“The Indian is a subject foreign to most of the American people for they are so engrossed in material things that they do not give much thought to other things. Even religion, the most important thing, is put in the background. I was born a little savage, but I always resented that term being applied to my people because I know they are peace-loving, hospitable, generous, and deeply religious,” Rev. Sherman Coolidge addressed the audience gathered in the El Paso County Courthouse on a summer day in 1927. He spoke that day about American Indians and Christianity, a popular subject for him as one of the most visible Native religious leaders in the United States at that time. Though he had moved to Colorado Springs with his family four years prior, he had spent the majority of his life advocating for American Indians on a national scale, as well as in service to the people of the Wind River Reservation, where he was born.
Born Des-che-wah (trans. “Runs on Top”) around 1860, he had been captured by Bannock warriors and later surrendered to American soldiers. His mother, who had escaped capture, chose to leave him with the soldiers, fearing he would otherwise be killed in skirmishes between the Arapaho and Bannock like his father years prior. He was adopted by Capt. Charles A. Coolidge and his wife, Sophie, and was placed into military school before deciding upon a path in the ministry. He finished his theological education in 1884, after which he was ordained as a deacon of the Episcopal Church. He was among the first wave of Native Episcopalian leaders who conducted missionary work within their own tribes, including the likes of Rev. Philip J. Deloria and David Pendleton Oakerhater.
Rev. Coolidge remained active in promoting American Indian causes and culture throughout his life, even while ministering to a largely white congregation in Colorado Springs. He co-founded the Society of American Indians in 1911, the first national organization for the advancement of Native people created by and for American Indians, as well as the American Indian Film Company in the 1920’s, created to promote visibility of American Indians in film and the hiring of American Indian actors in Hollywood productions.
Though Rev. Sherman Coolidge passed away in 1932 while visiting his eldest daughter in Los Angeles, his descendants still reside in Colorado Springs today.
Generously Submitted by Christian Valvano