18. The Baron of Arizona Arrives in Arizona
James Reavis learned that the Public Lands Commission approved most claims submitted to it, even frivolous ones, so long as a filer paid the examination expenses, coupled with a bribe. That was good news, because the land claim of Reavis’ deceased partner, George Willing, was weak. Willing claimed that in 1864, he had paid $20,000 in gold dust, mules, and other goods, to a Miguel Peralta for the land in question. Unfortunately, the deed of transfer was highly irregular, made on a sheet of greasy and marked up paper, without a notary or justice.
However, once Reavis discovered how easy it was to get the Public Lands Commission to approve a claim, no matter how iffy, provided the right palms were greased, he decided it was time to head to Arizona. As a start, he “tipped off” his railroad tycoon acquaintances to the deceased Willing’s land – without disclosing his interest in it – and told them he could negotiate right-of-way privileges for their proposed Southern Pacific line through Arizona. He then travelled to Kentucky, where he met the deceased Willing’s widow, and bought his late partner’s interest in the land. Next, Reavis used his newspaper connections to hype the land grant, and exaggerate the supposed “solidity” of the title claim.