Reavis was, effectively, now the owner of most of the Salt River Valley and, as you might imagine, those who lived there found it a bitter pill to swallow. Opposition to his claim began almost immediately, though most dissenters lacked the financial resources to mount a proper case. George Willing Sr., the father of his former partner, filed a suit claiming that his son’s widow was not the rightful beneficiary of the grant, arguing that he was. Willing Sr. ran out of money to prove his claim and only succeeded in further strengthening the validity of the land grant.
While the territory reeled in anger and disbelief, the Surveyor General’s office dispatched a Spanish language expert, Rufus Hopkins, to Mexico to verify the documentation Reavis had provided. Reavis and his lawyer accompanied Hopkins, kindly introducing him to the appropriate archivists and expediting the location of key documents. While in Mexico, the Surveyor General died and was replaced by his clerk, Royal Johnson. While Hopkins’ report was generally favorable to the claim, Johnson was extremely skeptical.
Ironically, Johnson’s skepticism would prove harmless in disproving the grant, and ultimately led to the loss of his position as Surveyor General. Because of his tight-lipped demeanor and his refusal to give information to the press, Johnson was largely vilified by the territory as an accomplice to Reavis. Meanwhile, Reavis, ever keen to exploit a situation, added fuel to the fire by claiming the U.S. Government intended to buy him out for $100 million.
It was a suit brought by the territory’s Attorney General, Clark Churchill, that eventually doomed the claim. Reavis dodged and delayed as best he could, all the while capitalizing on his quitclaims. Ultimately, he argued that the court didn’t have the jurisdiction to decide such a matter, but it was too late. Churchill was victorious as Reavis was unable to prove definitive boundaries for the grant, among other specifics. Once the press got hold of the story, the damage proved to be fatal, and he was forced to abandon his claim. Churchill wired the Surveyor General, informing him of the decision, and the official efforts to verify the grant were abandoned.
James Reavis was undaunted by any of this, he knew that he was going to require a great deal more evidence if he was to succeed, and he needed to think bigger, much bigger. Tapping into his Washington and Wall Street connections, he laid the groundwork for his plans to develop the Salt River Valley. Investors were eager to front the bill and, once again, the money flowed. His plan hinged on creating an indisputable definition of the boundaries, a clear provenance, and producing a living descendent of the Peralta family.
Enter Doña Sophia Micaela Maso Reavis y Peralta de la Córdoba, the Third Baroness of Arizona. Reavis claimed to have known of the heiress as early as 1875 and had been seeking her while he prepared his first claim. All the while he had been collecting documentation of her lineage, including birth records, marriage certificates, family portraits, personal letters, and other conveniently descriptive accounts. All he needed now was the Peralta heir herself. In 1882, he found her, oddly enough riding a train to her day job as a house servant in Knights Landing, California. After convincing the young lady that she was the heir of a great fortune, he proposed marriage and, on December 31, 1882, he became the Third Baron of Arizona.
Reavis was ready to file his second claim.