Saturday, November 1, 2014

New Mexico Royalty

Like the rest of the country, it is election time in New Mexico.  I can accurately predict the results right now: we will reelect idiots.  The few idiots who will fail at reelection will be replaced with fresh new idiots.

There is not much chance of electing anyone except fools, since only an idiot would run for elected office in this state.  I believe that this state needs to look to our historic past.  The best idea would be to petition the federal government to revoke our statehood and let us return to our former territorial status.  Instead of elected idiots, we could go back to appointed idiots.  This might not give us better government, but at least there would be fewer campaign signs.  As I write this, it is the night of Halloween, and trust me, the scariest thing to ring my doorbell tonight has been a politician out knocking on doors.

Or, let the entire Southwest go even farther back in history and restore royal rule.  For hundreds of years, the area comprising New Mexico and Arizona were under the benignly neglected rule of Spanish Kings--and even then, the Spanish Crowns representatives were mostly idiots since this territory was poor, isolated, and frequently forgotten.  If the King of Spain sent someone to be the new governor of New Mexico, you can be pretty sure that the man had done something scandalous—and illegal—at his previous job. 

It surprises most people to learn that, when Mexico finally broke from Spain and became independent, the first government of Mexico was actually another monarchy.  On July 21, 1822, Agustín I, Constitutional Monarch of Mexico was crowned emperor of all the lands from Costa Rica to Oregon.  While hard to believe, the entire southwestern area of the United States—from California to Texas—was once ruled by a Mexican king.  The kingdom didn't last long because Emperor Agustín was an idiot.  (I bet you saw that coming.)

Emperor Agustín spent most of his reign trying to lay the foundation of court etiquette.  Instead of establishing a banking system or a new judicial system, Agustín imported a marquise from the former court of Napoleon to teach the local yokels how many times to bow as they backed out of his royal presence.  Instead of setting up schools, Agustín dreamed up titles for his children.  (His eldest son was to be called the Prince Imperial.) 

After a while, the people just gave up on the Imperial Idiot and ran him out of Mexico.  Given a pension he never collected, the poor ex-sovereign was exiled to Europe.  Unfortunately, without his enlightened royal leadership, Mexico continued to suffer intrigues, fairly constant changes of government, and the threat of war.  Eventually, Agustín realized that God was talking to him personally, guiding him back to Mexico to renew his monarchy.  (Rule #2 of Monarchy is that when God speaks to you, obey.)

Agustín I, his wife, and a few of the princelings immediately set sail back to Mexico.  And when Agustín stepped off the boat…he was fairly quickly stood up against a wall and executed.  (Rule #1 of Monarchy states that when God personally tells you to rule a country, both of you are schizophrenic.)

Sadly, Agustín is not the last royal person in the Southwest: there was also the Baron of Arizona.  (If you find all of this weird, look at my competition.  I am trying to write about nonsense and just this week The NY Times this ran an article titled: Can You Get Ebola from a Bowling Ball?

James Addison Reavis was a liar and a swindler, but he must have also been a likable liar and a swindler.  His life of crime began early.  After he enlisted in the Confederate Army, he found that life in the military was not to his liking.  Luckily, he discovered a hitherto unsuspected skill:  He could forge his commanding officers signature on passes.  It didn’t take long for his comrades in arms to notice his frequent absences, so he started selling them passes, too.  Of course, it didn’t take long for these frequent comings and goings—mostly goings—to be noticed and an investigation was begun.

Before Reavis could be caught, he forged leave papers, surrendered to the Union Army, and somehow--instead of becoming a prisoner of war—managed to talk his captors into allowing him to join the northern army.  While there are no records surviving to document his service, I would be willing to bet he continued to have rather frequent leaves.

After the war, Reavis drifted around, spent some time in Brazil, and finally ended up as a realtor in Missouri.  There, he found he had a real talent for helping people sell land that had cloudy titles.  It was simply amazing the number of old, yellowing legal documents that Reavis could find.  But his real breakthrough came in 1871 when he became the partner of George Willing, who was attempting to cash in on an enormous Spanish Land Grant that covered 18,600 square miles of Arizona and New Mexico.  Supposedly Willing had just purchased the land grant from the last surviving male member of the family who had been given the royal grant by King Charles III.  (You will just have to trust me on this, but King Chucky the Third was a spectacular idiot.)

This land grant, the Peralta Land Grant, was about as honest as the last email you got offering you a Nigerian business deal.  Willing had a few documents, but they needed the special kind of help that Reavis could offer.  Shortly into the partnership, Willing died, leaving Reavis to continue on his own.   Almost immediately, the first document discovered was a deed transferring title to Reavis. 

No one can say that Reavis didn’t work on his claim—the man spent years perfecting the swindle.  Reavis learned Spanish, Spanish law, and enough Mexican colonial history to pass my course on the subject.  Then, he went on long trips through Mexico visiting government archives, records offices and libraries.  Such places are very careful to prevent your leaving with documents, but rather careless if you're trying to deposit a few documents.

Reavis was a genius.  He examined real documents, and then forged his own with matching paper, ribbons, seals, and signatures.  He manufactured wills, birth certificates, death records, property transfers, and everything else needed to suddenly create a fictitious Baron Peralta of Arizona.  He fabricated paintings of the family, even wrote a little poetry that was supposedly penned by a member of the family.  Then, (and this is the master stroke) he obtained official permission to copy the documents he had planted, then had the Mexican government notarize these copies as authentic. 

Now, armed with real and legally authentic copies of manufactured nonsense, Reavis dropped the entire bundle of documents on the Federal Surveyor General in Tucson.  This poor man was charged with identifying  the real owners of the lands that had newly joined the United States at the end of the Mexican American War.  This was a task that would take the government years and years to straighten out.

While the Federal government pondered the dilemma, Reavis went ahead with the next step of his plan.  He offered to sell quitclaims to the trespassers of his property at rather reasonable rates.  These trespassers included a dozen towns, countless mines, and hundreds of farms, ranches and assorted businesses--and a big chunk of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Railroad lawyers inspected the paperwork, and quickly paid Reavis $50,000 for a quitclaim.  A large mine paid $20,000 and, suddenly, there was a stampede of people trying to protect their property from seizure.

Reavis decided to protect his claim by adding just a little more proof.  He produced the last surviving member of the Peralta family, Sofia Loreto Micela Maso y Peralta de la Cerdoba.  (Actually, she was a young girl with an Navaho mother and an Anglo father.   But she was willing to get a name change for the right price.)  Reavis gave her some of the fastest etiquette lessons since Agustín hired the marquise, and introduced her to society as the Baroness de Peralta and just as quickly married her.

Reavis—excuse me, he now called himself the Baron of Arizona y Los Colorados—took his wife to Spain and presented her at court.  While they were there, he managed to visit the archives in Madrid and Seville and leave a few more old (new) documents that helped to cement the existence of the entire Peralta line.  It was at this point that he discovered the family coat of arms.

By now, the Baron had a small army of agents who were out collecting rents and selling quitclaims to the supposed tenants.  In total, the Baron collected $5.3 million from his tenants.  But, this was the high point of the entire enterprise.  After seven years of inspection, the Surveyor General threw the claim out, letting title remain in the possession of those currently holding the land.

The Ex-Baron should have quit while he was ahead, but decided to stubborn it out.  He sued the federal government for $10 million, claiming that was the value of the land the government had issued to homesteaders and the railroad.  While this was certainly brave, it was also stupid—perhaps even idiotic. 

The government sent better investigators to look at the documents, and the fake documents were exposed for what they were.  Several things gave the forgery away.  Reavis had used a pen with a steel nib to fabricate documents that were dated before such a device had been invented.  Several documents had questionable grammar, or words had contemporary spelling instead of that which was used in the late 18th century.  Most damaging of all, while Reavis had been successful in planting documents into the middle of bundles and drawers of documents, he frequently failed to update the accompanying indexes the Spanish kept.

The former Baron of Arizona was tried, convicted, and sentenced to six years in jail.  He was released early for good behavior and began his inevitable downward spiral.  He tried to sell his autobiography, but had little success.  Reduced to living in a home for paupers, he died penniless in Denver in 1914.

While I doubt that next Tuesday's election will give us another Baron, I have no doubts that we will end up with yet another set of idiots.


  1. Great blog. A smart crook with charm would be several steps up the political ladder for New Mexico.

  2. Fits with my theory that power and wealth attract the corruptible and that those who lust for power are insane. Quod erat demonstrandum.