Witnessing the Building of the Crazy Horse Memorial

“Emerging from granite and iron is the likeness of a legendary leader. More than carved rock, the Crazy Horse dream points toward commitment, a fervent legacy and a proud future.” – Travel South Dakota website

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The first glimpses of the Memorial

The Crazy Horse Memorial was started in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1948 by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. A self-taught sculptor, Ziolkowski arrived in South Dakota in 1939 to assist with carving Mount Rushmore. As media reports of his work on Rushmore spread, he caught the attention of Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear who soon contacted Ziolkowski about creating a memorial to the Native Americans. The two met, and the rest is history (aka too much too get into in this blog post, but can be read about on the Crazy Horse Memorial website).

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When you first arrive at the Memorial, you enter the complex through the on-site museum, the Indian Museum of North America.

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Sculpture of the carving’s final design, 1/300th scale model

It is worth spending some time walking through the museum. You can learn about Crazy Horse and his people- their history, their culture. Seeing the memorial afterwards will be so much more meaningful if you understand the reasons behind the carving and know why Crazy Horse was memorialized.

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The museum flows in an easy to follow path that leads straight to the viewing platform. Without paying an additional fee to book a guided shuttle tour to the base of the mountain, this is as close as you can get.

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This photograph/sketch showed the progress of the mountain- how far they have come, and how far there still is to go.

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Back inside the building, there is a little gift shop. One of the really cool things you could purchase was a piece of the Crazy Horse Memorial. Pieces of rock that have been blasted off the mountain were available for a donation of a couple bucks (proceeds benefiting continued work on the memorial, of course). Such a fun souvenir! It’s like owning a piece of history.

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For information on hours of operation, admission fees, and to book a guided tour, click here.

Not every generation gets to witness the construction of something of this magnitude, so you should take advantage of the opportunity if you get a chance. It costs almost nothing, and the knowledge you gain about Native American and United States history are absolutely worth the drive it takes to get out there.

And then just because I thought it was interesting, and because I had been curious about why Crazy Horse was chosen as the subject of the memorial, I will end this post with a letter sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski wrote near the time he started the project:

A Letter written by Korczak Ziolkowski in 1949, “Why Crazy Horse was chosen by the Native Americans”:

“Crazy Horse was born on Rapid Creek in 1843. He was killed when he was only 34 years of age, around midnightthe morning of September 6, 1877.  He was stabbed in the back by an American Indian soldier at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, while he was under a flag of truce.  During his life he was a great leader to his people. He did not have an equal as a warrior or chief.  He gave submissive allegiance to no man, White or Indian, and claimed his inalienable rights as an Indian to wonder at will over the hunting grounds of his people. He never registered at any agency; never touched the pen; never signed a treaty.  He wanted only peace and a way of living for his people without having to live in the whiteman’s reservations.

Crazy Horse defended his people and their way of life in the only manner he knew, but only after he saw the treaty of 1868 broken.  This treaty, signed by the President of the United States said “As long as the rivers run and the grasses grow and trees bear leaves, Paha Sapa, the Black Hills, will forever and ever be the sacred land of the Indians.” He took to the warpath only after he saw his friend Conquering Bear killed; only after he saw the failure of the government agents to bring required treaty guarantees such as meat, clothing, tents and necessities for existence. In battle the Sioux leader would rally his warriors with the cry, “It is a good day to fight-it is a good day to die.”

In 1877 Crazy Horse’s wife, staying at Fort Robinson, was dying of tuberculosis. His only child, a daughter, had recently died of this same disease. Under a guarantee of safe conduct both into and out of the Fort, Crazy Horse agreed to confer with the Commanding Officers. History has proven since that the intention never was to let Crazy Horse go free, but rather to ship him to the Dry Tortugas in Florida. The chief had no notion of what was in store for him until he entered the building and saw the bars on the windows. Right then he was face to face with the fate the whiteman had intended for him. He drew a knife (the fact that he had not been disarmed is good proof that he never surrendered) and attempted to get his Indian friends outside of the stockade. Little Big Man, friend and warrior companion of Crazy Horse, hoping to avoid trouble, seized Crazy Horse’s arms. In struggling to free himself, Crazy Horse slashed Little Big Man’s wrist. At this point an infantry man of the guard made a successful lunge with a bayonet and Crazy Horse fell, mortally wounded.

In the minds of the Indians today, the life and death of Crazy Horse parallels the tragic history of the redman since the whiteman invaded their homes and lands. One of the many great and patriotic Indian heroes, Crazy Horse’s tenacity of purpose, his modest life, his unfailing courage, his tragic death sets him apart and above all others.”

– Korczak Ziolkowski, Sc. May, 1949

Author: Natalie Bates

LA-based freelance writer | Blogger | Craft beer drinker | Rock 'n roll girlfriend | Adventurer | Lover of tattoos, red lipstick, and popcorn | World traveler | Compassionate human | Photography enthusiast | Eco warrior | Celtic babe ❤️

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