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Stake Your Claim

James Addison Reavis, better known as the Baron of Arizona, pulled off an audacious fraud in the late 1800s. He claimed that 18,600 square miles of Arizona Territory belonged to him under an existing agreement between the fictional Peralta family and the Spanish government. Claiming that he had purchased the grant from the Peraltas, Reavis provided troves of evidence—chests full of “official” documents, including legal papers, dossiers on the Peraltas, family histories, birth records, marriage certificates, and even missives from the Spanish royal family. Before the deception was uncovered, a decade had passed and Reavis had collected the present-day equivalent of $150 million in rents and investments.

But this story is not about James Reavis. This story is about Royal A. Johnson, surveyor general for the Arizona Territory. Even a cursory inspection of the Peralta documents left Johnson suspicious, and his first official comment on the issue hinted at the type of investigation he would conduct: he noted that he could not obtain a copy of Charles III’s signature for comparison. Johnson was called off the case numerous times, but never gave up. He doggedly pursued Reavis, finally producing a full report on the claim. Among the report’s findings: the 18th century documents were written with steel nibbed pens rather than the historically accurate quill, the printing styles varied from documents of the period, a search of the Spanish archives failed to produce original versions of the papers, and there were spelling errors on documents supposedly produced by the Spanish royal court.

Johnson’s report, heralded as one of the earliest to use forensic document investigation, led to the rejection of the Peralta claim and landed Reavis in jail. What makes Johnson’s inquiry so astounding is that he had no easy way to check sources. He scoured official records in Spain and Mexico, made translations from various languages, and tracked down witnesses located thousands of miles from Arizona.

Security professionals today have the opposite problem—too many sources. Instead of searching one set of official files, they face a deafening chorus of voices, all purporting to have the answer: bloggers, consultants, management gurus, government officials, product vendors, and so on. Security Management can be a curator of today’s vast digital and multimedia archive. But we can’t do it without your help.

As ASIS members, you are the experts with knowledge at your fingertips. If you find you have no time to be a volunteer leader and are too swamped to write an article, serve as a source. Reach out and tell us your area of expertise. We can then call on you when we need a reliable answer to a question or insight into a trend. With your assistance, we can provide security practitioners with the most reliable information and separate the claims from the truth.