Mount Rushmore stands as a symbol of America. It shows four U.S. presidents carved into a mountain in South Dakota. Yet the United States has had many Native American leaders. As Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote:
“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man had great heroes too.”
Chief Standing Bear was a chief of the Lakota people in South Dakota. In 1939, he sent his letter to a sculptor named Korczak Ziolkowski. Standing Bear wanted to honor Lakota leader Crazy Horse. Ziolkowski agreed. He started work on a memorial on June 3, 1948. Workers began blasting on Thunderhead Mountain — near Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The heads on Mount Rushmore are about 60 feet (18 m) tall. Ziolkowski designed the Crazy Horse to be much bigger! The monument will be 641 feet (195 m) long. It will stand 563 feet (171 m) tall. That’s four times taller than the Statue of Liberty!
The memorial will show Crazy Horse on a horse. He points his 263-foot (80-m) arm toward Native American land. His finger is nearly 30 feet (9 m) long! People celebrated the 75th anniversary June 2–4, 2023. There was music, artists, and speeches. However, the project is still not finished — more than 75 years after it began.
Ziolkowski died in 1982. His wife, Ruth Ziolkowski, took over the project until 2014. Now their children — and grandchildren — continue the work. Workers shape the mountain. But progress is slow. Only the face is finished. Still, the memorial teaches about Native Americans.
During the 1800s, the U.S. government tried to change the Native Americans’ way of life. That meant moving the Lakota people off their land. Crazy Horse fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876 to protect the tribes. He led the Lakota and Cheyenne people against the U.S. forces. U.S. Army leader George Armstrong Custer died in the battle. That’s why it’s called “Custer’s Last Stand.”
With his , Crazy Horse became a famous figure. But the United States responded by bringing more troops to the area. By 1877, the U.S. government had taken over the Black Hills. And a military guard had killed Crazy Horse.
Korczak Ziolkowski wanted to tell about America’s native peoples. Five Indian survivors from the Battle of the Little Bighorn attended the start of his project on June 3, 1948. The sculptor later spoke about his mission. Said Ziolkowski:
“By carving Crazy Horse, if I can give back to the Indian some of his pride and create a means to keep alive his culture and , my life will have been worthwhile.”
Updated June 5, 2023, 5:02 P.M. (ET)
By Russell Kahn (Russ)