A model of the planned Crazy Horse memorial | Image source: crazyhorsememorial.org
The Crazy Horse Monument is set to be the largest monument in the world; larger than nearby Mount Rushmore, and taller than the Washington Monument. But that’s if it ever gets completed. The project has been in the works since 1947 with two generations of the Ziolkowski family, a family of Polish sculptors, involved in its creation since day one. Once the project is complete, the monument will stand 563 feet tall and 641 feet long. Since the project is so huge, it has no completion date.
While the monument is surrounded by some controversy, its creation has been used to educate people about Lakota culture and heritage. Here are ten amazing facts about the Crazy Horse Monument and the people who inspired it:
Crazy Horse was an Oglala Sioux Chief who fought against the removal of his people from their traditional way of life to the forced reservation system. When Crazy Horse went on his first vision quest, he saw a great warrior charging his enemy without being struck by arrows or bullets. He also saw a thunderstorm and his people surrounding him, holding him back. The warrior was then struck by lightning leaving an imprint of lightning on his cheek. This warrior told him to go into battle without the adornments of a successful warrior and he would always come out unscathed. In future battles Crazy Horse became known for his bravery as a fearless leader with the uncanny ability to be unharmed.
Crazy Horse was instrumental in leading successful battles between the Lakota people against the American army, including the legendary Battle of Little Bighorn in Eastern Montana. The battle is said to be one of the greatest victories won by Indigenous people against the American army. The battle was over the tribal lands in the Black Hills, as European settlers refused to stay off Lakota territory. Lt. General George Custer led the attack for the U.S and was killed and defeated along with the rest of battalion within an hour of battle.
3. Crazy Horse’s Death
After a harsh winter following the Battle of Little Bighorn and the on-going theft of Lakota land by settlers backed by the American Army, Crazy Horse was forced to surrender on May 6, 1877 in Fort Robinson, Nebraska. The army threatened arrest if he tried to leave the nearby reserve community, known as the Red Cloud Agency. On September 5, 1877 he was arrested for leaving the camp while bringing his sick wife to her parents for them to care for her. In the book, The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers eyewitnesses state that his back was wounded when pierced by a soldier’s bayonet by accident in the struggle while they were trying to arrest him. He died later that evening.
The Black Hills in South Dakota was specifically chosen by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear and sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. The mountain is 6532 feet high and made up of pegmatite granite. As legend has it, when Crazy Horse was asked by a European settler, “where are your lands now?” He replied, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.” The land he was referring to is the Black Hills area.
Henry Standing Bear is known for his pivotal role in advocating for the creation of a Crazy Horse Monument. He is of Brule Lakota descent. When he was 14, he was sent to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania where he became educated in the American school system. He would spend twenty years of his life advocating for the building of the Crazy Horse Monument. Standing Bear passed away five years after sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski started working on the project.
When Henry Standing Bear was looking for a sculptor to create the Crazy Horse Monument he
first wrote to famed Mount Rushmore sculptor, Gutzon Borglum and got no reply. He then wrote to sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski who happened to be working under Borglum to make the monument. Ziolkowski worked on the massive project from 1947 until his death in 1982. Afterwards, his wife Ruth Ziolkowski and their ten children carried on the project until her death in 2014. The Ziolkowski children are still involved with the project today.
One issue that Crazy Horse’s descendants have with the monument is that no one bothered to ask them whether they approved of the monument being built or not. Elaine Quiver, one of the descendent states, “They don’t respect our culture because we didn’t give permission for someone to carve the sacred Black Hills where our burial grounds are… It wasn’t meant to be carved into images, which is very wrong for all of us. The more I think about it, the more it’s a desecration of our Indian culture. Not just Crazy Horse, but all of us.”
An article published by Manataka.org states that in the pose of the monument, Crazy Horse is pointing with his index finger which for some Indigenous people is “considered unethical”. The writer of the article goes on to say that it’s not too late to change the pose as it’s still far from being complete and encourages readers to write to the Ziolkowski’s to request that it be changed.
9. Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation
Beside the monument is the Native American Educational & Cultural Center, which is a museum where you can learn about Indigenous Peoples, artefacts, arts, crafts and culture. The foundation also donates money to universities and colleges for scholarships for Indigenous students and have contracts with local universities to hire Indigenous interns.
On October 10, 2016 when most Americans will be celebrating Columbus Day, the residents of South Dakota will celebrate Native American Day instead. Festivities are held at the monument. In 1990 Governor George S. Mickelson commemorated the event in a speech stating, “We can’t turn back the clock; we can only turn to the future together. What we can do as leaders, both Native American and white, is teach others that we can change attitudes.”
Here is an interesting book to read called Crazy Horse’s Vision available on amazon.ca.