My lands are where my dead lie buried.Crazy Horse, 1877
Between Hill City and Custer, South Dakota, travelers can see an unfinished yet amazing carving of Lakota leader, Crazy Horse, even from the highway. But as you approach the complex known as the Crazy Horse Memorial, the completed 87-foot-tall head of Crazy Horse looms large in the distance.
Following up on his dream to create a memorial to show that “the red man has great heroes, also,” Chief Henry Standing Bear contacted sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to design and carve a likeness of Crazy Horse in the southern Black Hills. The statue reveals Crazy Horse, the leader credited with fighting government encroachment upon native lands, riding on horseback, pointing into the distance.
Today, you can visit the site and hear tour guides explain the process involved in creating something of this magnitude on private land — all funded with admission fees and private donations. Blasting began on the mountain project June 3, 1948, and when finished, the carving will stand 563 feet high and 641 feet long.
If you visit today, you can view at a distance the work in progress on the sculpture from the area that surrounds the gift shop and the Indian Museum of North America. Or you can take a bus ride (with an on-board narrator) to the base of the mountain for a better look at what has been done to date. (Although we heard that helicopter rides were available to take us much closer, we did not pursue this option since we had to reserve a spot in advance.)
Various outbuildings of the Visitor Complex contain workshops such as the Mountain Carving Room, the original home of the Ziolkowski family, and the Orientation Center with theaters, museum, and information. But we were most impressed with the collection of authentic Native American artifacts on display, many with descriptors of their use and construction, in the Indian Museum of North America.
Although the full Crazy Horse sculpture will probably not be completed in our lifetime, the site is definitely worth a trip. You observe work in progress by a small crew who drill, feather, and wedge in very limited work space. But maybe more importantly, you come away with a respect for the culture and work of the Lakota and an admiration for sculptor Ziolkowski’s dream.
Be sure to check the website for information on hours, events, and availability of tours since changes are frequent due to the shut-down of the coronavirus pandemic. Because there’s much to do in addition to seeing the mountain carving, you can spend a half day, whole day or even just a couple of hours at the Crazy Horse Memorial. It’s a “worth it” South Dakota stop.
Never forget your dreams.Korczak Ziolkowski
Rusha & Bert