Celebrating Ben Nighthorse Campbell

The former Colorado “Motorcycle Riding Senator” turns 90
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All Photography Courtesy of Sorrel Sky Gallery

Most Coloradans know Ben Nighthorse Campbell for his long-tenured political career. He served in the Colorado State Legislature (D) in 1982, the U.S. House of Representatives (D) in 1986, and in the U.S. Senate (D) in 1992. After changing his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 1995, he continued to serve until his retirement in 2005. Nighthorse Campbell is credited with playing a significant role in opening the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. 

Ben Nighthorse Campbell was born in 1933 to a Cheyenne father and a Portuguese mother. His early years were spent in Catholic orphanages and working the agricultural fields. It was there that he was introduced to judo by Japanese immigrants. In 1951, he joined the U.S. Air Force. He served in the Korean War and rose in rank to airman second class while completing his secondary education. His dedication to judo led to training at Meiji University. He joined the U.S. Judo team and competed in the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Later, he returned to California and continued to coach the team while teaching high school Physical Education and Art.

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Nighthorse Campbell married in 1968. He and his wife moved to a ranch in Ignacio, Colorado, a small town in La Plata County, where they raised their children and bred quarter horses.

A motorcycle enthusiast, Nighthorse Campbell is a regular at nationwide biking events. He also maintains a commercial trucking license and has been tasked with driving Capital Christmas Trees from Colorado to Washington D.C. over the years.

Practicing the art of jewelry-making since childhood, Nighthorse Campbell began to combine his Native American ancestry, and the Japanese influence he experienced to create multi-cultural pieces.  An authorization by the Northern Cheyenne tribe to use their “Morning Star” symbol provided him with his signature stamp. Since 1983, he has been honored with over 200 national and international jewelry design awards.

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Nighthorse jewelry pieces are available at Sorrel Sky Gallery locations in Durango, CO and Santa Fe, NM. His jewelry line combines silver, gold, and Native American symbols achieving a fine balance of impactful work celebrating his Cheyenne background. A true renaissance man of many interests and talents, Ben Nighthorse Campbell continues to create exquisite jewelry.

In 2019, PBS recognized Ben Nighthorse Campbell in its Colorado Experience series. He has also been featured in Cowboy & Indians and Native American Art magazines.

Categories: Art