"My lands are where my people lie buried," said Crazy Horse, pointing. Today, a 37-foot-long granite finger stretches from the end of a 263-foot-long arm. The memorial for Crazy Horse, one of the Lakota Sioux's finest leaders, continues to emerge from Thunderhead Mountain, between the town of Custer and Mount Rushmore.
Dubbed the biggest monument of them all, the completed sculpture will be taller than the Washington Monument. The entire Mount Rushmore carvings of the four presidents would fit inside the head alone.The tale began in 1939 when Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear approached a world renowned sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, about creating a tribute to Crazy Horse saying, "My fellow Chiefs and I would like the White Man to know that the Red Man has great heroes, too."
After mulling over the concept for seven years, during which he also served on active duty in World War II, Ziolkowski agreed to take on the challenge.
Nearly 40 years old and with only $174 to his name, he arrived in the Black Hills in 1947 to find no housing, water or electricity. He lived in a tent while building a home, studio and a road at the sculpture site. During the next 35 years, he married, raised 10 children and devoted his life to carving his mountain.
The design depicts Crazy Horse on horseback with his outstretched arm pointing over the animal's head. The brave warrior who led his people to victory against Gen. Custer at the Little Big Horn never surrendered or signed a treaty. Ziolkowski's intent was to show the Indian at his peak of civilization and for the completed carving to commemorate all Native Americans.
On the visitor veranda, a 1/34th scale model stands in alignment with the actual work taking place in the distance. Guests compare the detail on the mockup with what's happening on the mountain where work proceeds year-round, when possible.
The stone facial features have shaped up over the past few years. The nose is well-defined and now Crazy Horse can stare back from two open eyes. Lip service is next on the agenda. Weather permitting, they'll complete the face by the year 2000.
Progress on the horse's mane and the rider's chest seem less obvious, but, according to Ziolkowski's widow, Ruth, "It will all come together soon, causing people to ask, `When did you do that?' Of course, we're doing it all in plain sight. When we change the shape of the mountain against the skyline, people notice, but when we cut into the side, as with the mane, there's no way to see the third dimension clearly from the visitors center."
The annual Volksmarch provides the opportunity to see the other side of the mountain and to look at that magnificent Lakota face close up. On the first weekend in June, the Ziolkowskis invite the public to participate in a 10K walk. In 1995, they topped 10,000 participants for the 10th anniversary of this highly successful event.
Hikers follow marked trails around the far side of the rocky peak and up wooded inclines to emerge 6,700 feet high on the football-field sized arm for an upclose and personal rendezvous with Crazy Horse.
Korczak Ziolkowski earnestly requested that not a penny of federal funds be used for the project. Several government grants have been offered and rejected. Ruth Ziolkowski said, "If everything was as simple to decide as not taking state or federal money, life would be easy." That decision remains as firm as if etched in stone. All financing comes from the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation.
Ziolkowski's most valued assistant proved to be his wife. Aware that the task could not be completed in one man's lifetime, the couple compiled three large notebooks of drawings, measurements and instructions which "anyone" could use to finish the job. This preparation paid off when Ziolkowski died in 1982 at age 74. His last words to his wife were, "You must work on the mountain, but go slowly so you do it right."
Under his widow's supervision, the work continues. Seven of the 10 children and several adult grandchildren continue to pursue Ziolkowski's dream. Some carry on his work out on the mountain, while others serve in the complex at the museum, gift shop or restaurant.
Ruth Ziolkowski echoes her husband's thoughts when she advises the next generation: "Go slowly; stay on track with the small decisions - to avoid large mistakes - and approach the job with the dignity and ethics that Korczak instilled in his work."
Korzack Ziolkowski's vision encompassed much more than just the sculpture. He saw a cultural, educational and humanitarian tribute to all Native Americans. Scheduled for a 1996 Memorial Day opening, the new Native American Cultural and Educational Center will enhance interaction between visitors and Native Americans who come to paint, make music, demonstrate beadwork or pottery skills, and share stories of their lives, culture and history.
At the visitors center, the Indian Museum of North America displays incredibly detailed Sioux beadwork, colorful Seminole patchwork and finely woven Navajo textiles. The gift-shop handles only Indian-made items, books about American Indians and souvenirs related to the Crazy Horse project.
The complex incorporates the original Ziolkowski home and studio, which serves as a repository of Korczak Ziolkowski's other artworks, awards and media accolades, as well as a fine family antique collection. An extensive library highlights ancient and modern American Indian activities. Many displays and photographs follow the changes on the mountain from the first blasting in 1948 until the present.
Out on the patio tribal dancers perform.
The foundation meets the educational emphasis of Ziolkowski's dream by awarding scholarships to worthy students. To date, more than 1,000 residents of South Dakota's reservations have benefitted.
As Ziolkowski continuously chipped away at his mountain, he often repeated, "When the legends die, the dreams end; when the dreams end, there is no more greatness."
After the sculptor's death, in a tribute to Ziolkowski, Michigan Senator Carl Levin said, "With each blast, Crazy Horse Mountain, Korczak's mountain, looks more like it was envisioned to be."
The legend lives.
If you go
Location: Off South Dakota Highway 16/385, 17 miles from Mount Rushmore, near Custer. Nearest airport is in Rapid City. Nearest lodging is in Custer.
The memorial is open year-round. Summer: 6:30 a.m. until dark. Off-season: 8 a.m. until dark.
Admission is $7 per person or $18 per carload.
Special events: The Volksmarch is the first weekend in June; Memorial Day weekend will feature a three-day celebration honoring the opening of the Native American Education and Cultural Center; Music Benefit Oct. 20, ending with fireworks over the mountain.