14. The Baron of Arizona Cashes In
James Reavis had no intention of actually evicting the occupants of his “barony”. He simply wanted to extort as much as he could out of them in rent or quit claim fees, to support him and his “noble” wife in a manner befitting an aristocratic land magnate. Surprisingly, it was the large and wealthy landowners who proved to be the easiest marks: they figured it was cheaper to pay the Baron of Arizona, instead of risking litigation that might end in the loss of their valuable properties. Arizona’s biggest mining company paid him $25,000, and he got the Southern Pacific Railroad to cough up $50,000. Thousands of others paid smaller fees, that added up to a nice bundle.
At some point, even the US government fell for the con, and considered paying Reavis millions of dollars to settle the claim. All in all, Reavis collected about $5,300,000 in cash and promissory notes – the equivalent of about $160 million today. With that kind of loot, James Reavis and his wife Sophia were able to live it up in style. In addition to various ranches, they maintained nice homes in Arizona, New York City, Washington, DC, San Francisco, St. Louis, Madrid, and Chihuahua City. They travelled throughout Europe, and mingled with the Spanish aristocracy. Many of the Spaniards saw through his scam and figured him and his wife for frauds, but they got a huge kick out of the brazenness of it all, and how he was tweaking the yanquis’ noses. So the Spaniards went ahead and feted the “Baron and Baroness of Arizona”.