The sculpture of Crazy Horse in South Dakota stands out along the horizon as you drive north from Custer. We visited the site earlier this month, near the date of its 75th anniversary, to view the progress on the immense sculpture.
Crazy Horse Memorial
The Crazy Horse Memorial includes a Welcome Center, a gift store and restaurant, the family home of the sculptor, rotating exhibits, indoor and outdoor sculptures, the Native American Educational and Cultural Center, and the Indian Museum of North America. I’ll feature photos of the Museum in a later post. The nonprofit also manages the Indian University of North America.
One of my favorite things was a 1/34 scale model of the Crazy Horse sculpture. The size of the finished sculpture carved into the mountainside will be 641 feet long and 563 feet tall.
If you stand in just the right spot, you can capture an image that includes the scale model and the current sculpture.
Funding for this site comes from entrance fees and donations. The nonprofit managing the site accepts no federal or state money.
I took lots of photos from far away and up close during our visit.
A different perspective
Why is there suddenly a strange picture of a helicopter shadow? Because I also saw it from above!
I took a 15-minute flight with Black Hills Aerial Adventures to view the sculpture and surrounding lands from above. Our pilot told us this was her 15th flight of the day.
You can see the people hard at work on the sculpture.
History of the Crazy Horse project
In 1939, the award-winning carving by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski at the World’s Fair caught the attention of Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear. He invited the sculptor to the Black Hills to carve Crazy Horse. Ziolkowski accepted the offer and he and his wife, Ruth, raised ten children in the sculpture’s shadow. When he passed away at 74, Ruth, their children and grandchildren, and devoted fans of the project, continued the work he started.
Ziolkowski, a self-taught sculptor, was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1908. He had a rough childhood, living in a series of foster homes. By the age of 18, his talent in carving became apparent. He worked on commissioned works after he moved to Connecticut. Ziolkowski later assisted in the carving of Mount Rushmore.
On June 3, 1948, work began on the Crazy Horse sculpture. The hand pointing ahead at the sculpture illustrates Crazy Horse’s response to a question about where his lands were. He responded by saying, “My lands are where my dead are buried.”
Standing Bear wanted the sculpture to be in the Black Hills because of the area’s spiritual meaning to the Lakota. The Lakota people call the area Pahá Sápa and consider it a holy site.
Oglala Lakota Leader Crazy Horse, cousin of Standing Bear, always put the needs of his people above his own. Crazy Horse was the son of a medicine man, raised by the women in his family. He never signed a treaty to cede their lands to non-Native settlers.
Known as a fierce warrior, he led his people into battle with General Custer’s troops at Little Big Horn in 1876. The general, 9 officers, and 280 enlisted men were killed. Thirty-two Natives died. Native people were seized after the battle. Many were forced to march long distances and died because of starvation and exposure.
Under a truce, Crazy Horse visited Fort Robinson to negotiate with the government. The talks broke down. Witnesses blamed it on the translator. Crazy Horse was taken to the jail and resisted. Though his friend, Little Big Man, tried to intervene, a soldier killed Crazy Horse with his bayonet.
Hope and reconciliation
When Chief Henry Standing Bear spoke with Korczak Ziolkowski about creating the sculpture, he wanted to honor his people. He hoped it “would serve to create cross-cultural understanding and to mend relations between Natives and non-Natives.” Today, a diverse group of people continue to construct and oversee this long-term project.
If you visit South Dakota, be sure to stop by the Crazy Horse Memorial. Great views from the memorial site—and spectacular ones from a helicopter!
The picture below shows the surrounding hills and mountains. The flat-topped mountain near the center of the picture below shows another local attraction from behind. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s known as “Mount Rushmore.”