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Biography of Governor Miguel Otero

Born on October 17, 1859 in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Miguel Antonio, a prominent banker, businessman, and lawyer, and Mary Josephine (Blackwood) Otero. Otero was the brother of Mamie J., Gertrude, and Page B. A Roman Catholic of Mexican ancestry, he was married at Las Vegas, New Mexico to Caroline V. Emmett of Minnesota on December 19, 1888, by whom he was the father of Miguel A. III (who died in infancy), Elizabeth, and Miguel A. IV (Junior). Otero married Mrs. Maud Paine Frost on October 1, 1913 at Santa Fe. He had no children by his second marriage.

Otero’s parents took him at the age of two back to their home in New Mexico, crossing the plains in a stagecoach. He was later to return east to be educated at St. Louis University and the University of Notre Dame. He became a bookkeeper for Otero, Sellar and Company, and in 1880 he took the position of Cashier at the San Miguel National Bank, of which his father was President. Otero would hold that job until 1885. During 1883 and 1884 he served as City Treasurer of Las Vegas, and from 1889 to 1890 he was Probate Clerk of San Miguel County. In the latter year he became Clerk of the Fourth Judicial District, serving until 1893.

Otero hoped to be named a federal marshall, and he was surprised when his friend, President William McKinley, appointed him Governor of New Mexico on June 2, 1897; he was inaugurated on July 14 of that year. The diminutive new chief executive was soon dubbed the "little governor," but he proved to be a powerful leader. Aided by the fact that he was the only territorial governor of New Mexico who was of Hispanic origin, Otero largely ignored the older political cliques such as the “Santa Fe Ring,” and instead built a strong political organization of his own. Unlike many of his predecessors, Otero had good relations with the Legislature, and together they encouraged the robust economic development of the territory during this period. Stable mining industries emerged, such as those in copper, zinc, and lead, as did large‑scale agricultural developments. These new farming ventures were aided by federally‑financed irrigation and conservation projects and the territory’s Commission of Irrigation and Water Rights, which was established in 1897.

Despite his Spanish heritage, Otero enthusiastically supported McKinley’s call for volunteers to serve in the Spanish‑American War, and New Mexico supplied one‑half of the “Rough Riders” (First Volunteer Cavalry). His tenure also witnessed the building of a new territorial capitol, which was completed in 1900. Otero successfully prevented the building of a dam between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, which would have prevented New Mexicans from using the Rio Grande.

Although comfortable with territorial status, Otero became a supporter of statehood and called a statehood convention in October 1901. He did not, however, favor the joint entry of Arizona and New Mexico as one state. This position gained for him a number of enemies, including some in Washington, D.C. On November 24, 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt, who favored joint entry, appointed Herbert Hagerman as chief executive, and Otero left office on January 22, 1906, having served longer than any other New Mexico territorial governor.

Otero later continued his interest in mining and sheep‑raising ventures. He left the Republican Party to become a Delegate to the Progressive Party National Convention in 1912, and later joined the Democratic Party, serving as a member of the Democratic National Committee and as a Delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1920 and 1924. Otero held a number of governmental positions in his post‑gubernatorial period, including that of Treasurer of the territory from 1910 to 1911. From 1913 to 1917 he was President of the New Mexico Board of Penitentiary Commissioners and Parole Board, and from 1917 to 1921 he was United States Marshal of the Panama Canal Zone. In 1933 Otero served as Chairman of the State Advisory Board of the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works. He died in Santa Fe on August 7, 1944, and was buried in Fairview Cemetery. Otero County, New Mexico was named in his honor.

Sources Used:

Miguel A. Otero, II, My Life on the Frontier, 2 vols. (New York, 1935); Marion Dargan, "New Mexico’s Fight for Statehood," New Mexico Historical Review, 14 (January 1939), 1‑33.

Miguel A. Otero, II, My Nine Years as Governor of the Territory of New Mexico, 1897‑1906 (Albuquerque, 1940).

"Miguel Antonio Otero, II," New Mexico Historical Review, 19 (October 1944), 349‑53.

Howard R. Lamar, The Far Southwest, 1846‑1912: A Territorial History (New Haven, 1966).

Guide to the Microfilm Edition of the Territorial Archives of New Mexico, 1846‑1912 (Santa Fe, 1974).

Otero’s papers are in the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives, Santa Fe, and the Special Collections Division of the University of New Mexico Library, Albuquerque.