Hidden Gems: Crazy Horse

In my lifetime there are many places I have gone and few that made me want to repeat visits. You see, my pal and I headed out a couple days ago expecting to be blown away by one of America’s most astonishing memorial’s and mountain carvings – Mount Rushmore. However, there is an uncompleted memorial 17 miles down the road that flipped our lids, turned our hearts inside out and begged us to revisit sometime again in the future. That memorial is known as Crazy Horse and will be the world’s largest mountain carving upon completion. However, as an unfinished memorial resting in South Dakota’s Black Hills and a hefty admission fee ($10 an adult or $24 per car load) one has to wonder what makes it so spectacular, breathtaking, and worth our attention? Well, with all great memorials there is usually a monumental story behind the piece and THAT is what makes Crazy Horse so extraordinary.

From the exterior the Welcome Center doesn’t look like much, but you can see the face of Crazy Horse up the hill in the distance. Once inside the story of the great Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Indian leader is revealed along with the story of a man and sculptor known as Korczak Ziolkowski that took up the challenge of the mountain carving.

Now you must forgive me for I’m not a historian, but from the orientation I became aware of the life of Crazy Horse and will provide you with what I now know. Crazy Horse was born in the Black Hills of South Dakota sometime in the 1840’s and died on September 6, 1877 at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. He was standing there under a flag of truce when he was stabbed in the back by an American soldier. His death was a major upset and he was recognized by the Lakota tribe as a great leader, warrior and defended his people and their way of life as best he could.As if things couldn’t get any worse for the Indians; their land had been taken away and a good number of their people had perished from war – news had made way that the white man would be carving faces of great white heroes into the stone located in the Black Hills. The stone carving would later become Mt. Rushmore and known to the Lakota Sioux as ‘Six Grandfathers.’ However, there was an Indian chief with a vision as well. Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote a letter to a Sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowki which said the following, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too.” On May 3, 1947 Korczak arrived in the Black Hills to accept the Indians’ invitation and he started working on the mountain nearly 40 years in age in 1949.

While Korczak battled many hardships working on the mountain he was a strong believer in the free enterprise system. In his eyes Crazy Horse should be a nonprofit educational and cultural, humanitarian project built by the interested public and not the taxpayer. With this thought process he twice turned down ten million dollars in potential federal funding. Korczak passed away on October 20, 1982, but before his death he and his wife, Ruth, prepared three books of detailed plans to be used with his scale models to continue the project.

After learning all this and more from watching the short film, we were then let out into the exhibit halls of the Indian Museum of North America.

Throughout the museum you’ll find beautiful Indian artwork and rare artifacts. Native American artists and crafts people can also be found creating handicrafts in the cultural center. The museum is constructed of a warm looking native pine which enhances the galleries giving a glowing feel. Work your way around and you’ll notice pictures from several stages of the Crazy Horse build, dedications and even hand-written letters detailing one woman’s perspective on the death of Crazy Horse. The map below highlights many points of interest to make sure you don’t miss all the huge visitor complex has to offer. Made to enlighten and entertain both children and adults make sure you step into the Tipi or sit Indian-style out front for a picture. Stroll through the sculptor’s log studio-home, the bronze showroom, or step outside on the viewing veranda for a closer look at the Crazy Horse Memorial. There is much to do.

More Indian artwork.

Chief Henry Standing Bear pictured with Korczak.

Indian artifacts.

My friend Richard finds sitting Indian-style very comfortable.

Because Crazy Horse is a nonprofit project your admission becomes the primary funding for the mountain, but there are several other ways to help and all donations are tax deductible under IRS rules. Gifts include: monetary, materials, supplies, tools, light and heavy equipment, library books, office equipment, Indian artifacts, fine art, historic photos, stock and computer hardware and software. Otherwise keep the memory alive by purchasing a souvenir in the gift shop. Items range from books, artwork, jewelry, music and collectibles. I personally picked up the Everyday Lakota book which is an English-Sioux dictionary for beginners. I don’t imagine becoming even close to fluent, but I thought it was a good find. Anyhow, once you’ve made your way inside and out of the complex try heading into the Laughing Water restaurant. My friend and I wanted to taste-test some Native American food, but we had made it too late and the restaurant would be closing up early due to off-season hours. This gave us another reason to come back.

From the restaurant we noticed the 1/34th scale model of Crazy Horse on the viewing veranda. Looking at the scale version and back up at the mountain you see that they’ve still got a long way to go. The arm, hand, mane, and horse’s head have yet to appear, but once completed it will be the world’s largest mountain carving standing taller
than the Washington Monument, Mount Rushmore, and the Eiffel Tower. It will be 641 ft (195 m) wide and 563 ft (172 m) high. We wondered if it might ever be completed in our lifetime and even if it isn’t we are sure to return.

From a Korczak Ziolkowski: Crazy Horse, as far as the scale model is concerned, is to be carved not so much as a lineal likeness but more as a memorial to the spirit of Crazy Horse – to his people. With his left hand thrown out pointing in answer to the derisive questions asked by a white man, “Where are your lands now?” he replied,

The Crazy Horse Memorial is open all year long. During summer hours are from 7 AM to dark. Off-season hours are from 8 AM to dark. Admission fees are $10 an adult (under 6 free) or $24 a carload. Special rates are given for tours, seniors, and motorcyclists. The Mt. carving is lighted nightly for one hour year around. As of 2005 the memorial began a “Legends in Light” laser-light storytelling show which runs from late May until early Fall. The multimedia program with photos and animation is projected on the 500′ mountain sides nightly (weather permitting). Laughing Water Restaurant is open early May to late October and serves Native American specialties and U.S. dishes. If heading out for summer be sure to check out www.crazyhorsememorial.org to find out when the memorial opens up for the one weekend walk around the memorial. If going during off-season get their early enough to tour the facilities as well as grab a bite to eat. If you time it correctly you need not make two trips to see the laser light show.

Crazy Horse Memorial is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota on US Highway 16/385 just 17 miles southwest of Mt. Rushmore.

(All photos taken by Adrienne Wilson)