The second Hispanic Delegate to serve the New Mexico Territory, and the longest-serving Hispanic Member in the 19th century, Miguel Otero belonged to a powerful business family. He was born in Valencia, New México on June 21, 1829 to Don Vicente Otero and Doña Gertrudis Aragón de Otero, natives of Spain who had come to New Mexico as colonists. Don Vicente had held prominent civic positions as judge and mayor in Valencia County, under both Spanish and Mexican Governments. Miguel A. Otero as well as other members of his family continued the tradition of civic service, as did his son Miguel A. Otero, Jr., whom President McKinley appointed Territorial Governor of New Mexico. His rise to public office symbolized the emergence of a new generation of New Mexican politicians: a bilingual social elite that bridged the territory’s Hispanic and Anglo worlds. In a bid to advance the cause of New Mexican statehood, Otero aligned himself with Southern Democrats, who supported the expansion of slavery into the territories.
The Otero family lived comfortably, if not lavishly. Even before the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, the Oteros displayed an attraction for American culture. At least one biographer claimed Otero “was one of the first New Mexicans to travel east to the United States for an education.” Moreover, the Otero clan developed an “aristocratic flair that would distinguish them from other Hispanics in New Mexico. They were well-received and regarded by the Anglo-American community in or outside New Mexico. They would be decidedly pro-American rather than pro-Mexican in nationalistic sympathies and would be more identified with Anglo-American culture and values than most Hispanics.” Otero was educated in private and parochial schools and attended St. Louis University from 1841 until the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846, when he returned to New Mexico at his family’s request. The following year he enrolled at Pingree College, a small school in Fishkill, New York, where he served as a teacher and as an assistant to the principal. He began studying law with a local attorney and continued under the tutelage of senior attorneys in New York City and St. Louis from 1849 to 1852, when he passed the Missouri bar exam.
In 1852 Otero became the private secretary to the Governor of New Mexico, William C. Lane, and was elected to the second Legislative Assembly of the territory of New Mexico. In 1854 he was appointed attorney general for the territory, and served for two years. On March 4, 1856, he was seated as a Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, after successfully contesting the election of José Manuel Gallegos. With the support of the Bishop of New Mexico, Jean Baptiste Lamy, Otero was reelected to the next two Congresses, but was not a candidate for re-nomination in 1860.
After Otero had completed his term in Congress, President Lincoln nominated him to be minister to Spain in 1861. Otero declined that office to accept an appointment as secretary of the territory, but the Senate did not confirm him because of his pro-Confederate inclinations.
In 1864 Otero left New Mexico to pursue business interests in Kansas City and in Leavenworth, where he worked as a silent partner in a forwarding and commission firm. In 1867 Otero, with his brother Manuel, and Scottish immigrant John Perry Sellar formed one of the largest merchandising firms in the Southwest: Otero, Sellar, and Company. Otero retired from the business in 1871 but remained active in the company up to 1881. In the 1870s, Otero served as an agent for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, lobbying on its behalf before the New Mexico territorial government. In this position, he continued to pursue one of his goals in Congress: bringing major railroads through New Mexico to spur economic development. He also served on the board of directors of the New Mexico and Southern Pacific Railroad Company and arranged for its passage through the territory. Eventually, Otero and Sellar, among others, incorporated the San Miguel National Bank in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in 1879. Returning to New Mexico in the 1870s, Otero was a stakeholder in the Maxwell Land Grant, one of the largest land grants in New Mexico. According to his son, Otero, Sr., continued to dabble in politics when he lived briefly in Colorado. He was elected county treasurer of Las Animas County, Colorado, although a deputy served in his place. Otero was nominated for lieutenant governor.
In the summer of 1880, the Democratic Party prevailed upon Otero to run for the Delegate’s seat in the 47th Congress (1881–1883), but he lost to Tranquilino Luna, a successful entrepreneur. Otero failed in a subsequent bid for reelection to Congress. His business endeavors, however, in merchandizing, banking, and farming, were highly successful. In addition, he was a strong supporter of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. He became one of the founders and later president of the San Miguel National Bank in Las Vegas, New Mexico until his death on May 30, 1882.
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