Felix Martinez, businessman, publisher, politician, and diplomat, son of Felix and Maria Reyes (Cordova) Martinez, was born at Penasco, Taos County, New Mexico, on March 29, 1857. He studied for five years at St. Mary's College at Mora, New Mexico. In 1871 he began work as a store clerk, first in Trinidad, Colorado, and, after a few months, in Pueblo, where he also took private business courses for three years. He moved to El Moro, Colorado, in 1876 to work as a clerk but was soon part-owner of a mercantile business. He moved to Las Vegas, New Mexico, in 1879 and entered a business partnership. On September 24, 1880, he married Virginia Buster, who was fourteen years old. They had six children. He sold his business in 1886, feeling that the sedentary nature of the mercantile trade did not agree with him. In its place came efforts in politics, publishing, and real estate. In 1884 Martinez ran for San Miguel county treasurer on the Democratic ticket. Although he lost, he cut sharply into the traditional Republican majority in the county. He won a close race for county assessor in 1886, and he was elected to the territorial House of Representatives in 1888. In 1890 he purchased a small Santa Fe newspaper, La Voz del Pueblo, and moved it to Las Vegas. It became the foremost Spanish-language newspaper in New Mexico. At about this time, he was beginning to take notice of a fast-growing populist party in San Miguel County, el Partido del Pueblo Unido (the United People's party). He soon assumed leadership of the party, but by 1892 he had used his influence to effect a fusion between the Populists and the Democrats. In 1892 he was elected to the Territorial Council (upper house of the Legislative Assembly), where he sponsored legislation to establish what is now New Mexico Highlands University and the state mental hospital, both in Las Vegas. In December 1893 Martinez became clerk of the United States and Territorial Courts for the Fourth Judicial District of New Mexico, located in Las Vegas.
He resigned this position in 1897 and moved to El Paso, Texas, where he found numerous opportunities to use his financial and organizational talents. He owned and published the El Paso Daily News from 1899 to 1909. He was the founder of El Paso Realty Company and the organizer of the Southwestern Portland Cement Company, as well as a small railroad that served the El Paso area. He was the president of the Central Building and Improvement Company and participated in the construction and operation of the Plaza Block and the White House stores. He was on the board of directors of the First National Bank of El Paso but later resigned to accept a position as one of the original directors of the Federal Reserve Board, Dallas District. Martinez's most lasting contribution was his strong support for the construction of Elephant Butte Dam, which still provides irrigation water for the Rio Grande valley in the El Paso area and southern New Mexico. He helped to organize the El Paso Valley Water Users' Association and served as its board chairman.
Although he focused his financial talents on El Paso, his political interests were still in New Mexico. He maintained control of La Voz del Pueblo in Las Vegas, owned the Tribune-Citizen in Albuquerque from 1909 to 1911, and supported the Democratic party through the editorial pages of these newspapers. Martinez lost his bid for a United States Senate seat after New Mexico statehood in 1912, but in the following year, his friend William Jennings Bryan (secretary of state under President Wilson), offered him the presidency of the Panama-Pacific Commission. Commission members had diplomatic status and toured South America with the purpose of inviting each country to participate in the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. Martinez died in El Paso of pneumonia on March 22, 1916, and was buried on his ranch at Trinchera, near the New Mexico-Colorado border. Although he was probably the most prominent Hispanic in the United States at the time of his death, he would not have liked that designation. He considered himself an American, and he often spoke (as he did at his commencement address at the University of New Mexico in 1915) against race prejudice and race promotion of any kind.
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Maurilio E. Vigil, Los Patrones: Profiles of Hispanic Political Leaders in New Mexico History (Washington: University Press of America, 1980). Robert Rankin White, "Felix Martinez: A Borderlands Success Story," El Palacio 87 (Winter 1981–82).
Publishers and Executives
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Robert R. White,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 23, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
May 1, 1995
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: