Meet James Reavis, the greatest con man you've never heard of. Called the Baron of Arizona, Reavis defrauded thousands of people -- scamming them out of more than $150 million in today’s dollars. Using his forgery skills and a love of Spanish romance novels, he literally stole most of Arizona from legal landowners. And the most famous newspapermen, railroad giants, government officials, and Spanish aristocrats of the 1800s fell for it -- hook, line, and sinker. Join us as Emily breaks down largest and most diabolical scam in American History.
Timeline of James Reavis
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
· Ended the Mexican-American war
· Gave US lots of land: Rio Grande, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada Utah, Wyoming, Colorado
· Signed 12/30/1853, final approval 6/8/1854
· James Gadsen was American ambassador to Mexico
· Lands south of Gila River and west of Rio Grande, finish Arizona, New Mexico
· acquired to construct transcontinental railroad along deep southern route, Southern Pacific Railroad completed in 1883
· Reconcile outstanding border issues following Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Under terms of treaties above, US had to recognize and honor existing land grants made by Spanish or Mexican governments
· Born 5/10/1843 in Missouri
· Father immigrated from Wales, mother of Spanish descent and proud of that heritage, read Spanish Romantic literature to him as a child
· Enlisted in Confederate Army at 18 full of romanticized ideals of military life and realized it wasn’t quite so grand
· Realized he could forge not only his commanding officer’s signature, but the entire handwritten furlough form, began creating passes so he could leave and visit family or scape the drudgery for a while
· Fellow soldiers noticed, so he started selling them fake passes
· Forged provision orders and resold goods a cut-rate deals
· When superiors got suspicious, he took leave to “get married” and then surrendered to Union forces instead. Served in the Union Army briefly.
· Returned to Missouri after war, odd jobs – streetcar conductor, traveling salesman, retail clerk, finally landed in real estate where discovered that those forging skills he learned on army passes were easily transferred to property titles and other real estate paperwork.
· Physician turned prospector who supplemented income selling patent medicine
· Purchase rights to large Spanish land grant from Miguel Peralta for $20,000 in gold dust, prospectin equipment and saddle mules – deed scratched on scrap paper, no notary just witnesses
· Had some legal paperwork, letters that supported claim – had William W. Gitt, expert in Spanish land titles, join them & verify
· Reavis saw opportunity, they agreed to meet in Arizona territory, traveling separately so they could meet up when they got there, increasing their credibility and decreasing the likelihood anyone would know they were partners
· Willing arrived in Prescott in March 1874, filed his claim at the county courthouse and was found dead the next morning.
· When Reavis arrived in San Francisco, received two letters: from Willing announcing his safe arrival, from country sheriff announcing his death.
· Reavis needed the papers Willing had in order to pull off his plans, but ran out of money so stayed in CA working as a teacher and journalist
· Spent time observing the Public Land Commission, how it worked, claimed approved, bribery
· Met Collis P. Huntington, railroad magnate, who was angry at his paper San Francisco Examiner for its attack on him and was using his influence to scare away advertisers and subscribers. Reavis met with him, told him about the Peralta grant which would allow him to grant right-of-way privileges to Huntington’s railroad line. Got him to buy large advertising contract from paper and to pay