Ben Campbell (he added “Nighthorse” as an adult) was born in Auburn, California, a Portuguese immigrant, and a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe. He had a hard childhood with a mother frequently hospitalized for tuberculosis. 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, where he spent half of his life.
A Troubled Youth
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 some Japanese youths taught him judo. That sport, according to the senator, “kept me off the streets and out of jail.” After leaving high school at age 17, he served in the U.S. Air Force He studied and received his GED and continued with his judo training earning a brown belt in the sport.
From judo to jewelry
After finishing his military service, Campbell entered San Jose State University where he received a bachelor’s degree in physical education. Upon graduation he moved to Tokyo for four years to work on his judo and study at Meiji University. Although Campbell worked many jobs, he found financial success as a designer of Native American jewelry, an interest he had from childhood. In Japan he learned how to laminate different metals. He won more than two hundred design awards for his handmade jewelry and some of his work sold for as much as twenty thousand dollars.
Beginnings of political career
Campbell’s involvement in politics came about because he was 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. With this victory Campbell became only the eighth Native American ever elected to Congress. He won reelection to this seat three times.
Campbell as senator
After six years in the House of Representatives, Campbell decided to run for the Senate seat whereupon he won. On March 3, 1995, decided to move from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. 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.
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