A Native American hero is honored with a monument around 17 miles from Mount Rushmore. Crazy Horse was an Oglala Lakota leader who fought in many of the American Indian Wars’ most famous conflicts, notably the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where he killed General Custer. He struggled to save Oglala land, but in the end, he arranged a government concession. Crazy Horse was born on December 4, 1849, and little is known about his personal life. Nonetheless, he is a well-known Native American historical figure who is commemorated today by a massive memorial. That is, once it’s completed.
Construction on the site in the Black Hills of South Dakota began in 1948. Crazy Horse is supposed to be riding a horse with his arm outstretched in the final product, but for now, his 87-foot face is carved with little contour to the rest of his body and his horse. When completed, it will be even larger than Mount Rushmore’s presidents. The memorial is still open to the public, and visitors can learn about Crazy Horse’s history.
This piece was created by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. His family continues to run the memorial and foundation after his death in 1982. They stick to Ziolkowski’s wish to continue without government support. “He thought that in this world, you can do anything.” Nothing is impossible if you work hard enough and pay the price,” Ziolkowski’s wife, Ruth, said before her death from cancer in 2014. The family does not abandon the memorial and continues to implement Ziolkowski’s idea. They did, however, make a few adjustments to accommodate the difficult rock.
“He always said you had to work with Mother Nature because she’ll beat you every time. So that’s why we’re working with the engineers, and we will be putting bolts in for support, but the bulk of the mountain needs to stand on its own,” explains Monique Ziolkowski, the sculptor’s daughter.
Henry Standing Bear, the current Lakota leader, commissioned the statue from Ziolkowski in 1939. Mount Rushmore was nearly completed at the time, and Standing Bear wanted a Native American leader to be honored in the same method. Because of his well-known work on the Mount Rushmore monument, he chose Ziolkowski. “My brother chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes as well,” Standing Bear said Ziolkowski. Crazy Horse’s descendants, on the other hand, were not sought for approval, despite the fact that Lakota culture requires consensus on such matters.
“They don’t respect our culture because we didn’t give permission for someone to carve the sacred Black Hills where our burial grounds are,” said Elaine Quiver, a descendant of Crazy Horse. “They were there for us to enjoy and they were there for us to pray. But it wasn’t meant to be carved into images, which is very wrong for all of us. The more I think about it, the more it’s a desecration of our Indian culture. Not just Crazy Horse, but all of us.”
Others claim that the humble Crazy Horse would not want to be commemorated by a massive statue. Despite the carving, advocates of the project commend the memorial for its educational heritage museums, medical training center, on-site Native American university, and sponsorship program for Native American high school students. Many people also praise the monument for providing a great history lesson and for bringing a Native American hero into the public eye.
The memorial is still unfinished, and it’s unclear when it will be finished. Ruth Ziolkowski, on the other hand, had responded to those who mocked the glacial development by invoking her late husband. “‘Go slowly so you do it right,’ he said. And, while I, for one, would prefer it to move faster, there are so many things to do in order to do it well that it takes time.”
According to the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation’s website, there is a lot of hope for future progress, even though it will be delayed. The foundation’s current aim is to “guard and conserve the culture, tradition, and living heritage of North American Indians,” and the sculpture is just one of their many projects, which include include museums, medical training institutes, and a university.