On This Date in History: I think everyone has heard of the Red Baron. But have you heard of the Baron of Arizona? For ten years James Addison Reavis had a personal claim of some 17,000 square miles of present day New Mexico and Arizona. Now, if you’re a regular reader, you know that this can’t be a square deal and it’s not. See, Reavis’ days in the Confederate Army helped him to perfect the art of forging officers’ signatures on passes. After the war, Reavis put his war skills to good use by forging real-estate deeds in St. Louis. So, Reavis was primed when another scalawag schemer, Dr. George M. Willing, Jr, approached him with a huge swindle in 1871. Willing died three years later. Speculation is that Willing was poisoned to death. It doesn’t take Columbo to figure out who the prime suspect would be when one considers that Reavis went ahead with Willing’s plan after Willing’s death. Wonder if he said to himself, “George would have wanted it that way.”
Anyway, Reavis goes and gets a job in the federal land records office in Santa Fe. What a great place for a master forger. He did his homework as he spent several years doing his job and simply studying the treaties between Mexico and the United States. What caught his eye was the Gadsden Purchase, part of which featured a clause that the United States would recognize Spanish land grants. He studied the writing styles and syntacs of Spanish writing used in 18th century documents. So, he goes to Mexico and perhaps even Spain to forge new names on old documents. Sometimes, he even inserted entire new pages. He had Mexican officials notarize the phony papers.
In 1883, he filed his first claim based on a whopper of a tale. He claimed that in 1748, Don Miguel de Paralta de la Cordoba received 1.3 million acres of land in the Colorados from the king of Spain for services rendered. That made Don Miguel the Baron of Colorados. The second baron was childless and deeded the land to George M. Willing, who conveniently died. Reavis claimed that Willing’s widow sold it to him. Suddenly, there was a new baron in town, Peralta-Reavis. The Southern Pacific Railroad paid Reavis $50,000 for the right of way. The Silver King Mine had to pay him $25,000 to secure its right to stay open. Thousands of businesses and ranchers had to pay toll to the troll (Reavis) to gain quitclaims. Reavis was quite the love-muffin too. He found an innocent girl whom he “groomed” to take the job as heiress and he married her. Somehow, the marriage more than doubled his claim.
Now, I bash the press regularly for being know-nothings on this here blog, but here is an instance in which a newshound did some good. Seems a newspaper publisher got suspicious when he noticed a bit of information on one of the documents that was of recent origin and the watermark on a page from a Wisconsin paper mill. I don’t think Spain or Mexico ever controlled Wisconsin. State Department officials got on the case and went to Mexico and Spain. Now, by this time we’re getting to the turn of the century and scientific methodology was coming to crime investigations…call it an early version of CSI. They used chemical tests and microscopic evidence and determined that the final pages of the Peralta grants were written on 10 year old parchment and used the wrong kind of ink. Case closed. On this date in 1896, Reavis was cooling his heels in jail after being indicted on 42 counts of fraud. Later in the year, he was convicted and died a pauper in 1908.
If that’s not a big enough land grab…how about this one? Charles Wilkes (I wrote about this before..click here) first spotted Antarctica on this date in 1840…and claimed the entire continent for the United States. Pretty bold considering he just saw it. Didn’t even step foot on it. I guess he thought that finders keepers prevailed. But, you can claim all you want as yours but if you can’t defend it, then its not really yours. Obviously Wilkes never played Risk.
Weather Bottom Line: The light snow we had on Sunday didn’t do much except provide a conversation piece. Generally, it was around 33 degrees and nothing stuck for long. The snow on Sunday night was our first real accumulation of the year and was quite pretty. Too bad I have no furnace because Snow White and I love to go out and walk about in the snow at night, but coming home to a cold house isn’t much fun. Our house is colder than the inside of the refrigerator which was a good excuse to go to church. Then Snow White and I went to a Louisville Rowing Club meeting. Fortunately, both locations had heat. Now, I’m back at home looking at high temperatures for the next two days in the upper 20’s and low 30’s with snow showers or flurries off and on. Then we move to the 40’s for Wednesday or Thursday. I better get a new furnace on Monday. My hands are very cold right now.