Crazy Horse Memorial, near Custer, South Dakota, is a huge work-in-progress mountain sculpture of Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse… riding a horse. A similar creative endeavor to the four presidents’ faces on Mount Rushmore (only 17 miles away), the sculpture is being carved into and blasted out of Thunderhead Mountain in the Black Hills.
Unlike Mount Rushmore, this sculpture isn’t finished yet – and might not be finished for another 50 years or longer. The other difference: this work of art, memorial and tourist attraction is not financed by any government but is a private family endeavor!
Originally commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, Polish-American artist Korczak Ziolkowski began work on the mountain sculpture in 1948. He has since passed away – but his family continues the work of getting the monument finished. They also manage the memorial, which includes the Indian Museum of North America, the Native American Cultural Center, a restaurant, and several other smaller sculptures, like the Nature Gates, the Fighting Stallions and a tribute to 9/11 victims and first responders.
Personally, I was a lot more excited to see the Crazy Horse monument than those Mount Rushmore heads. As many Germans are, I’m very fascinated with Native American culture and its heroes and was very moved by Henry Standing Bear’s statement “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too.”
Yet, when we arrived at Crazy Horse Memorial after just having explored Mount Rushmore, I was quite disappointed how far away the area where you’re allowed to be (museums, shops, theater) is from the actual monument. For a lot of money, you could take a bus up onto Crazy Horse’s arm and stare him right into his huge face. It didn’t fit into the Moving Postcard budget. By the time we realized that for only a few dollars you could take another bus to the bottom of the mountain, we had already spend more time than planned there and were eager to explore some nature before having to head back to Colorado that day. I do regret not seeing the monument a little bit closer-up – but I have no regrets about what we got to see instead that afternoon and evening… which I will share another week…
What was really cool is to see such a large-scale work in progress and to know that it’s been worked on for over 50 years and probably won’t be finished for as many decades. This visit, the whole trip and including the day at Bear Lodge (aka Devils Tower) have made me contemplate the situation of the Native Americans (past and present) even more than before and will be something I’ll continue to explore.
I think it’s great that this monument is being built to give us pause and contemplate issues of Native Americans and their status within history and today and to remind us of their heroes. Unfortunately, it also turns out that this memorial is rather controversial for various reasons, including outrage over the sculpture being carved into a sacred mountain.
When the Crazy Horse monument is finished, it will be the largest sculpture in the world (unless someone else builds something taller). Already, the head of Crazy Horse is bigger than the four presidents.
If you’d like to see more from the Black Hills trip, please check out these previous videos: