Sherman Sage was born about 1844 near the Platte Rivers in Nebraska to the Long Leg band of the Northern Arapaho. At his birth, his Uncle named him Sage in honor of the time he had killed a man in a large sagebrush.
Sage witnessed many key events of the Plains history. He attended the first and second Laramie treaty talks, experienced the birth of the gold rush in Denver, served as a scout for General Crook and met Wovoka, prophet of the Ghost Dance movement on behalf of his tribe.
He was an advocate for education and expressed regret that the lawlessness of Denver caused him to be pulled out of the non-Indian schools when he was young. He also believed in preserving the Arapaho culture in the written word and, in this role, helped Alfred Kroeber and James Mooney record our customs and stories.
On July 16, 1914, Sherman Sage was one of two Arapaho elders invited on a two-week pack trip above Estes Park. It was a naming expedition funded by the Colorado Mountain Club to help persuade Congress to establish the area as a national park by assigning Indian names to important land features. This area now is the Rocky Mountain National Park and many of the Arapaho names from this trip are used to this day.
In his late 90’s, Sherman Sage continued his role as tribal historian by being one of the main informants for Mary Inez Hilger. Her book, “Arapaho Child Life and Its Cultural Background”, has successfully preserved much of our tribe’s past and our ancestors’ voice. Sage did not shun from sharing how hard daily life was.
“People rose early in those old days. They couldn’t afford to sleep late. They had to be on the alert all the time. They had to look out for the enemy; bring in their horses, carry in water. Everyone would have had breakfast and then only the sun would be coming up.”
Even though he is still known as Old Man Sage, he had several Indian names. After his nephew took his name, Sage, during a lodge dance, he assumed the name of his Grandfather, Good-To-Look-At. After another young man acquired this name, Sage then took the name Old-Owl after his mother’s father. It was common practice to take the name of someone you respect and for that person to assume another name.
Sherman Sage was well respected by the Northern Arapaho and his memory lives on in the books he helped to bring about on our culture and customs. He attributed it to his mother’s advice.
“Now look at your father here. He is brave, truthful, kind to everybody. Do as your father is doing.”
Advice we could all use.
For the complete story of Sherman Sage – 100 Years of Sherman Sage by Jefferson Anderson