Athlete, Artist, Indian Chief

From dark horse to Nighthorse, it's been one hell of a ride for Ben Campbell.

"The problem for young Indians is that Campbell sends a message that dressing up in an eagle bonnet, wearing your hair long and making Indian jewelry is what it is to be an Indian," Remington continues. "That's a myth they can't live up to. How we view ourselves must be redefined for the modern world. You can't be an Indian part of the time. Being an Indian means going through a lot of pain because of discrimination and being on the outside looking in at your own country. It's not something you discover at a midlife crisis, searching for your roots. Campbell dilutes the reality of what it means to be an American Indian. The pain and the anguish aren't there. Neither is the great joy."

Remington, a spiritual leader and Sun Dancer who was raised on the Southern Ute reservation, is one of the leaders of the Southern Ute Grassroots Organization that opposes Animas-La Plata. He took offense, he says, when Campbell pulled out a pipe on the floor of the Senate while arguing for the project.

"He was using it for a prop, like theater," says Remington. "The peace pipe should be used only when the truth is being spoken and not in a place filled with animosity and negative thoughts. But he used it to attack opponents of the water project.

"The way I was taught is that when the pipe is present, you should respect diverse opinions even if you don't agree with them."

Even as he was researching his Indian heritage, Campbell was adding other identities. He became a husband again in 1966 when he married Linda Price, a young teacher from Montrose who'd enrolled in one of the judo classes he was teaching in California.

In 1969 he and Linda moved from California to a ranch on a mesa overlooking Ignacio, the capital of the resource-rich Southern Ute reservation. Southern Ute chairman Leonard Burch offered him the job of managing the tribe's modern horse-training facility.

That helped supplement the money Campbell was making off yet another interest: jewelry. Campbell says he first learned jewelry-making from his father, who claimed to have been trained in the art by Navajo friends who lived in California. The admittedly impatient Campbell will sit for hours designing and making his pieces, which he says combine both Indian and Japanese themes and techniques.

As the jewelry-making business took off--by the late Seventies, he was making as much as $150,000 a year from it--Campbell was able to quit his job at the reservation. In 1979 his artistic career got a big boost when he was featured with other major Indian artists in an Arizona Highways article describing "the new look in Indian jewelry."

But by the next year, Campbell had added another identity: politician.

In 1980 the Democrats were having a difficult time finding anyone to run in Statehouse District 59, which consists of the four counties in the Four Corners. The Republican candidate, Don Whalen, was extremely popular, having coached the Fort Lewis College basketball team for a number of years. Then the Democrats hit on Campbell, who says he'd attended one of their meetings just out of curiosity. When the experts gave him little chance of defeating Whalen, that was all the incentive Campbell needed.

At first the Democrats tried to help Campbell organize his campaign, asking him to cut off the ponytail he'd been growing since discovering his roots. But Campbell refused, and the race against the well-dressed Whalen became known as "buckskins versus Brooks Brothers." Campbell campaigned hard and won 57 percent of the vote--including a 15 percent crossover from the Republican side.

During his time in the state legislature, Campbell walked a fine line between ranching and environmental interests, both strong factions on the Western Slope, and earned an 88 percent approval rating from environmental groups.

After six years, he announced he was ready to retire and return to his ranch. And then the Democrats asked him to run for Congress from Colorado's third district.

The third congressional district is one of the largest in the country--in land area, if not in its population, which includes a curious mix of rural conservatives and labor-union Democrats in Pueblo. Incumbent Democrat Ray Kogovsek had retired unexpectedly in 1984, and the seat was occupied by popular Republican Mike Strang, who'd made inroads among conservative Democrats.

It was the challenge of once again being the dark horse that convinced Campbell to run, even though Linda and their two children were not interested in living in Washington, D.C.

Campbell recruited Sherrie Wolff, then the executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party, to run the campaign. The strategy was to play up Campbell's background as a renaissance man: orphan, small businessman, war veteran, truck driver, Olympic athlete, teacher, artist, rancher and, yes, Indian. He wasn't just a man of the people, he was the people. Even his penchant for Harley-Davidsons gave him that independent air that Coloradans respect.

Campbell's campaign attracted many young staffers, including Ken Lane, a lawyer then with a small firm in his hometown of Pueblo. A friend working at the state legislature had called Lane, who'd been active in several local races, and asked if he'd be interested in working for Campbell as his campaign treasurer. Although he knew almost nothing about the man, Lane was flattered by the call and agreed to meet with Campbell, who drove down to Pueblo.

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