A Self-Proclaimed ‘Baron’ Almost Got Away With Conning The Entire United States

As European settlers transform the face of the Americas, one man stands to gain a great fortune, not to mention several million acres of land. But just as he is on the brink of making history, his grand claim is exposed as a scam. Today, more than a century later, James Addison Reavis is remembered as one of the greatest con artists that almost was.

The Baron of Arizona

Styling himself as the Baron of Arizona, Reavis appeared to have all the trappings of European nobility: land, a long family lineage, and a rich heiress as a bride. But when he started demanding rent from his alleged tenants, some grew suspicious of his claims. And once they began picking at threads, the whole story started to unravel.

Darling of New York City

At the height of his fame, Reavis was the darling of New York City, fêted by some of the most influential people of the day. As far as they knew, he really was who he claimed to be: the heir to the Barony of Arizona, and the owner of a great swathe of land stretching from Sun City all the way into New Mexico.

Beautiful bride

Traveling to Spain with his beautiful young bride, Reavis received a similarly enthusiastic reception. And when he returned to America with documents to back up his outlandish claims, it seemed that nothing could stand in his way. But the Baron of Arizona was no more than a clever imposter: eventually his secret would be revealed.

Humble beginnings

Reavis, you see, hadn’t been raised in a mansion, castle, or country estate. Instead, he was born on a farm outside the small town of Clinton, Missouri, the son of a Welsh immigrant who worked as a tanner. And even though his mother had both Spanish and Scottish blood, there’s no evidence to suggest that she was descended from European nobility of any kind.