A huge monument to Native American Crazy Horse is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain in the Black Hills. When completed, it will be the world’s largest sculpture, but it was started in 1948 and there is still a lot more work to do. It is big and impressive, but the question arises, when will it be finished? Work on the sculpture continues, as the face was dedicated in 1998, and the head of the horse is now under construction.
The sculpture will show Oglala Lakota Crazy Horse riding a horse and pointing into the distance. Thunderhead Mountain is considered sacred by some Native American groups, so the monument is not without controversy. Some of the objections include the fact that Crazy Horse resisted being photographed, and that it is culturally incorrect to have him pointing his finger. However, the original sculptor Koczak Ziolkowski received a letter from Chief Henry Standing Bear, which said, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.”
The monument was started in the late 1940s, a period of time when Ziolkowski saw a great deal of hostility to Indians in the country. He believed in improving education for Native Americans, and that has become part of the memorial facilities. Classes at the memorial and the Indian University of North America at Crazy Horse memorial are now part of the program, and they are coordinated with Black Hills State University.
This enormous undertaking is a family project. Ziolkowski was born in Boston of Polish ancestry, and he moved to the Black Hills from Connecticut in 1947 to work on this sculpture. With his wife, Ruth, he had ten children, 7 of whom work on the project, as do some of the grandchildren. He was a self taught orphan, who home schooled his own kids. His remarkable family is carrying on his work, which is taking generations. Ruth has directed the project since her husband died in 1982.
They now have conference facilities, a restaurant, a cultural center, museum and gift shop, and educational facilities. According to their website, “The mission is to honor the culture, tradition, and living heritage of the North American Indians.” One of their objectives is educational and cultural programming to encourage harmony and reconciliation among all people and nations.
The project has grown into a lifestyle for the generations of the Ziolkowski family, and is far greater than the beginning project of making the mountain into a carving of Crazy Horse. The project is incredibly expensive. Each stage must be measured, explosives placed very carefully, and the displaced rock hauled away. Some of the equipment has been donated, and visitors’ fees, gifts and grants fund the project. If you are interested in supporting the project, visit it in person in the beautiful Black Hills, or visit the website and see opportunities to help.
Sources: Crazy Horse Memorial website.