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Campbell, Ben Nighthorse

CAMPBELL, BEN NIGHTHORSE

In 1992, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a rancher, teacher, judo champion, and jewelry designer became the first Native American to serve in the U.S. Senate in more than 60 years.

Campbell was born April 13, 1933, in Auburn, California, the son of Albert Valdez Campbell, who was part Northern Cheyenne Indian, and Mary Vierra, a Portuguese immigrant. His mother was a patient and occasional employee at a tuberculosis sanitorium when she met his father, who also worked there. They were married in 1929 and had two children, Campbell and his sister, Alberta Campbell, who died at the age of 44, an apparent suicide.

Campbell's father was an alcoholic who frequently disappeared, leaving Campbell's mother to support and care for the children. Campbell and his sister spent time in orphanages and foster homes when their mother was too sick to work and provide for them. Eventually, his father was able to work and the family opened a small grocery store, which prospered later when a freeway was built with an exit ramp at the location of the store.

When Campbell entered high school he had little sense of enthusiasm or direction concerning his education. In 1950, he dropped out and joined the U.S. Air Force. He served in the korean war and was discharged from the service with the rank of airman, second class. He passed the high school equivalency test to receive his general equivalency diploma, and in 1957 graduated from San Jose State University with a bachelor's degree in physical education and fine arts.

When he was a teenager Campbell became interested in judo and it became a driving force in his life. "Judo teaches you to persevere, to never give up," he said. "That skill is transferable to business, to school, to politics." Campbell continued to develop his judo skill while he was in the service, and after completing college, he moved to Tokyo, where he lived for four years, studying at Meiji University and perfecting his abilities. In 1963, he won a gold medal at the Pan-American Games and, in 1964, he was captain of the U.S. Olympic Judo Team at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Campbell's interest in judo continued throughout his life. After the 1964 Olympics he returned to California to teach high school physical education. During the summers he conducted judo camps for children. He also pioneered judo instruction in physical education programs at California high schools. During this period he met Linda Price—they were married in 1966 and had two children, Shanan, also known as Sweet Medicine Woman, and Colin, whose Indian name is Takes Arrows.

Eventually, Campbell left his job as a physical education teacher and set up an industrial arts program at an alternative high school for troubled students. He also developed a jewelry-making class for adult Native American students, which fueled his interest in his Native American heritage. When Campbell was growing up, his father hesitated to talk about his ancestry because of his fear that the family would be subjected to discrimination. But Campbell persisted, and his father finally gave him information that led him to relatives on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana. There, in 1980, he was officially enrolled as a member of the Black Horse family and of the Northern Cheyenne tribe. Currently he is one of 44 chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne.

Campbell entered the world of politics by chance. He attended a Colorado democratic

party meeting in May 1982 hoping to see a friend whom he thought might be there. Party officials were trying to find someone willing to run for state representative from Campbell's district against a Republican who was considered a certain winner. No one but Campbell was willing to take on the challenge. To everyone's great surprise, he not only won but carried 57 percent of the vote, including 15 percent of the crossover vote from the Republican side.

Campbell was a Democrat whose blend of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism made him an enigma. During his two terms in the Colorado legislature he was instrumental in the passage of landmark legislation to settle disputes over Native American water rights. Early in his political career, he learned that his positions angered extremists on both ends of the political spectrum. He has little tolerance for single-issue zealots. "I learned early on that the more extreme their position or ideology, the less they have in common with the majority of the electorate," he said. "[They] reduce everything in America to a single issue. They do not judge a legislator on total performance, on what that representative is doing for everybody. They are concerned only with what a legislator does for them on that one single issue."

"My grandfather told me that at the little big horn custer dropped the flag and the cheyennes picked it up … now the flag unites all of us in this great country."
—Ben Campbell

In 1986, Campbell decided to run for the U.S. House of Representatives from Colorado's third district. Since Native Americans constitute only two percent of the population of the district, Campbell and his campaign manager decided to downplay his heritage. However, his Native American background along with his diverse credentials—high school dropout, Korean War veteran, small-business owner, Olympic athlete, artist, truck driver, teacher, rancher, and state legislator—was a potent and irresistibly novel combination for both voters and the media. Ordinary people could identify with him as "one of them." The result was a 52–48 percent win for Campbell, making him one of only six challengers nationwide to unseat an incumbent in 1986. On January 6, 1987, he stood proudly between Joseph P. Kennedy II, son of the late robert f. kennedy, and john lewis, son of an African American Georgia sharecropper, to be sworn in and take his seat in the One Hundredth Congress.

During his three terms as a U.S. representative, Campbell acted as a spokesman for all Native Americans, not just those he represented from Colorado. He cosponsored legislation to establish the Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution. He also fought to have the Custer National Battlefield Monument renamed the Little Big Horn National Battlefield Monument. The Montana monument, which honors the 1876 battle between General George Armstrong Custer's Seventh Cavalry and a group of Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indians camped on the banks of the Little Big Horn River, memorialized and glorified the two hundred soldiers, including General Custer, who perished there. Until 1991 only a wooden marker commemorated the loss of Indian lives. In 1991, largely through Campbell's efforts, Congress changed the monument's name and authorized a more prominent memorial to the Indians who fought and died there.

Toward the end of his third term as a U.S. representative, Campbell expected to retire from politics. However, in April 1992, when Senator Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.) unexpectedly announced he would not run for reelection, Campbell decided to run for Wirth's seat. He defeated three-term governor Richard D. Lamm to gain the Democratic Party nomination, but the campaign turned out to be an uphill struggle. Campbell at one point had a ten-point lead over his Republican opponent, but it began to slip. He became discouraged and turned to friends for advice. Their prescription was unorthodox: they prayed for him and performed rituals on his behalf, and advised him to paint his body with red war paint and carry an eagle feather at all times. Campbell did not question their wisdom; he did as they advised, and almost immediately his ratings in the polls improved. Campbell won the election by nearly ten percent and returned to Washington to become the first Native American senator in over 60 years.

During his first term in the Senate, Campbell was appointed to five key committees: Energy and Natural Resources; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Democratic Policy; Veterans Affairs; and Indian Affairs.

In March 1995, barely two years into his Senate term, Campbell surprised and angered the Democratic Party by announcing that he was switching affiliation and aligning himself with the Republicans. The Democratic Party responded by calling Campbell a turncoat and Benedict Campbell, and demanding the return of $255,000 in donated funds used to help elect him to the Senate. Campbell replied that his record of voting with the Democratic leadership on most issues should be repayment for the party's support.

In the 1998 elections, Campbell was reelected by a wide margin over long-time abortion rights supporter Dottie Lamm who, like Campbell, described herself as a fiscal conservative who is socially progressive. Campbell is a member of four major Senate committees: the Appropriations Committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Veterans' Affairs Committee; and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. He also chaired the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission).

Campbell has continued to portray himself as a jewelry-making, Harley-riding, maverick member of Congress, but his legislative agenda has become increasingly aligned with big business. Environmentalists have criticized Campbell for taking campaign contributions from groups that are financed by timber, mining, gas, and oil companies. Campbell also generated controversy after sponsoring legislation to transfer a federally-owned dam and reservoir to a privately owned land consortium. He failed to disclose that he was one of the group's largest landholders.

further readings

U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Available online at <campbell.senate.gov> (accessed June 19, 2003).

Viola, Herman J. 1993. Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior. New York: Orion Books.

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Campbell, Ben Nighthorse

Ben Nighthorse Campbell

Born: April 13, 1933
Auburn, California

Native American senator and congressman

As a result of his election on November 3, 1992, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado became the first Native American to serve in the U.S. Senate in more than sixty years. A member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, Campbell was also a world-famous athlete and was captain of the U.S. judo team for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

A troubled youth

Ben Campbell (he added "Nighthorse" as an adult) was born in Auburn, California, on April 13, 1933, to Mary Vierra, a Portuguese immigrant, and Albert Campbell, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe. He had a hard childhood with a mother frequently hospitalized for tuberculosis, an infectious disease that affects the lungs. Campbell's father was an alcoholic who failed to support the family, and his mother was often too sick to take care of and support the children. At such times she placed Campbell and his younger sister, Alberta, in the care of an orphanage. Indeed, by the time he turned ten years old Nighthorse had spent half of his life in St. Patrick's Catholic Orphanage in Sacramento, California.

With little supervision at home, the youngster spent much of his time in the streets getting into trouble. He was frequently absent from high school, earning mostly poor grades. While still a teenager he was involved in such activities as stealing guns and cars, shoplifting, and driving drunk. At age fifteen he was arrested for stealing gasoline. A year later he was arrested and briefly jailed for driving drunk and crashing into a gas station. The police released him back into the custody of his parents.

Life began to change as Campbell learned a new skill. While working as a fruit picker in California's Sacramento Valley, he became friends with some Japanese youths who taught him judo. That sport, according to the senator, "kept me off the streets and out of jail." After leaving high school, he served in the U.S. Air Force from 1951 to 1953 during the Korean War (195053), a war in Korea in which the United States joined South Korea in its fight against Communist North Korea. Campbell was stationed in Korea, where he gained the military rank of Airman, Second Class. He studied to receive his high school equivalency diploma and continued with his judo training. Studying with Korean judo instructors during times when he was not on military duty, Campbell earned a brown belt in the sport.

From judo to jewelry

After finishing his military service, Campbell entered San Jose State University and supported himself by picking fruit and driving a truck. As a senator Campbell remembered this early work experience and was still a member of the Teamsters labor union (which includes truckers) who proudly displayed his union membership card. In 1957 he received a bachelor's degree in physical education and fine arts. Upon graduation he moved to Tokyo for four years to work on his judo and study at Meiji University.

Campbell's ability in judo won him All American status in that sport and helped him become a three-time U.S. judo champion. He won the gold medal in the Pan-American Games in 1963 and served as captain of the U.S. judo team at the Tokyo Olympics the next year. Later he coached the U.S. international judo team.

Although Campbell worked many jobs, ranging from farm laborer to policeman, he found financial success as a designer of Native American jewelry. He had been interested in this Native American art form since his childhood, but in Japan he learned how to laminate different metals, a technique that involves beating, splitting, or layering metals in thin sheets. Although jewelry makers who used more traditional methods said that this technique did not follow the style of Native American art, others recognized Campbell as an important artist creating new artistic forms. He won more than two hundred design awards for his handmade rings, bracelets, and pendants. Some of his work has sold for as much as twenty thousand dollars. By 1977 Campbell's success had allowed him to move to a 120-acre ranch on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation near Ignacio, Colorado. There he trained champion quarter horses until an injury forced him to stop.

Beginnings of political career

Campbell's involvement in politics came about because of bad weather. Unable to fly his single-engine airplane to the West Coast to deliver some jewelry because of heavy storms, he visited a meeting of Colorado Democrats who were seeking a candidate for the state's Fifty-ninth House District. At that meeting Democratic leaders persuaded Campbell to run for that office. To nearly everyone's surprise he defeated his better-known opponent and served in the state legislature for four years. In 1986 voters of Colorado's Third Congressional District elected Campbell as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives after a closely fought election. With this victory Campbell became only the eighth Native American ever elected to Congress. He won reelection to this seat three times.

In Congress Campbell earned a reputation for having a "straightshooting approach." His charm, sincerity, leadership qualities, and mix of political beliefs helped him gain support from a wide variety of groups within and outside of Congress. Although he was a strong conservative in areas of financial management (he supported an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require a balanced budget), he was a liberal on social issues. His stand on abortion (the purposeful termination of a pregnancy), for example, is strongly prochoice, or in favor of a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. He played an important role in gaining laws to settle disputes involving Native American water rights. In 1991 he won a fight to change the name of Custer Battlefield Monument in Montana to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, in honor of the Native Americans who died there in 1876 in battle against the troops of General George Custer (18391876). Campbell was also instrumental in establishing the National Museum of the American Indian within the Smithsonian Institution.

Campbell as senator

After six years in the House of Representatives, Campbell decided to run for the Senate seat vacated by Tim Wirth (1939), a liberal Democrat who decided not to run for a second term. He defeated Josie Heath and former governor Dick Lamm (1935) in the Democratic primary. On November 3, 1992, he beat the conservative Republican state senator Terry Considine for the Senate. As a Democratic senator he almost always supported the programs of the Clinton administration (19932001).

On March 3, 1995, Campbell made a decision that shocked much of the political world. He decided to move from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. It has been stated that the balanced-budget amendment persuaded Campbell to change his political views. Campbell served the remainder of his first six-year term as a Republican and was reelected for a second term in 1998, after running as a Republican.

For More Information

Viola, Herman J. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, an American Warrior. New York: Orion Books, 1993.

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Ben Nighthorse Campbell

Ben Nighthorse Campbell

As a result of his election on November 3, 1992, Ben Nighthorse Campbell (born 1933) of Colorado be came the first Native American to serve in the U.S. Senate in more than 60 years. A member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Campbell was also a renowned athlete and captained the U.S. judo team for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

Ben Nighthorse Campbell was born in Auburn, California, on April 13, 1933, to Mary Vierra, a Portuguese immigrant, and Albert Campbell, a Northern Cheyenne Indian. He had a hard childhood, with a mother frequently hospitalized for tuberculosis and an alcoholic father. Indeed, by the time he turned ten years old Nighthorse had spent half of his life in St. Patrick's Catholic Orphanage in Sacramento, California. At home there was frequently no one to care for him or his younger sister, Alberta. As a result, the youngster spent much of his time in the streets getting into trouble.

While working as a fruit picker in the Sacramento Valley, Nighthorse befriended some Japanese youths who taught him judo. That sport, according to the senator, "kept me off the streets and out of jail." After graduating from high school, he served in the U.S. Air Force from 1951 to 1953. Stationed in Korea as an Airman 2nd class, he continued with his judo training. On completing his military service, Campbell entered San Jose State University and supported himself by picking fruit and driving a truck. He still was a member of the Teamsters and proudly displayed his union card while a senator. In 1957 he received a Bachelors degree in physical education and fine arts. Upon graduation, Nighthorse moved to Tokyo for four years to work on his judo and study at Meiji University.

Campbell's ability in judo not only won him All-American status in that sport and helped him become three-time U.S. judo champion but allowed him to win the gold medal in the Pan-American Games in 1963. The next year he captained the U.S. judo team at the Tokyo Olympics. Later, the Olympian coached the U.S. international judo team.

Although Campbell worked as a teacher, policeman, and prison counselor, as well as a farm laborer and a truck driver, his success came as a designer of Native American jewelry. He had been interested in this Indian art form since his childhood, but learned how to laminate different metals in Japan. Although traditionalists argued that this technique did not follow the style of Indian art, Arizona Highways recognized his creativity in a 1972 article that identified him as one of twenty Native Americans undertaking new forms of art. He won more than 200 design awards for his handcrafted rings, bracelets, and pendants. Some of his work has sold for as much as $20,000. In 1977 Campbell moved to a 120-acre ranch on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation near Ignacio, Colorado. With his wife, Linda Price Nighthorse (Campbell's third marriage), and their two children, Colin and Shana, Campbell trained champion quarter horses on the ranch until a severe injury, incurred while breaking a colt, put an end to that career.

Nighthorse's involvement in politics came about because of bad weather. Unable to fly his single-engine airplane to the West Coast to deliver some jewelry due to heavy storms, he visited a meeting of Colorado Democrats seeking a candidate for the state's 59th House District. At that meeting Democratic leaders persuaded him to run for that office. To nearly everyone's surprise, he defeated his better known opponent and served in the state legislature for four years. In 1986 voters of Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, a normally Republican district, elected Democratic Campbell to the U.S. House of Representatives. He defeated incumbent Mike Strang in a closely fought election to become only the eighth Native American ever elected to Congress. He won reelection to that post three times by large margins.

In Congress he earned a reputation for having a "straight-shooting approach," and his charm, sincerity, charisma, and political blend helped him gain support from a wide variety of factions within and outside Congress. Although a strong fiscal conservative (he supported a balanced-budget amendment), he was a liberal on social issues (strongly pro-choice). As a congressman he served on the House Committees on Agriculture and on Interior and Insular Affairs. He played an important role in securing legislation to settle Native American water rights, and in 1991 he won a fight to change the name of Custer Battlefield Monument in Montana to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, in honor of the Native Americans who died in battle. He also initiated and guided through Congress legislation to establish the National Museum of the American Indian within the Smithsonian Institution.

After six years in the House of Representatives, Campbell decided to run for the Senate seat vacated by Tim Wirth, a liberal Democrat who declined to run for a second term. He defeated Josie Heath and former Governor Dick Lamm in the Democratic primary. And on November 3, 1992, after a nasty campaign, he bested Republican state senator Terry Considine, a conservative, for the Senate. That victory made him the first Native American to serve in the U.S. Senate in more than 60 years. In that office he almost always supported the programs of the Clinton administration.

On March 3, 1995 Campbell made a decision which shocked much of the political world. He decided to change from his political affiliation from the Democratic to the Republican party. It has been stated that the balanced budget amendment persuaded Campbell to change his political views. Campbell will serve the remainder of his six year term as a Republican.

Further Reading

There are several good articles with excellent biographical data on Campbell. For instance, see "Big Ben," by Harland C. Clifford, in the Boston Globe Magazine (August 2, 1992). Also see a profile of him in the April 6, 1992, issue of People magazine. □

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"Ben Nighthorse Campbell." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved May 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/ben-nighthorse-campbell