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James Addison Reavis Court Papers

Identifier: MSS-72-BC

Scope and Content

The collection contains three poster boards showing photographic copies of notebooks held by the Right Reverend J.B. Salpointe, Vicar of Santa Fe. The copied documents are handwritten in Spanish and likely date to the late eighteenth century. They contain historical information used by Reavis to promote the validity of his title to the Peralta Land Grant. Handwritten affidavits of authenticity written by John E. Beall, Commissioner of Deeds for Arizona in Washington D.C. (1882) surround the copies on each of the three boards.

A bound booklet of documents from the District Court of 1st Judicial District of Territory of New Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico is also part of the collection. It relates to the case against Reavis at the Court of Private Land Claims, January 6, 1896. There are handwritten notes throughout the publication and it is approximately 100 legal size, typed pages.

Material is in English and Spanish.


  • 1882-1896 ( bulk 1882, 1896)


Language of Materials

English, Spanish.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy and libel laws. Permission is required for publication or distribution.


James Addison Reavis (1843-1914), swindler and one-time street car driver in Missouri, attempted the largest land-related fraud in U.S. history when he set about creating the Peralta Land Grant, a fictitious Spanish land grant encompassing almost 12 million acres of southern Arizona and New Mexico. To create his hoax, Reavis collected authentic documents and forged other documents in archives in Guadalajara, Mexico and Madrid, Spain to establish a line of inheritance for the Spanish Peralta Barons of Arizona. As a collection, Reavis' documents traced the gift of a land grant in Arizona from King Fernando VI of Spain to Don Miguel Peralta de Cordova in 1748. The documents showed an apparently legitimate succession of inheritances for the land in Arizona and New Mexico. One of the documents Reavis found was the will of the first Baron of Arizona. It was in the possession of the Right Reverend J.B. Salpointe, and may be the papers contained in this manuscript collection.

To further enhance his scam, Reavis sought a girl of Mexican or Spanish heritage who he might pass off as a legitimate heir to the Peralta Grant. He found a girl of uncertain origins working as a servant near San Francisco and, using forged documents, Reavis convinced the girl and everyone else that she was Do?a Carmelita Sofia Loreta Micaela de Maso y de Peralta, the long-lost and only surviving heir to the Peralta Grant. Reavis transformed Carmelita into a European princess and eventually married her. Together, they had twin boys who, on a visit to Spain, played with the Spanish royal children while their parents were entertained by Spanish nobility.

The Reavis hoax attracted significant attention in Arizona. Several mining companies paid Reavis thousands of dollars in royalties in order to maintain their mineral claims and mining operations. Reavis' plot was eventually uncovered during a seven year investigation into the validity of Reavis' claim by the Surveyor General of the United States. By retracing Reavis' journeys to Mexico and Spain, investigators determined that the paper on which the forgeries had been written was too young to have been authentic. Similarly, they realized that a metal pen had been used to create the documents. Reavis' land claim was heard by the Court of Private Land Claims in 1895-1896, where five judges were charged with determining the validity of Spanish and Mexican land titles held by descendants of the original grantees (1891-1904). While Reavis had tried to validate his claim in the court himself, the court's thorough investigation of the land grant resulted in Reavis' downfall. Reavis was found guilty of fraud and was sentenced to six years in jail in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1896. Released before his term was completed, Reavis died in poverty and obscurity in Mexico, in 1914.


1 box ( .3 cu. ft.)


The James Addison Reavis Court Papers consist of photographic copies of Spanish documents pertaining to Reavis's claim to the Peralta Land Grant in Arizona and New Mexico. Also included is an annotated copy of the Court of Private Land Claims proceedings which exposed Reavis' fraudulent land grant claim.

Related Material

Thomas B. Catron Papers, Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico. The Catron papers include numerous microfilm copies of court depositions, transcripts, and proceedings related to the Peralta Land Claim. In addition, the collection contains an article by Clarence Budington Kellard which gives a readable and rich account of the Peralta Land Grant scam.

Relevant Secondary Sources

  • Cookridge, E.H.The Baron of Arizona.New York: John Day Co., 1967.
  • Hopkins, R.C.Muniments of Title of the Barony of Arizona and Translation into English. San Francisco: Bancroft and Company, 1893. (Also on microfilm in Catron Papers, MSS 29 BC.)
  • Mattison, Ray H. "Early Spanish and Mexican Settlement in Arizona," New Mexico Historical Review. 21(4): 273-327.
  • Powell, Donald M. "The 'Baron of Arizona' Self-Revealed: A Letter to His Lawyer in 1894," Arizona and the West. 1(2):161-177.
  • Powell, Donald M. The Peralta Grant: James Addison Reavis and the Barony of Arizona.Norman, OK:University of Oklahoma Press, 1960.
  • Westphall, Victor. "Fraud and the Implications of Fraud in the Land Grants of New Mexico," New Mexico Historical Review. 49(3): 149-218.
Finding Aid of the James Addison Reavis Court Papers, 1882-1896 ( bulk 1882, 1896)
Processed by Tad McIlwraith
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Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • June 28, 2004: PUBLIC "-//University of New Mexico::Center for Southwest Research//TEXT (US::NmU::MSS 72 BC::James Addison Reavis Court Papers)//EN" "nmu1mss72bc.sgml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131