From 1995 to 2010, I was involved in nearly 30 regular and special sessions of the New Mexico Legislature – first as a reporter, then from the Governor’s Office on the fourth floor of the Roundhouse. During those 16 years, I thought I saw everything. But I never saw or heard anything quite like the legislative session that convened in 1871 and wrapped up in February 1872. Let’s just say that when the county sheriff and the military are taking sides, you’ve got a problem.
Calvin Horn, a former legislator himself, told the story in his book, “New Mexico’s Troubled Years: The Story of the Early Territorial Governors.” The chapter about then-Governor Marsh Giddings was of particular interest to me because my Great-Great-Great Grandfather Gregorio N. Otero would play a key role in resolving what Horn called the “bitterest legislative fight in the history of the territory.”
Governor Giddings was a Republican from Connecticut who was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to be Governor of the Territory of New Mexico. He delivered his first State of the State address in Santa Fe on Dec. 7, 1871. But the session went downhill when the Legislature, made up of the House and the Council, rushed through a bill that would have moved Chief Justice Joseph G. Palen, a controversial political figure, from the 1st District in Santa Fe to the 3rd District in Mesilla. Palen upset the status quo with a couple of judicial decisions that, according to news reports, drew sharp opposition from a big money ring. The legislation to ship Palen south to Mesilla drew nearly unanimous support, which means Gregorio Otero, a representative from Valencia County, probably supported it.
But Governor Giddings vetoed the bill, accusing legislators of trying to intimidate, remove and disgrace a sitting judge. Although some Republicans respected Giddings’ veto, other leading Republicans conspired with Democrats to change the balance of power in order to get enough votes to override the Governor. Apparently political arm-twisting wasn’t enough. This group tried to replace four Taos Republicans in the House and one Republican in the Council with Democrats, thus giving Democrats control of both chambers.
Under considerable pressure, the Republican Speaker of the House reversed his position and joined with the Governor in trying to re-seat the Republicans. In an unusual move, Gov. Giddings sat next to House Speaker Rudolph and asked the Sergeant at Arms to disarm one of the legislators and place his weapon on the Speaker’s Table until adjournment. A day later, the effort to re-seat the Republicans failed, and on Jan. 10, 1872, Gov. Giddings expressed his concern that a mob had formed at the Capitol, and that nearly everyone he came across was armed with a pistol. The Speaker asked the Santa Fe County Sheriff to help the sergeant at arms restore order, but the sheriff refused. Unable to regain control, Speaker Rudolph adjourned the House and all of the Republicans left the chamber.
But the Democrats stuck around, declared that Speaker Rudolph did not have the authority to adjourn the House without the consent of the members, and elected a new Speaker and a new Sergeant at Arms, who was sent to retrieve the absent Republicans. He even tried to enter the Governor’s Office and arrest the Republican Speaker, but backed away from arrest. The Sergeant at Arms later took the Speaker by force to the House Chamber. Speaker Rudolph responded by making a request, which was endorsed by the governor, to have the United States military stationed at the door of the chamber.
The next day, Speaker Rudolph took control of the House and moved again to re-seat the Republican members from Taos. But the Democrats resisted, and left the chamber to create a new House of Representatives. So at that point, a Democrat House – with the four Taos Democrats -- and a Republican House – with the original four Republicans from Taos -- each claimed power. The actions became more childish when the Democrats deprived a clerk of the keys and claimed control of the actual House chamber. Republicans responded by changing the lock on the door.
Finally on Jan. 29, with two days left in the session, the Council agreed to work with the House Republicans if they elected a compromise Speaker. The compromise speaker was none other than Gregorio N. Otero from Valencia County. Amazingly, the two chambers collaborated to pass some important legislation during the final two days – imposing a property tax to finally pull the territory out of debt, finance government operations and start a public school system.
I descend from Gregorio Otero on my mother’s side of the family. My maternal grandfather, Louis Chavez, was the son of Eliza Otero, the granddaughter of Gregorio Otero. I was surprised to learn that Eliza was once a school teacher, and wondered about her education at a time when a formal education outside of Santa Fe or Albuquerque was rare. Her father, Melquiades Otero, was educated and apparently the beneficiary of his father, Gregorio’s efforts to expand educational opportunities.
I’m not yet sure where Gregorio, a veteran of the Civil War battles in New Mexico, got his formal education. I’ve discovered some of his correspondence – business and political – that suggest he was well educated. I also found a tax record showing he paid fees as a lawyer.
Jose Gregorio Otero was born May 11, 1833 in Tome as the son of Miguel Otero and Maria Josefa Chaves. He married Maria de Jesus Pino in Cubero on June 15, 1853. His Otero heritage appears to have reached back to the first known Otero in New Mexico.
Gregorio’s father, Miguel Otero, was born March 31, 1815 in Valencia. Miguel was the son of Antonio Rafael Otero and Maria Lugarda Garcia. Antonio Rafael was the son of Pedro Otero and Maria Juliana Alari.
Pedro alternately used the Otero surname and the famous Duran y Chaves name in baptismal records for his children. Some have speculated that Pedro was the orphaned son of the famous Pedro Duran y Chaves, and he may have been raised by Cayetano de Otero who served as a Franciscan priest in Albuquerque at the time Pedro was born in 1739 in nearby Atrisco. Others believe Pedro was the actual son of Cayetano de Otero, despite his role as a priest, and Quiteria Duran y Chaves. In any case, Cayetano de Otero was born about 1701 in the Galicia region of Spain and professed his vows on Jan. 29, 1725 at Puebla, Nueva Espana. He came to New Mexico and was at Zuni by 1731 and at Pecos in 1732-33.