Many talented teachers make a name for themselves in fields other than education. Such is the case for Walter Stanley Vestal Campbell, a high school English who is also well-known as a writer, biographer, poet, and historian. He is probably best known as an author of books about the Native Americans and the Old West.
Known by his middle name, Stanley was born on August 15, 1887, near the town of Severy in Greenwood County, Kansas. His parents were Walter Mallory Vestal and Isabella Wood Vestal. Shortly after the young Stanley’s birth his father passed away and his mother re-married. From his new stepfather, James Robert Campbell, Stanley adopted the surname Campbell.
In 1889, the Campbell family moved to Guthrie in the newly-established Oklahoma Territory. In 1903, the family moved to Weatherford, where Stanley’s stepfather had accepted a position as the first president of Southwestern Oklahoma State University, a newly established institution of higher learning.While growing up in Guthrie and Weatherford, young Stanley counted many Cheyenne as his playmates and companions. He learned much about their culture and Plains Indian cultures in general, knowledge that aided his field work among the Lakota and served as the basis for three historical studies he produced later in his life.
In 1908, Stanley graduated from Southwestern Oklahoma State, and later he became the school’s first Rhodes Scholar. The young man then attended Oxford University in England, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1911 and his master’s degree in 1915. His field of study was English language and literature.
When Stanley returned to the United States, he taught for three years at the prestigious Male High School in Louisville, Kentucky. Then he became a professor of English at the University of Oklahoma at Norma, where he became known for his excellent courses in creative writing. His students regularly sold their work to reputable magazines and journals.
Stanley’s tenure at the university was temporarily interrupted when he left the university to serve as a captain in an artillery regiment during World War I from 1917 to 1919, and again when he left to serve as a Guggenheim Fellow from 1930 to 1931, and yet again when he left to serve a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1946. Between 1927 and 1957, Stanley wrote more than twenty books, some novels and poems, and as many as one hundred articles about the Old West. In his writing, the former teacher worked diligently to change negative perceptions of the Plains Indians.
Stanley passed away in Oklahoma City from a heart attack on Christmas Day in 1957. He is interred as Walter S. Campbell at the Custer National Cemetery in Big Horn County, Montana.