On March 28, 1883 a man named James Addison Reavis walked into the office of the Surveyor General of the United States in Tucson, Arizona. The clerk asked Reavis what he wanted. Reavis laid his flat leather carrying case on the counter and declared that he was there to claim the Peralta Grant.
"The Peralta Grant?" asked the clerk.
Reavis answered "The Peralta Grant, to which I hold title, was conferred in 1758 to Miguel de Peralta by King Ferdinand of Spain." He then opened the case and laid out before the clerk documents to support his claim and advised that the originals of documents before him were in the archives of the churches of Seville, Madrid and Cadiz in old Spain and Guadalajara and Mexico City. The documents detailed that the Peralta Grant was comprised of ten million acres that is located in Arizona and parts of New Mexico.
Astonished, the clerk related that he was only able to register deeds of up to 160 acres and that only Mr. Joseph Robins could handle a claim as large as requested.
Robins examined the documents and all looked authentic. Now he was in a quandary of what to do. It appeared that in fact Mr. Reavis DID, in fact, own millions of acres in Arizona and New Mexico! However, Robins was not about to just hand over the title that easy. An extensive investigation was launched. An envoy was sent to the churches in Seville, Madrid and Cadiz in old Spain and Guadalajara and Mexico City. Upon examination, the documents that supported Reavis claim WERE in these institutions! It appeared that in fact Reavis DID have rightful claim to the ten million acres after all!
From time to time, many of us have read about or heard on the news of how someone secreted documents out of an institutions archives and then selling them. Reavis did just the opposite - he secreted forged documents INTO various institutions that would help support his claim. His plan was well thought out. He created documents of a family he "invented" including birth, marriage, and death certificates for a mother, father, children, grandchildren, and their descendents over the generations. The family was not just your "ordinary" family, but rather from royalty. He also created a land grant for ten million acres in what would later become Arizona and New Mexico. His forgeries were excellent and he even thought to obtain actual paper, but blank, from the various eras that the documents were to have originated. Using original documents to compare, he then created forgeries for his "royal" family.
After completing all the necessary documents, Reavis then headed for Spain and later Mexico City. Representing himself as a newspaper reporter, he gained access to the various archives. He presented an image of being a scholarly gentleman and quickly gained the trust from the monks who were assigned to guard the archives. Often, Reavis was left alone for hours to do his crafty work.
Once Reavis had filed his claim, he placed large advertisements in various Arizona and New Mexico newspapers. In the ads, he introduced himself, told about the Peralta Grant, and announced that he had no intention to place hardships on the people of Arizona and New Mexico. He offered to file quitclaims from land owners for a small fee. Word had spread of how ironclad his ownership of the Peralta Gant so landowners flocked to his office set up in Phoenix. For a typical farm or ranch, he sold them a quitclaim for only $50. Larger landowners hired legal teams to fight the claim. However, even the lawyers were fooled by the documents and advised their clients to settle as quickly as possible. In addition, the Southern Pacific Railroad paid him a right-of-way fee for $50,000 for the rails to cross his land. The Silver King Mine entered into a contract with Reavis for $25,000 a year for royalties for the silver they were mining from his mine. Extending the reach of his fraud, he often went to San Francisco and sold shares in his Peralta Grant. It has been estimated that Reavis received at least $300,000 annually from this fraud.
In 1887, Joseph Robins died and Royal Johnson was promoted to fill his position. Johnson never did believe the authenticity of the Peralta Grant. He hired experts to make the trip to Spain and Mexico City and examine the documents. In 1889 the experts filed their reports. The claim was false! Reavis was arrested and placed on trial for fraud and found guilty. He was sentenced to two years in prison. Upon his release from prison, he settled in a rooming house in Denver and lived in poverty. In 1899 he moved back to Phoenix, Arizona, the scene of the crime. Residents regarded him as a "harmless nut."