. Elena Campbell de Noe, the wife of the principal witness who gave testimony concerning the history of the Baroness’ childhood and relationship to the Second Baron. Allen also assured Reynolds that he could “produce plenty of evidence ... to establish the fact beyond question, that the whole case is fixed up out of whole cloth ...,” and that he could prove;

1. That Mrs. Reavis was born and raised in California;

2. That she was not related to the Peraltas; and

3. That the testimony connecting her with the Peralta family was manufactured, and that the testimony to establish that fact was written out by Reavis in my office, and given to Miguel Noe, the principal witness, to commit to memory, and to get enough Spaniards to commit it so they could swear to it before the commissioner … Noe’s son was drilled in to be a witness, and some others, I don’t know how many, but when I drew out all the facts, so I could serve the Government to advantage, I threw Reavis out of my office … [17]

Encouraged by this disclosure, Reynolds commenced an exhaustive examination of the claim. He sent his assistants to every point offering any prospective information concerning Reavis’ proofs and allegations. Mexico and Spain were visited and soon additional flaws in the once seemingly impregnable claim were uncovered. Severo Mallet Prevost, who was employed by Reynolds as Spanish counsel, made a tour of Spain and Mexico tracing Reavis’ steps.
 

In Spain, he discovered that the will of the Second Baron was a forgery for wherever the words Miguel de Peralta appeared they obviously had been written over erasures. The will also bore a notation that it had been recorded in Volume 23 at page 2 of the Registry of Mortgages; however, upon checking that volume of the Registry it was found that the instrument recorded on such page had nothing to do with Peralta. He also noted that the proceedings in connection with the probate of the will were written on an unusual type paper, sewed together, and inserted in the book. However, his most startling discovery was that Reavis had been caught attempting to insert a spurious instrument into the Archives of the Indies at Seville, which was the very depository in which documents relating to the grant should, if anywhere, be found. Criminal proceedings were instituted against Reavis but he left for the United States before he could be arrested. A check of the records also disclosed that Peralta had not been a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece, or Charles III.

In Mexico, Mallet‑Prevost declared that the two-page Royal Cedula of 1742 had been defiled. His examination also revealed that the first page was a forgery throughout and had been interpolated for the genuine leaf which had been skillfully removed from the book which had been arranged and bound in 1766. Three words obviously had been erased on the second page and the words “Visitado,” “Baron” and “Arizonaca” substituted. After a prolonged study, he determined that originally the first word had read “Viceroy,” the second “Condi” and the third “Fuenclara.” Thus, the Royal Cedula which allegedly appointed the Baron of Arizona as Inspector of New Spain was actually a Royal Cedula advising the City of Guadalajara of the appointment of the Count of Fuenclara as Viceroy of New Spain. An examination of the book containing the genealogy of the First Baron showed that the first and last pages of this manuscript were genuine but the intervening thirty-six leaves consisted solely of forged matter establishing the nobility of the First Baron and his ancestors. In the notarial certificate on the last page several words had been stricken and the words “thirty-eight” interlined. A close inspection revealed that the stricken words had read “one hundred and sixty-nine.” Thus, the certificate had been attached to an instrument containing that exact number of pages, but had been altered to agree with the fraudulent document to which it was finally affixed. Mallet-Prevost also found that, while portions of the probate proceedings in connection with the First Baron’s will were genuine, the pertinent parts were forged. The authenticity of the book containing the five Cedulas depended upon the validity of the signature of the notary, Urbano Antonio Ballesteros. Since there were a number of documents in the Archives containing known genuine specimens of Ballesteros’ signature, he was able to show by scientific comparisons that his signature on the certificate to the book of Cedulas was a bungling forgery. Thus, the government was able to undermine the very foundation to Reavis’ claim.

In the meantime, Levi A. Hughes, a Secret Service Agent who had been assigned to Reynolds’ office, was busy in California. He discovered that the records of the old church of San Salvador had been polluted by the removal of pages from the books containing the records of births an deaths and forged pages substituted showing the birth of the Maso twins and the death of the Baroness’ mother and brother. By locating the index to the birth records, which did not mention the names of the Maso twins, but referred to two other babies missing from the book, he conclusively showed that someone had tampered with the birth records. Hughes also found Louis Ronbidoux and his wife, who were shown in the baptism records to have been Sofia Loreta’s godparents. However, they denied having any knowledge of the event.

Fortified with the data obtained from its intensive investigation, the government sought an early hearing of the consolidated actions. The case came up for trial on the morning of June 3, 1895. Since no one appeared on behalf of any of the plaintiffs, the case was adjourned until 2 p.m., at which time J. T. Kenney, attorney for the plaintiffs in Cause No. 271, appeared and announced to the Court;

I feel as though it was due to this Honorable Court, and due to my clients, and due to myself, that I make a further statement of the position that I occupy, and I feel more anxious to do this from the fact that the cases have been consolidated … . I represent, as may be known to this Court, what is known as the Peralta heirs... . Before assuming the position of attorney for these people, who live five hundred miles from where I reside, I took occasion to visit them, and have these Peralta heirs gather together. I spent a number of days in ascertaining this fact the first and most important to us before assuming the relation of attorney: and that was that they were the lineal descendants of Don Miguel Peralta and we took a large amount of informal testimony on that point. We established beyond peradventure of a doubt, in my mind, that they were such descendants. That was about three years ago, and they were induced to take this step from the fact that Mr. Reavis had published to the world throughout the newspapers that he had indubitable evidence that there was a grant made by the Viceroy of Spain to Don Miguel Peralta. Proceeding upon that basis then, my clients instituted this suit, and not being financially able themselves to accumulate the evidence to establish this grant, they depended entirely upon Mr. Reavis. Now, if twenty years of labor, and something like a quarter of a million dollars, which is said to have been expended, have failed to establish such a grant, then we necessarily fall with it, for we based and predicated all our hopes and expectations upon the fact of the grant being established by Mr. Reavis. Now, if Your Honors please, the Government Attorney on yesterday afternoon, placed in my hands the printed evidence upon which he largely depends, and to my mind it did seem as though that grant, upon which Reavis relies ‑ (To the reporter: and I hope you are taking down what I am saying as I want it to go in the record) ‑ it seems to me, from a cursory examination that I could give it, that it is a fabrication, and as such, if such it turns out to be, before this Honorable Court, I want it distinctly understood by the Court and by the Government Attorney, that we have had nothing to do with it. We wash our hands from all of it. I only saw Mr. Reavis once in my life, and that was at Tucson, Arizona, for three or four minutes, and in that conversation I merely called on him to get his book which he had published, which he refused to give me. He insulted my clients by saying that their petition was nothing more than a blackmailing affair. No, sirs, I don’t want it to be understood that I am here, in any possible sense of the word, the representative of Mr. Reavis, or any of the frauds, if frauds they be, that he has committed or attempted to perpetrate upon this Court. We have had nothing to do with it, and hardly know what course to pursue. We have no evidence to introduce before this Court of any sort, and I feel embarrassed from the fact that my clients’ case has been consolidated with his. I am sorry that Mr. Reavis is not here to give an account of himself, and to be present on the trial of this case, but he is not. We stand here in the position of heirs, based solely upon the hope and expectation that a valid subsisting grant would be established before this Court to Don Miguel Peralta, and then, as I supposed, our rights and interests would be litigated in the local courts. This much I feel as though it was my duty to present to this Court, and I shall be a spectator during a portion at least of the progress of this trial; I do not feel as though I could stay all the time, as the elevation seems to affect me, not only my lungs, but my heart, and it is with difficulty that I can speak, or even breathe freely; coming from the coast, as I did, it has a very serious effect upon me, hence I do not think I shall remain here very long, and my interests, whatever they are, I feel are in safe hands, and if it should turn out that the grant should be established, why then our interests will be looked after. I am much obliged to the Court for its attention.[18]

 

Reavis sent a wire, requesting the Court to continue the case until June 10, 1895, in order to enable him to get to Santa Fe. Since the government had no objection, Reavis’ request was granted. One by one Reavis’ attorneys withdrew, and on the appointed day he appeared in the Courtroom alone and friendless except for his faithful wife. Reavis surprised everyone by requesting the Court to dismiss the case. His motion was promptly overruled, and the government proceeded to prove that each of the documents upon which the claim was founded was spurious, and that Sofia Loreta was actually the illegitimate daughter of John A. Treaday and an Indian squaw named Kate. The Court, in a unanimous opinion[19] dated June 26, 1895, rejected the grant on the ground it was wholly fictitious and fraudulent. Reavis appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, but it dismissed[20] the proceedings on March 16, 1896 on the motion of the Solicitor General of the United States.

Meanwhile, Reavis had been arrested and indicted on a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States. He was convicted of committing such crime on June 30, 1896 and sentenced to serve two years in federal penitentiary[21] and fined $5,000.00. Following his release from the penitentiary, Reavis published his confessions in the San Francisco Call wherein he states:

I am of Scotch—Welsh and Spanish antecedents, with a traditional Spanish extraction in the remote generations... . I was reared in Henry County, Missouri. In May, 1861, at the age of 18, I enlisted in the Confederate Army, and during my life as a soldier committed my first crime. I forged an order and, being successful in this, I forged many more. After the war ... I opened a real estate office in St. Louis. I was successful in forging a deed to sustain a tax title to some valuable land I had bought and carried out other frauds... . However, success in these early years sowed the seed that later sprang forth into the most gigantic fraud of the century. The plan to secure the Peralta Grant and defraud the Government out of land valued at $100,000,000 was not conceived in a day. It was the result of a series of crimes extending over nearly a score of years. At first the stake was small, but it grew and grew in magnitude until oven I sometimes was appalled at the thought of the possibilities.

I was playing a game which to win meant greater wealth than that of a Vanderbilt. My hand constantly gained strength, noted men pleaded my cause, and unlimited capital was at my command. My opponent was the Government, and I baffled its agents at every turn. Gradually I became absolutely sure of success.
 
As I neared the verge of triumph I was exultant and sure. Until the very moment of my downfall I gave no thought to failure. But my sins found me out, and as in the twinkling of an eye I saw the millions which had seemed already in my grasp fade away and I heard the courts doom me to a prison cell.
 
Now I am growing old and the thing hangs upon me like a nightmare until I am driven to make a clean breast of it all, that I may end my days in peace.[22]
 

Reavis died of bronchitis on November 20, 1914 in Denver, Colorado, and was buried in a pauper’s grave.[23] Thus ends the strange history of the Peralta Grant, which has been described as being “the greatest fraud ever attempted against the government in its own courts.”[24]

 


[1] The Peralta Grant, No. 18 (Mss., Records of the S.G.A).

[2] His name was Francisco Paver.

[3] Powell, The Peralta Grant, 50‑54 (1960).

[4] Cookridge, The Baron of Arizona, 120 (1967).

[5] The Peralta Grant (Mss., Records of the General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D.C.) Record Group 49.

[6] Ibid.

[7] The papers found in Mexico City were in the church Archives of the Holy Inquisition. No record of the grant could be found in the Archives of the Viceroyalty. The papers found in the records of the office of the Public Registry of Properties at Guadalajara were contained in a recently bound book. No record of the grant could be found in the Archives of the Council of the Indies at Seville, Spain, or the Audiencia at Guadalajara, Mexico. The grant of the Viceroy and Peralta’s will were found by Reavis in the original book of records which had been kept at the Mission of San Xavier del Bac by the Jesuit fathers. Adverse Report of the Surveyor General of Arizona, Royal A. Johnson upon the alleged “Peralta Grant,” 52‑77, 81 (1890).

[8] F. A. Massol gave Johnson an affidavit in which he stated that the purported deed to Reavis dated May 22, 1867 had been fraudulently altered in wordage to include the grant as one of the properties covered thereby and also to name Reavis the grantee. While Massol’s statement seriously blemished the claim, it would not, in itself, invalidate Reavis’ title since he also held a deed to the property from Willing’swidow. Ibid., 76.

[9] The Peralta Grant, No. 18 (Mss., Records of the S.G.A.).

[10] H. R. Exec. No. 1, 50th Cong., 2d Sess., 132‑133 (1888).

[11] Adverse Report of the Surveyor General of Arizona Royal A Johnson Upon the Alleged Peralta Grant, (1890).

[12] Peralta‑Reavis v. United States, No. 16719 (Mss., Record of the Clerk of the Ct. Cl., Washington, D.C.).

[13] This suit was dismissed on December 5, 1896 by consent of the parties. Peralta‑Reavis v. United States, 31 Ct. Cl. 528 (1896).

[14] Peralta‑Reavis v. United States, No. 110 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl., Arizona District).

[15] Heirs of Miguel Peralta v. United States, No. 271 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.). This suit was transferred to the Arizona docket where it was carried as Cause No. 4.

[16] 2 Journal 300 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[17] Special Report of the United States Attorney dated February 15, 1894, in Peralta‑Reavis v United States, No. 110 (Mss., Records of the General Services Administration, National Archives, Washington, D.C.), Record Group 60, Year File 9865‑92.

[18] Peralta Grant, Amended Answer and Cross‑Petition of the United States, Transcript of Testimony Taken on Trial of the Case and Final Decree of the Court 369‑372 (1895).

[19] 2 Journal 273‑275 (Mss., Records of the Ct. Pvt. L. Cl.).

[20] Peralta‑Reavis v. United States, 163 U.S. 699 (1896).

[21] Cookridge, The Baron Of Arizona, 283 (1967).

[23] Cookridge, The Baron of Arizona, 289 (1967).

[24] Annual Report of the Attorney General of the United States, 18 (1895).

 


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