Notes From The Frontier
The Crazy Horse Memorial
Updated: Feb 20, 2020
See the video clip below about the building of the Crazy Horse Memorial near Mt. Rushmore, The gargantuan Crazy Horse monument has been in process since 1939 when Lakota Chief Standing Bear approached Polish sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, when he was working on Mt. Rushmore for that monument's creator, Gutzon Borglum. Chief Standing Bear wanted a monument even more grand to commemorate Chief Crazy Horse, his maternal cousin, who had lived in the Black Hills a century before.
The concept that Ziolkowski proposed dwarfed Mt. Rushmore. (The entirety of Mt. Rushmore would fit inside Crazy Horse's head!) and would be the most magnificent, largest sculpture in the United States when finished. But first, Ziolkowski volunteered in the U.S. Army and landed in Omaha Beach, where he was wounded.
When he returned from World War II, he and Chief Standing Bear dedicated the rest of their lives to building the monument. The statue, they decided, would be Crazy Horse mounted on his horse, pointing to a distant horizon. He was pointing to that horizon in response to an early white fur trader, who asked where his land was. Crazy Horse pointed and said, "My lands are where my dead lie buried."
Ziolkowski worked on the monument for the remaining 36 years of his life. It became an all-consuming obsession for him to such an extent, when he married his wife, he told her: the monument comes first, then you, then our children. They had ten children; all worked for him building the monument. He died at age 74 and is buried in the stone at the base of the mountain where the Crazy Horse monument is being built. He wrote his own epitaph for his tomb:
KORCZAK Storyteller in Stone
May His Remains Be Left Unknown
The monument is not without controversy. Although it was the concept of a Lakota chief who first commissioned it, and many Lakota support it, others feel
Ziolkowski and his family have appropriated the legacy of Chief Crazy Horse for their own fame and fortune. (The Ziolkowski family legally copyrighted the image of Chief Crazy Horse, they said to protect his image and legacy from being used for illicit businesses, especially liquor stores, nightclubs and whore houses. Products such as motorcycle gear, whiskey, and rifles have also used the "Crazy Horse" name. And there are purported to be strip clubs from Alaska to Florida named "Crazy Horse.") But some Lakota claim the family has become too proprietary and made a fortune from their beloved leader's name and have not helped the Lakota people as much as they should. It is an age-old story of whites culturally appropriating Native legacies.
Nevertheless, Ziolowsky and Chief Standing Bear were visionaries. And their spectacular monument--the largest in the entire world--honors another great visionary, Chief Crazy Horse.