Born on June 21, 1929, in Valencia, New Mexico – what was then the first Republic of Mexico – Miguel Antonio Otero was one of the more fascinating New Mexicans. He rose to political prominence at a young age but was undone by political decisions that have proven to be on the wrong side of history and has kind of drifted into obscurity. But he accomplished a lot and the Otero family had great influence in the early history of New Mexico, including the creation of Otero County.
Don Vicente Otero and Doña Gertrudis Aragón de Otero, Miguel Otero’s parents, were well to do New Mexicans. Don Vicente held a number of prestigious offices in both the Spanish and the Mexican Governments. This influence in the Spanish and Mexican governments – and subsequently to the United States – implies that the Oteros were easy to adapt to frequent changes in the 1800s. The Oteros were pro-American prior to the Mexican-American War and were well regarded by Anglo-Americans. This shrewd pro-American sentiment made the Oteros very influential in post-war New Mexico. If it were not this Otero’s support for the Confederacy, the Oteros might have more than just a New Mexican County named after them.
Miguel Antonio Otero was an Eastern educated ‘semi-aristocrat’ and was bilingual. After receiving private education locally in New Mexico, Otero enrolled in St. Louis University in Missouri in 1841, and ultimately graduated from Pingree College in Fishkill, New York. In 1851, he returned to Missouri where he was admitted to the bar in 1852.
While studying for the bar in St. Louis, Otero was introduced to his wife, Mary Josephine Blackwood, by her brother, William G. Blackwood, whom Otero had appointed to the New Mexico Territorial Supreme Court after rising the ranks of New Mexican Politics. Mary Josephine was a Southern Bell, being reared in Charleston, South Carolina and this Southern connection may have been influential in his subsequent Confederate sympathies.
In 1852, Otero became secretary of Territorial Governor William Lane, a pro-slavery advocate. Otero was then elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of New Mexico at the age of 23. Two years later, he was appointed to be the Attorney General of New Mexico at the age of 25 Otero supported Nationalistic projects like the Southern Railroad – a big justification for the Gadsden Purchase. On March 4, 1856, he was elected to be a Delegate to the United States House of Representatives in a contested election. He served until 1860.
His election in 1856 was particularly interesting. Otero challenged the incumbent José Manuel Gallegos, who was the first Hispanic of Mexican descent elected as a Territorial Delegate to Congress and whom only spoke Spanish. After colluding with the press to defame Gallegos because he was a defrocked Catholic priest who only spoke Spanish, Otero contested the close election that Gallegos had initially won by 99 votes. Otero challenged the vote by asserting that citizens voted illegally. The election was decided by a House Committee on Elections, which ‘elected’ otero by a margin of128-22.
Otero was a vocal supporter of Westward Expansion and pushed for internal improvements in New Mexico. During his time as a Territorial Delegate, he obtained money to provide for the Butterfield Overland Mail delivery service to run through the Southern portion of New Mexico. He pushed for the federal government to own most of the land of New Mexico, probably resulting in the BLM lands we have today. Throughout the 1850s, Otero courted Southern politicians, such as Jefferson Davis, who, as Secretary of War, promoted Transcontinental Railroads, in order to promote New Mexican development. After the Gadsden Purchase (Treaty of Mesilla) in 1854, Otero