Military Wiki
Ben Nighthorse Campbell
United States Senator
from Colorado

In office
January 3, 1993 – January 3, 2005
Preceded by Tim Wirth
Succeeded by Ken Salazar
Member of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 3, 1987 – January 3, 1993
Preceded by Michael Strang
Succeeded by Scott McInnis
Personal details
Born Benny Campbell
April 13, 1933(1933-04-13) (age 89)
Auburn, California
Nationality American
Political party Democratic 1982–1995
Republican 1995–present
Spouse(s) Linda Price
Children Colin Campbell
Shanan (Campbell) Wells
Alma mater San Jose State University
Meiji University
Religion Roman Catholic[1]
Military service
Service/branch  United States Air Force
Years of service 1951-1954
Rank Airman Second Class
Battles/wars Korean War
Awards Korean Service Medal
Air Medal

Ben Nighthorse Campbell (born April 13, 1933) is an American politician. He was a U.S. Senator from Colorado from 1993 until 2005. Campbell was a three-term U.S. Representative from 1987 to 1993, when he was sworn into office as a Senator following his election on November 3, 1992. Campbell also serves as one of forty-four members of the Council of Chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Tribe.

Originally a member of the Democratic Party, Campbell switched to the Republican Party on March 3, 1995. Reelected in 1998, Campbell announced in March 2004 that he would not run for relection to a third term in November of that year. He expressed interest in running for Governor of Colorado in 2006. However, on January 4, 2006, he announced that he would not enter the race. His Senate seat was won by Democrat Ken Salazar in the November 2004 election. He later became a lobbyist for the law and lobbying firm Holland & Knight, and afterward co-founded his own lobbying firm, Ben Nighthorse Consultants [2]

Early life

Campbell speaks at the commissioning of the USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19)

Campbell was born Benny Campbell[3] in Auburn, California. His mother, Mary Vierra (Vieira), was a Portuguese immigrant who had come with her mother to the U.S. at age six through Ellis Island, (according to Campbell, his maternal grandfather had entered the United States some time before.)[4] The Vierra family settled in the large Portuguese community near Sacramento. When Mary Vierra contracted tuberculosis in her youth, she was forced to convalesce at a nearby hospital, often for months at a time during treatment. It was there that she met an American Indian patient Albert Campbell, who was at the hospital for alcoholism treatment. Albert Campbell was of predominantly Northern Cheyenne descent but, according to Nighthorse Campbell biographer Herman Viola, Albert Campbell spent much of his youth in Crow Agency boarding school and may have had some Pueblo Indian and Apache Indian blood in his background as well. The couple married in 1929, and Campbell was born in 1933.

During Campbell's childhood, his father continued to have problems with alcoholism, often leaving the family for weeks and months at a time. His mother continued to have health problems, with tuberculosis, a highly contagious disease that limited the contact she could have with her children and continued to force her into the hospital for long periods of time. These problems led to Ben and his older sister Alberta (who died in an apparent suicide at age 44) spending much of their early lives in nearby Catholic orphanages. As a young man, Campbell was introduced to the Japanese martial art of judo by Japanese immigrant families he met while working in local agricultural fields.

Military service and education

Campbell attended Placer High School, dropping out in 1951 to join the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed in Korea during the Korean War as an air policeman; he left the Air Force in 1953 with the rank of Airman Second Class, as well as the Korean Service Medal and the Air Medal. While in the Air Force, Campbell obtained his GED and, following his discharge, used his G.I. Bill to attend San Jose State University, where he graduated in 1957 with a Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education and Fine Arts.

He is listed as Ben M. Campbell in his college records and records of his Olympic competition, but was given the name "Nighthorse" when he returned to the Northern Cheyenne reservation for his name-giving ceremony, as a member of his father's family, Blackhorse.[5][6]


While in college, Ben was a member of the San Jose State judo team, coached by future USA Olympic coach, Yosh Uchida. While training for the Olympic Games, Campbell attended Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan as a special research student from 1960–1964. The Meiji team was world renowned and Campbell credited the preparation and discipline taught at Meiji for his 1961, 1962, and 1963 U.S. National titles and his gold medal in the 1963 Pan-American Games. In 1964, Campbell competed in judo at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. He suffered an injury and did not win a medal.

In the years after returning from the Olympic Games, Campbell worked as a deputy sheriff in Sacramento County, California, coached the U.S. National Judo Team, operated his own dojo in Sacramento, and taught high school (physical education and art classes). He and his wife also raised quarterhorses, including a Supreme Champion and AQHA Champion, "Sailors Night". They bought a ranch near Ignacio, Colorado on the Southern Ute reservation in 1978.

Jewelry career

In the book "Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior", by Herman Viola, Campbell tells of learning to make jewelry from his father and flattening silver dollars on train tracks for the materials. He also used techniques learned from sword makers in Japan and other non-traditional techniques to win over 200 national and international awards for jewelry design under the name, "Ben Nighthorse" and was included in a feature article in the late 1970s in 'Arizona Highways' magazine about Native artists experimenting in the 'new look' of Indian jewelry.

Political career

Campbell was elected to the Colorado State Legislature as a Democrat in November 1982, where he served two terms. He was voted one of the 10 Best Legislators by his colleagues in a 1986 Denver Post - News Center 4 survey. Campbell was elected in 1986 to the U.S. House of Representatives, defeating incumbent Congressman Mike Strang; he was re-elected twice to this seat. In 1989, he authored the bill HR 2668 to establish the National Museum of the American Indian, which became PL 101–185.

The early 1990s marked a turning point in Campbell's political career. In 1992, following the announced retirement of Senator Tim Wirth, Campbell won a three-way Democratic primary with former three-term Governor Richard Lamm and Boulder County Commissioner Josie Heath, who had been the party's nominee in 1990.[7] During the primary campaign, Lamm supporters accused Heath of "spoiling" the election by splitting the vote of the party's left wing. Heath's campaign pointed out that it was Campbell who shouldn't have been running, because his voting record in Congress had been much more like that of a Republican. This charge turned out to be prophetic. Campbell won the primary with 45% of the vote and then defeated Republican State Senator Terry Considine in the general election.[8]

In March 1995, only two years into office, Senator Campbell switched parties from Democratic to Republican, in the wake of publicized disputes he had with the Colorado Democratic Party. Upon hearing the news, most of Campbell's Washington staff quit on the spot.[9]

In 1998, Campbell won re-election to the Senate by what was then the largest margin in Colorado history for a state-wide race. In the 106th Congress, he passed more public laws than any individual member of Congress. During his tenure, Campbell also became the first American Indian to chair the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. He retired from office in January 2005.

After his retirement, Campbell was a senior policy advisor at the firm of Holland and Knight, LLP in Washington, DC. In July 2012, he left that firm to found Ben Nighthorse Consultants, a new lobbying firm.[10][11] He also continues to design and craft his Ben Nighthorse line of American Indian jewelry.

Completed in 2011, Lake Nighthorse, a 120,000-acre-foot reservoir in southwestern Colorado, is named in his honor.[12]


In 1966, Campbell married the former Linda Price, a public school teacher who was a native of Colorado. The couple have two married children, Colin (Karen) Campbell and Shanan (John) Wells. They have four grandchildren. The Campbells still reside in Colorado.

Electoral History

United States Senate election in Colorado, 1998[13]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell (inc.) 829,370 62.49% +19.78%
Democratic Dottie Lamm 464,754 35.02% -16.76%
Libertarian David S. Segal 14,024 1.06% +1.06%
Constitution Kevin Swanson 9,775 0.74%
Natural Law Jeffrey Peckham 4,101 0.31%
Independent John Heckman 3,230 0.24%
Independent Gary Swing 1,981 0.15%
Majority 364,616 27.47% +18.40%
Turnout 1,327,235
Republican hold Swing


External links

  • B at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Michael Strang
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Colorado's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
Scott McInnis
United States Senate
Preceded by
Tim Wirth
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Colorado
Served alongside: Hank Brown, Wayne Allard
Succeeded by
Ken Salazar
Political offices
Preceded by
John McCain
Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
Daniel Inouye
Preceded by
Daniel Inouye
Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
John McCain
Party political offices
Preceded by
Tim Wirth
Democratic Party nominee for United States Senator from Colorado (Class 3)
Succeeded by
Dottie Lamm
Preceded by
Terry Considine
Republican Party nominee for United States Senator from Colorado (Class 3)
Succeeded by
Pete Coors

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