“By carving Crazy Horse, if I can give back to the Indian some of his pride and create a means to keep alive his culture and heritage, my life will have been worthwile.” – Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski
Soaring proudly above the Black Hills of South Dakota lies perhaps one of the most impressive monuments-in-progress of all time: The Crazy Horse Memorial. Once completed, the Crazy Horse Memorial will be the largest mountain carving in the world and one of the only monuments to honor America’s Native American past, the Lakota leader Crazy Horse.
I had honestly never heard of the Crazy Horse Memorial until venturing out to the Black Hills of South Dakota this past June. With a guidebook in hand and plenty of recommendations from friends, we decided to make it quick stop at Crazy Horse after our drive through the Needles Highway. Little did I realize, the Crazy Horse Memorial would blow me away, even more so than the better known Mount Rushmore.
The Black Hills of South Dakota are sacred to the Lakota people who rightfully and lawfully owned the land until it was taken away six months after gold was discovered near French Creek. The discovery of gold brought thousands of opportunistic miners from all over the country to the plains of South Dakota resulting in the Indian Wars of death and destruction to the Lakota people. Their way of life died along with the many innocent people who lost their lives in battle. Crazy Horse was one of the most heroic leaders and warriors who fought until his death in 1877 for protecting their land. Crazy Horse became a symbol of all that they had lost.
“One does not sell the earth upon which the people walk.” – Crazy Horse
For the Lakota people, it seemed rather ironic that the iconic Mount Rushmore monument was being built within their sacred land, honoring American presidents and ideals of expansionism, democracy and freedom, that destroyed their way of life. In 1948, seven years after Mount Rushmore was completed Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, commissioned Korczak Ziolkowski, an American sculptor who had worked under the wings of Mount Rushmore’s Gutzon Borglum, to construct a mountain monument depicting the Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse riding a horse and pointing off into the distance looking over the land. Like many Native Americas, Henry Standing Bear wanted to honor his cultural past and there was no better symbol than Crazy Horse who was slaughtered on this very land trying to fight for his people against the white settlers.
What amazed me the most was the story of how one man, sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski together with his wife and 10 children, dedicated his life to the construction of the Crazy Horse Memorial. It was about time that the Lakota people received something brilliant and spectacular looking over their sacred land.
Korczak and his wife Ruth lived on the land along with their 10 children (five girls and five boys), and dedicated the rest of his life to fulfilling his dream. Today, sixty-seven years later five out of ten of his children work on the mountain and the entire project is funded by donations. It is an amazing feat.
“When the legends die, the dreams end. When the dreams end, there is no more greatness.” – Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski
The Crazy Horse Memorial is operated by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a private non-profit organization. The mission of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation is “to protect and preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of the North American Indians”. The Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation has an amazing, highly-educative website on the history, progress and events at the memorial. It is definitely worth taking a peak at it especially to get live updates on where they are at with the monument.
The Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation provides a variety of cultural and learning opportunities for both the visitors and the community alike. Here are some of the highlights:
- In charge of the day to day operations of building the memorial. Currently there are 11 people working full-time on its construction. It is an amazing endeavor!
- The Crazy Horse Memorial hosts three different centers: The Indian Museum of North America, the Welcome Center, and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center.
- An Education Program for Native Americans: Onsite and Outreach Education and The Indian University of North America, one of the first in the nation.
- An ongoing commitment to honoring and preserving Native American traditions and culture.
- Funding: The Memorial does not accept federal or state funding. The project is financed by admissions and contributions.
The sculpture’s final dimensions are planned to be 641 feet (195 m) wide and 563 feet (172 m) high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet (27 m) high. If completed as planned, Crazy Horse will tower over Mount Rushmore (the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet (18 m) high).
I left the Crazy Horse Memorial feeling deeply moved. How one man and his family would dedicate their lives to try to right a major wrong and instill pride and respect for what was almost completely destroyed, is an inspiration to us all. May there be more places like it.
“No one is ever wrong who desires to do that which is not required of them to do — and that which is of a noble purpose. The purpose of Crazy Horse is noble.” – Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski