Campbell's mother, Mary Vierra, was a Portuguese immigrant who arrived in the United States at the age of six. The Vierra family settled in a large Portuguese community near Sacramento, California. When Vierra contracted tuberculosis, she met Albert Campbell, a Northern Cheyenne, at a hospital where he was being treated for alcoholism. The couple later married. Campbell was born April 13, 1933, in Auburn, California. During Campbell's childhood, his father continued to have problems with alcohol, often leaving the family for months at a time. Campbell's mother also continued to experience health problems with tuberculosis. At home, often no one was available to care for Campbell or his younger sister, Alberta. As a result, the young Campbell spent much of his youth in the streets, getting into trouble.
By age ten, Campbell had spent five years in Sacramento's St. Patrick's Catholic Orphanage. He attended Placer High School but dropped out in 1951 to join the U.S. Air Force and served in the Korean War. He was discharged from the Air Force in 1953 with the rank of Airman Second Class, as well as the Korean Service Medal and the Air Medal.
Returning to the United States, Campbell earned a bachelor of arts in physical education and fine arts at California State University (San Jose), graduating in 1957. Campbell also became a championship competitor in judo. He won the U.S. collegiate championship in his weight class three times and took a gold medal at the 1963 Pan American Games. Campbell also attended Tokyo's Meiji University between 1960 and 1964, majoring in Japanese culture. In 1964, he represented the United States as captain of the judo team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Campbell was chosen to carry the American flag during the closing ceremonies after swimmer Don Schollander was unable to attend. In 1974, Campbell authored a judo training manual, Championship Judo Training Drills.
In 1983, Campbell became the second Native American to be elected to Colorado's legislature, where he served until his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1986. He served in the House from 1987 to 1993, after which he was elected to the U.S. Senate, becoming the first Native American in more than sixty years—since Charles Curtis—to serve in the Senate. In 1995, he switched from the Democratic to the Republican party.
Campbell was reelected to the Senate in 1998 and served from January 3, 1993, to January 3, 2005, during which time he chaired the Committee on Indian Affairs. Campbell declined to run for reelection to the Senate in 2004. His Senate seat was won by Democrat Ken Salazar in the November 2004 election.
Senator Campbell had more freestanding Senate legislation passed into law (twelve public laws) than any other member of the 106th Congress. Senator Campbell consistently fought to balance the federal budget through spending cuts, to reduce the tax rate on American families, and to impose strict accountability for all federal spending. He was a recognized leader in public lands and natural resources policy. In the 106th Session of Congress he alone sponsored legislation that created the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and the Colorado Ute Settlement Act Amendments of 2000.
An advocate of zero-tolerance for illegal drug use legislation, Senator Campbell secured funding to combat drug trafficking through the creation of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. The program coordinates federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies efforts to combat the manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs such as methamphetamine.
Campbell has been married to the former Linda Price for more than thirty-five years. He is the father of two children, Colin Campbell and Shanan Longfellow, and grandfather to Luke and Saylor Longfellow and Lauren Campbell. The family shares many activities, including riding motorcycles. He has been a rancher and a horse trainer in his adopted hometown of Ignacio, Colorado, and long has maintained a jewelry design business.
Bruce E. Johansen
Campbell, Ben Nighthorse. "Biographical Directory of the United States Congress." Available at: http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=C00007. Accessed June 26, 2006.; Campbell, Ben Nighthorse. 2004. In Native Americans in Sports. Edited by C. Richard King. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.; Henry, Christopher, and W. David Baird. 1994. Ben Nighthorse Campbell: Cheyenne Chief and U.S. Senator. New York: Chelsea House Publishers.; This url contains the text: http://www.infoplease.com/biography/us/congress/campbell-ben-nighthorse.html.