Podcast Episode 339: The Baron of Arizona


In 1883, Missouri real estate broker James Reavis announced that he held title to a huge tract of land in the Arizona Territory. If certified, the claim would threaten the livelihoods of thousands of residents. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Baron of Arizona, one of the most audacious frauds in American history.

We’ll also scrutinize British statues and puzzle over some curious floor numbers.


In 1891, Charles Dodgson wrote a curiously unforthcoming letter to Nellie Bowman.

Reputedly the English geologist William Buckland could distinguish a region by the smell of its soil.


Sources for our feature on James Reavis:

Donald M. Powell, The Peralta Grant: James Addison Reavis and the Barony of Arizona, 1960.

E.H. Cookridge, The Baron of Arizona, 1967.

Jay J. Wagoner, Arizona Territory, 1863-1912: A Political History, 1970.

Donald M. Powell, “The Peralta Grant: A Lost Arizona Story,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 50:1 (First Quarter, 1956), 40-52.

Walter Barlow Stevens, Missouri the Center State: 1821-1915, Volume 2, 1915.

Joseph Stocker, “The Baron of Arizona,” American History 36:1 (April 2001), 20.

J.D. Kitchens, “Forging Arizona: A History of the Peralta Land Grant and Racial Identity in the West,” Choice 56:12 (August 2019), 1515.

Donald M. Powell, “The Baron of Arizona by E. H. Cookridge (review),” Western American Literature 4:1 (Spring 1969), 73-74.

Tim Bowman, “Forging Arizona: A History of the Peralta Land Grant and Racial Identity in the West (review),” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 123:3 (January 2020), 386-387.

Ira G. Clark, “The Peralta Grant: James Addison Reavis and the Barony of Arizona by Donald M. Powell (review),” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 47:3 (December 1960), 522-523.

McIntyre Faries, “The Peralta Grant — James Addison Reavis and the Barony of Arizona by Donald M. Powell (review),” Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly 42:3 (September 1960), 315.

Donald M. Powell, “The ‘Baron of Arizona’ Self-Revealed: A Letter to His Lawyer in 1894,” Arizona and the West 1:2 (Summer 1959), 161-173.

Clarence Budington Kelland, “The Red Baron of Arizona,” Saturday Evening Post 220:15 (Oct. 11, 1947), 22.

Marshall Trimble, “The Baron of Arizona,” True West Magazine, April 2, 2015.

Oren Arnold, “Skulduggery in the Southwest,” Saturday Evening Post 216:34 (Feb. 19, 1944), 68.

Jeff Jackson, “Reavis Put Arizola on Map Ignominiously,” [Casa Grande, Ariz.] Tri-Valley Dispatch, June 2, 2020.

“Arizona’s Long, Rich History of Land Fraud,” Arizona Republic, Dec. 29, 2019.

Ron Dungan, “The ‘Baron of Arizona,’ a Most Royal Fraud,” Arizona Republic, March 6, 2016.

Jaimee Rose, “Forger Claimed 12 Mil Acres,” Arizona Republic, Oct. 14, 2012.

Richard Ruelas, “‘Baron of Arizona’ Reigns Again,” Arizona Republic, Jan. 28, 2008.

Clay Thompson, “‘Baron’ Reavis Behind State’s Biggest Scam,” Arizona Republic, March 12, 2006.

“The 12-Million-Acre Swindle That Failed,” Arizona Republic, Jan. 12, 2002.

Bill Hume, “Sly Headstone Maker Nearly Carved Off Hunk of Southwest,” Albuquerque Journal, July 9, 2000.

Mitchell Smyth, “Baron of Arizona Really ‘Prince of Imposters,'” Toronto Star, Feb. 12, 2000.

Marshall Sprague, “A Crook by Choice,” New York Times, July 9, 1967.

“Skulduggery in Arizona Land Office,” New York Times, June 23, 1950.

“Peralta Reavis Turns Up Again,” Socorro [N.M.] Chieftain, July 2, 1904.

Will M. Tipton, “The Prince of Impostors: Part I,” Land of Sunshine 8:3 (February 1898), 106–118.

Will M. Tipton, “The Prince of Impostors: Part II,” Land of Sunshine 8:4 (March 1898), 161–170.

“Indicted on Two Score Counts: Land Claimant Reavis to Be Prosecuted by the Government,” New York Times, Jan. 20, 1896.

“Reavis Conspirators,” Arizona Republican, Jan. 3, 1896.

“The ‘Baron of the Colorados’: He Claims a Great Tract of Land in Arizona,” New York Times, July 7, 1891.

Listener mail:

Mark Brown, “Royal Mint to Commemorate Fossil Hunter Mary Anning,” Guardian, Feb. 24, 2021.

“Mary Anning: Fossil Hunter Celebrated With Jurassic 50p Coins,” BBC News, Feb. 25, 2021.

“Mary Anning Rocks” (accessed April 7, 2021).

Caroline Criado-Perez, “I Sorted the UK’s Statues by Gender — a Mere 2.7 Per Cent Are of Historical, Non-Royal Women,” New Statesman, March 26, 2016.

“Reality Check: How Many UK Statues Are of Women?” BBC News, April 24, 2018.

Megan O’Grady, “Why Are There So Few Monuments That Successfully Depict Women?” New York Times, Feb. 18, 2021.

Shachar Peled, “Where Are the Women? New Effort to Give Them Just Due on Monuments, Street Names,” CNN, March 8, 2017.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Colin White.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!