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Thomas D. Campbell was born in a sod house in the Red River Valley of North Dakota, on February 19, 1882. His parents, Thomas D. and Almira Catherine (Richards) Campbell, were among the first homesteaders in the Red River Valley. Over the years, the senior Campbell expanded his farming operations by buying the abandoned farms of neighbors.
The younger Campbell attended a rural school through seventh grade and then went to high school in Grand Forks. He was president of his senior class and graduated valedictorian. Due to his father's ill health, Tom took over management of the family farm as well as attending the University of North Dakota. On October 3, 1906, Tom married Bess McBride Bull. The couple had one son who died in early childhood, and three daughters Elizabeth-Ann "Libby", Jean, and Catherine. After the death of his father, Tom moved his family to California, where he worked as an engineer and invested in real estate.
At the start of World War I, Campbell planned to enlist, but instead decided to produce food on a large scale for the war effort, using Indian reservation land in Montana. He presented his idea to Secretary of Interior Franklin K. Lane, who put him in touch with financier J.P. Morgan. Campbell then founded the Montana Farming Corporation and negotiated an agreement with the Department of the Interior to lease land on the Crow and Fort Peck reservations. He began his operations on the Fort Peck Reservation, but after a year moved his primary operation to the Crow Reservation. He leased approximately 95,000 acres of land from Indian allotment owners, and eventually purchased additional land. On this land he grew wheat and other grains on an industrial basis, pioneering the extensive use of mechanization. With the drought and depression years of the early 1920s, Campbell's New York financial backers withdrew and he formed the Campbell Farming Corporation to purchase the assets of the Montana Farming Corporation. He reduced the acreage of leased land, but nevertheless continued to lease approximately 35,000 acres and bought 15,000 acres from individual Indian families and from neighboring ranchers. After Campbell retired to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the late 1950s, Floyd Slattery took over active management of the Montana farm. Campbell hoped to one day sell his farm to the Crow Tribe.
In the late 1930s Campbell, with partner John J. Raskob, bought the La Joya, San Pedro, and Belen land grants in New Mexico, totaling over 300,000 acres. Campbell and Raskob operated the grants as a cattle ranch and also experimented with dry-land wheat farming. In 1941 Campbell bought out his partner, and in 1946 transferred the property to the Campbell Farming Corporation. Beginning in 1952 the Campbell Farming Corporation began the gradual liquidation of its New Mexico properties, finally selling in 1970.
As an expert in dryland farming and industrial farming techniques, Campbell served as an advisor to the Soviet Russian government in the early 1930s in setting up State farms. He was also an agricultural advisor in England, Tunisia, South Africa, and Australia. During World War II, he enlisted in the Army and served as an advisor on mechanization of military transportation. Following the war he was promoted to General.
Campbell, in his later years, became involved in charitable work, transferring most of his assets to the non-profit Campbell Family Foundation. This Foundation became a major benefactor of the University of North Dakota and other educational institutions.
Thomas D. Campbell died March 18, 1966, in Pasadena, California.
[Based on "Tom Campbell: Montana Wheat Farmer" by Jane Slattery, and biographical outline by Bruce Gjovig.]
June 14th, 2013
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