The 'Baron' of Arizona and Other Historic Hucksters

James Reavis. Wikimedia

19. James Reavis’ Route to Arizona

After the Civil War, Reavis traveled to Brazil, and upon returning to the US, he got into real estate. In that line of business, Reavis discovered that the talent for forgery that he had discovered and honed while serving in the Confederate Army could come in real handy. Especially when it came to clearing up messy paperwork, and fixing vague property titles. When clients had difficulty selling land because they were unable to establish clear ownership, Reavis would magically produce some document that everybody else had somehow “missed” before, and that cleared up ownership in no uncertain terms. The discovered documents were forged by him, of course. Then in 1871, a prospector named George Willing sought Reavis’ help with a large Spanish land grant – 2000 square miles, about the size of Delaware – in the Arizona Territory.

Reavis partnered up with Willing to develop the grant, and in 1874, the duo decided to head to Arizona. Willing got there first, filed a claim in the Yavapai County courthouse, and was found dead the next day. Foul play was suspected. Reavis had made it to California by then, and was there that he got the news of his partner’s death. Low on funds, he got a job as a journalist, during which he came in contact with some railroad magnates. Reavis also came into contact with the Public Lands Commission – an entity established per the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, to determine the validity of Mexican and Spanish land grants in the territories won by America in the US-Mexico War. The Commission was corrupt to a fare-thee-well.