Crazy Horse sculpture: LAPC

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 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.

Close view of scale model

If you stand in just the right spot, you can capture an image that includes the scale model and the current sculpture.

Crazy Horse

Funding for this site comes from entrance fees and donations. The nonprofit managing the site accepts no federal or state money.

Scale model of sculpture

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!

Helicopter ride

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.

Crazy Horse from above

You can see the people hard at work on the sculpture.

Workers near sculpture

History of the Crazy Horse project

The sculptor

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.

Crazy Horse

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.

The Leader

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.

View from above

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!

Helicopters on the ground

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.”

Black Hills

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Spiritual Sites

27 thoughts on “Crazy Horse sculpture: LAPC

  1. Loved this post Siobhan. Learned several new things including the length of time the sculpture has been in process. I always wonder why the tragedy of the ways we mistreated the Native Americans never gets the attention it deserves. I don’t have children but find myself wondering how the schools are teaching the history of the subject.Thanks for sharing this one with us.

    • Thanks, Tina! Yes, much of our complicated history does not appear in the textbooks, unfortunately. This site educates visitors while showing a beautiful piece of art. I’m glad we stopped there!

  2. Thank you for sharing so many photos from so many perspectives, and for this extremely informative post! I learned much more about this sculpture than I have ever known before.

  3. Loved the photos and those aerial views. Thank you for sharing. A trip down memory lane for my sons and I who visited the site in December 2000 and have followed the progress made over the years. We spent a full day, being so impressed by everything as we talked to the good people working there, listened to stories of told history and made some purchases to support this noble cause.
    We were and still are in awe of this monumental project that not only honors a brave slain warrior, but also his people.
    Sadly, the current South Dakota government is working hard to erase history and all memory of our native brothers and sisters and their suffering by the white men.
    You know, Crazy Horse impressed us much more that Mt.Rushmore ever could, which we found not a nice sight to behold. Yes, the carvings of the four presidents heads are impressive, but. At the bottom lay mounds of rubble of large and small rocks. Did then and still does we are told. A shame and disservice…

    • Glad you liked my post. I also was more impressed by this sculpture than the one of past presidents. They had just completed the thumb on the outstretched hand. Sorry that people, young and old, don’t know about the sad history of Native Americans here and elsewhere.

  4. What an excellent choice for this theme Siobhan! We found Crazy Horse to be both more interesting and more moving than Mount Rushmore, although I’m conscious the latter has more meaning for US citizens than for foreign tourists. I have a photo from our visit in 2006 almost the same as yours, with the model and the actual sculpture, so I pulled it up to compare and see what work had been done since then. At first I thought none! But then I realised in your shot I could see that the arm and hand are starting to take shape, whereas in mine that is a flat platform extending in front of the face.

    • Yes, we liked it better as well. Of course we visited Mount Rushmore before the visitor center was open, but I liked the artistry and history of the Crazy Horse site. They had just finished the thumb on the outstretched hand. Slow progress, but still progress!

  5. Seeing the current progress, I don’t think we’ll be able to observe the finished product in our lifetime. But if it looks anything close to the miniature version, that sculpture will be awesome.

  6. This was interesting, Siobhan. We plan to swing by there on a return trip in September. We have been to Mt. Rushmore. It was on the 4th of July. Our daughters were young, so it was fantastic. Crazy Horse will be a favorite for us. Hopefully I can convince my husband to take the helicopter ride. Great idea for the challenge.

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