I was not sure what to expect when we decided to go to the Crazy Horse Memorial. I knew it was a monument of the greatest warrior and leader of the Oglala Lakota Sioux. I knew it was being carved out of a mountain. With these two facts we drove the 15 miles from Mount Rushmore to the memorial.
I did not expect the expansive visitor center, museum, theater and education center. I was surprised to learn of the scale of the endeavor and the commitment of the people who had the vision to create a cross cultural center and the generations of families who were willing to work to make the vision a reality.
When finished the sculpture will be only a portion of the memorial. In 2010 the Indian University of North America was created with a summer program in conjunction with the University of South Dakota. In addition to the university the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Educational & Cultural Center will be created.
The goal and direction of the Ziolowski family and Chief Standing Bear were not to simply create a spectacular monument but encourage and promote the development of a cross cultural environment which brings people together.
I am very impressed with this vision and how their work and spirit are moving forward.
The Crazy Horse Memorial Complex is rooted in the Treaty of Fort Laramie (Sioux Treaty of 1868) which ended Red Cloud’s War and awarded the Black Hillsand sections of Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana to the Oglala, Miniconjou and Brule bands of the Lakota Sioux, closing these lands to white men forever.
Within 10 years gold was discovered in the Black Hills and prospectors followed. With white men invading their lands, the Native Americans attacked and the Black Hills War was underway.
With sides drawn, one of the leaders who distinguished himself was the Oglala Lakota leader Crazy Horse. Because of his presence Crazy Horse was chosen as the symbol of the Memorial. To “protect and preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of the North American Indians” was its purpose. (https://crazyhorsememorial.org/mission-purpose.html) In the minds of Native Americans, Crazy Horse’s life represents the Native American Indian story. Crazy Horse was a hero, a man of integrity, modesty, believing in fairness and the courage to act on behalf of his people.
The Crazy Horse Statue and Cultural Center are the vision of Chief Henry Standing Bear. Born in the mid 1870s Standing Bear was one of the first Native Americans to attend the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania where he adopted the name of Henry. He realized the best hope for a future for Native Americans lay in a non-threatening educational cross-cultural relationship with the Caucasian world.
Attending night school in Chicago while working for Sears Roebuck Co., Henry Standing Bear worked his way into the non-Native world. Extending his world eventually lead to relationships in politics, particularly with Senator Francis Case a member of the South Dakota Indian Affairs Commission which led to a meeting with President Calvin Coolidge.
When Standing Bear learned that a monument to honor Crazy Horse was to built in Fort Robinson, Nebraska he was able to have the project moved to the Black Hills, an area sacred to the Lakota Sioux.
Henry Standing Bear found the man with vision to remove a mountain leaving the image of Crazy Horse in Korczak Ziolkowski. Born of Polish parents, Ziolkowski was orphaned at age one and was moved through a series of foster homes until going out on his own at age 16. Self studied in the arts and technical skills, he put himself through the Rindge Technical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Settling in as a studio artist, Ziolkowski won fist prize at the 1939 New York’s World Fair for his sculpture “PADEREWSKI, Study of an Immortal”.
Working for a short time with Gutzon Borglum at the Mount Rushmore project Ziolkowski was approached by Henry Standing Bear. The story of the Native Americans touched his heart. Following World War II Ziolkowski eventually moved to South Dakota and dedicated his life to the project.
The Crazy Horse Memorial has become the life work of the Ziolkowski Family. His wife Ruth moved to South Dakota in 1947 to work on the memorial and they were married Thanksgiving Day (November 23) 1950. They had 10 children, some of which are now managing and working the Ziolkowski ranch along with the Crazy Horse Memorial.
He never received a salary for his work on the monument carving. To support his family and the project Ziolkowski ran a working ranch starting with a dairy, which eventually became a beef cattle ranch.
After Korczak’s death in 1982, Ruth continued to run the project until her death in 2014. Currently a board of directors and an executive management team runs the project. There are three Ziolkowski grandchildren today working at the Memorial.