Category Archives: Campbell

Calling all servants…




If you’ve visited the Campbell House before, or have watched any of Downton Abbey, you know that one of the most important features of a large house with servants are the call bells.

At Campbell House, the original bells still line the top of the kitchen wall, waiting to ring. Eleven of the house’s rooms had a pull on the wall, and each bell made a different noise, allowing servants to go directly to the room required. If you’ve taken a tour, you know all of this. But what you don’t know is what is in the basement.

For the Campbell bell system to work, it needed a long series of cords and pulleys. For instance, a bell pull in parlor would require around 80 to 90 feet of cord to reach the kitchen! And this cord would have to be protected in some way to prevent it from snagging on loose nails or becoming tangled with other cords and wires.

The covered passage on the basement ceiling

The covered box on the basement ceiling, showing part of the cover cut away.

At the Campbell House, the cords were installed on the ceiling of the basement inside a covered box. This covered box still sits on the ceiling of the basement.

Using the covered box created a problem, however. To travel from the wall to the box cords now had to pivot 90 degrees three times: from the parlor wall to the basement ceiling, from that spot to the covered box, and from the covered box up to kitchen wall. To facilitate this process, the workmen installed metal pivots. Two of these pivots are still nailed to the basement ceiling near the front of the house. One of them has two separate pivots, perhaps with one for the front door and the other for the front of the parlor. The Campbells undoubtedly made use of several more of these pivots.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This system was probably used thousands of times, whether to call for tea in the parlor, to give instructions for dinner, or to inform of the arrival of a guest. Although the cords themselves are long since gone, the remnants of the system are still there, waiting to call the servants into action once more.

Tagged , , , , , ,

New Campbell Booklet Available!

Campbell FamilyFINAL REVISED-1A new booklet about the Campbell family is now available in the Campbell House gift shop on in our online shop! Written by Maureen O’Conner Kavanaugh, The Campbell Family of St. Louis: Their Public Triumphs and Personal Tragedies tells the story of the Campbell family in a visually exciting way.

The booklet is organized topically, detailing Robert’s rise to prominence, Virginia and Robert’s courtship (see below) and the growth of their family, and the family’s trip to Europe. Also included is a list of the family’s famous friends and guests, a discussion of the servants (both free and enslaved) who were integral to maintaining the Campbell’s lavish lifestyle, and a timeline of the house and family. Every page is lavishly illustrated by photographs and contemporary imagery.

The new booklet is the perfect counterpart to our previously published The Campbell House Museum: A Pictorial Souvenir, which tells the story of the house itself. Be sure to get your copy of The Campbell Family of St. Louis, either in our online store or in person at our gift shop, which is now stocked with new items for the new year!


Tagged , , ,

“The Revenant” and Robert Campbell

If you like the movies no doubt you have heard of the new Hollywood film The Revenant, starring Leonardo diCaprio and Tom Hardy. The film just won the 2016 Golden Globe Award for best drama and DiCaprio received the best actor award.  It has also just yesterday received 12 Oscar nominations.

The film is an account of the travails of Hugh Glass, a mountain man who in 1823 was badly mauled by a bear and left for dead by his companions. Glass survived and made a grueling 250-mile trek to safety. Glass’ exploits became cemented in legend, inspiring three movies, two books (including Michael Punke’s 2002 novel The Revenant, which inspired the film), and numerous songs. While The Revenant is fictionalized, many of the events and characters are real, and showcase the life of mountain men. The Museum of the Mountain Man has an excellent account on the real Hugh Glass; we here present to you how Robert Campbell fits in with The Revenant.

Hugh Glass did not have a dog with him, and came out much the worse-for-wear after his fight.

Hugh Glass did not have a dog with him, and came out much the worse-for-wear after his fight.

Campbell was only then arriving in the West when Glass was busy being mauled by a bear. Campbell was in the employ of John O’Fallon, a St. Louis-based businessman charged with supplying an army fort at Council Bluffs, Iowa. His first posting was across the Missouri from Council Bluffs, at Bellevue, Nebraska. During the cold winter that followed, Campbell’s struggles paled in comparison to Glass’, yet neither had an easy time. Glass was attempting to survive while badly wounded and alone in the wilderness; Campbell began having lung issues which would plague him for most of his life. Things were so bad for Campbell that, upon his return to St. Louis in spring 1824, he was advised by a doctor to go into the Rockies. The doctor added, “I have before sent two or three young men there in your condition, and they came back restored to health and healthy as bucks.” It is likely that Hugh Glass would disagree with the sentiment that the Rockies could make you healthy and long-lived.

Although there is no evidence that Glass and Campbell ever met, Glass’ epic story would have been told and retold around many a fireside among the fur traders. Campbell also personally knew many of those involved. William Sublette, who became Campbell’s best friend and business partner, was among those hired alongside Glass in 1823. Another famous mountain man, Jedediah Smith, commanded Glass and 39 other men during the battle with the Arikara Indians that opens the film. It was Smith who hired Robert for the fur trade in 1825.

Jim Bridger was perhaps the most accomplished of all the Mountain Men, and is believed to have attended every Rendezvous.

Jim Bridger was perhaps the most accomplished of all the Mountain Men, and is believed to have attended every Rendezvous.

Like Glass, Jedediah Smith was once mauled by a bear. Unlike Glass, Smith was carried out of the wilderness by his party.

Like Glass, Jedediah Smith was once mauled by a bear. Unlike Glass, Smith was carried out of the wilderness by his party.












Jim Bridger is the figure who is most central to both Glass and Campbell’s experiences. At 18 years of age, Bridger was in the party when Glass was attacked by the bear. According to some later accounts, Bridger may have been one of the two volunteers who stayed with Glass, but thinking him dead, hastened to catch up with the party. It was a good thing for Campbell that Glass forgave Bridger rather than taking his revenge, as Bridger and Campbell would work closely together for the next decade and maintain a relationships for the rest of their lives.

Campbell and Sublette built Fort William in 1834. The army took it over later and renamed it Fort Laramie, using the site to sign an historic--and controversial--treaty with several native tribes.

Campbell and Sublette built Fort William in 1834. The army took it over later and renamed it Fort Laramie, using the site to sign an historic–and controversial–treaty with several native tribes.

Both men were lieutenants in the Smith, Jackson, & Sublette Company beginning in 1826, leading bands of trappers into the mountains for the winter before heading to the rendezvous. While Campbell had a good head for numbers and management, Bridger was unsurpassed in his knowledge of mountain life, making their partnership a useful one. Their relationship continued even in later life, with both men attending the 1850 meeting that resulted in the Treaty of Fort Laramie.

Glass and Campbell followed very different trajectories in their time in the West. Although Glass clearly had the stamina and skill to survive in the mountains, he never rose very high within the fur company’s hierarchy. Glass seems to have broken from the companies and worked as a free trader. He played a minor role in bringing the American Fur Company, a rival company to Campbell and Sublette, to the 1830 Rendezvous. Glass later began working out of Fort Union and later Fort Cass, both outposts of the American Fur Company.

Robert Campbell's buckskin jacket.

Robert Campbell’s buckskin jacket on display at the Campbell House through April 1.

In contrast, Campbell was made a lieutenant in just his second year in the west. In 1830, Sublette first asked Campbell to join as a partner, but he did not accept until 1831. Campbell achieved his own fame for his role in the 1832 Battle of Pierre’s Hole, which led to a role in Washington Irving’s book The Adventures of Captain Bonneville. Two years later, Campbell and Sublette embarked on a risky strategy by challenging the American Fur Company directly by building Fort William just a few miles from Fort Union, Glass’ old trading point.

The future was bright for Campbell, but not for Hugh Glass. Glass was killed in an encounter with some Arikara Indians in 1833, a somewhat ignominious end (if predictable) for a man who so often defied death. Still, his legend lives on, and if you find yourself in a movie theater, be sure to check out the epic of Hugh Glass, then head online to the Museum of the Mountain Man or downtown St. Louis to the Campbell House for the real deal!

In honor of this movie event come to Campbell House before April 1 to see Robert Cambpell’s magnificent buckskin jacket on display in his bedroom.  Contact us for an appointment.

Interested in learning more?  Hear fur trade historian Dr. Jay Buckley discuss the fur trade, Hugh Glass and the role of Campbell House in this fascinating story on NPR’s St. Louis on the Air with Don Marsh. 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,535 other followers