We spent the last week on vacation, touring the Black Hills of South Dakota. We planned the trip because of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and although it was fun to shop at all the vendors that come for the rally, it was not what captured my attention and stole my heart.
We toured Mt. Rushmore and saw the magnificence that it beheld, rode to Wyoming and saw Devil's Tower and even rode through a pack of hundreds of buffalo so close, I could have reached out and touched them - but what lingered heavy on my heart and moved me to tears was the ongoing work dedicated to the monument of CRAZY HORSE.
In 1939, Chief Standing Bear contacted a man by the name of Korczak Ziolkowski to carve a likeness of Crazy Horse as a tribute to the great warrior and leader, explaining to him that “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, also.” Korczak had earned a name from his work as a sculptor and carver, working with Gutzon Borglum at Mt. Rushmore.
Chief Crazy Horse was leader of the Lakota people in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Crazy Horse led the attack on General Custer's 7th Cavalry in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. He was a courageous fighter and noble leader of his people but died at the age of 35, of stab wounds in the back.
There is much reported about both Crazy Horse and Korczak. I would urge you to read more about it - but let me share a few thoughts that have stayed with me the last week:
Korczak accepted the task of carving the image of Crazy Horse out of the side of a mountain. He arrived in the Black Hills on May 3, 1947, and when he started work on the mountain in 1949, he was almost 40 and had only $174 to his name. In an area of the country where he didn't even have electricity, Korczak brought in an old gas-powered generator and started his work, single-handed. Korczak shared in a film how he would start up the old generator, which seldom fired on the first try. Generally it required some coaxing and several pulls to get it started. Then he would start up a long set of wooden ladders, only to have to go back down if the generator failed. All of this he did while carrying an extremely heavy load of tools to be used in the carving that day. He mentioned in the film that on one occasion he had to climb down nine times during one single day.
Korczak spent the first 7 months living in a tent at the base of the mountain, and then built a cabin from trees in the surrounding black hills forest - all the while, living and working alone. He met Ruth Ross, who became his wife - together, they had 10 children: 5 boys and 5 girls.
The children learned everything about blasting on the monument from working along side their father and since his unexpected death in 1982, 7 of the 10 have steadily carried on his work with the same fervor as their father.
I found it most interesting to compare his physical appearance - when he began his work -
To his appearance after years of work on the mammoth monument - (I could really like this rugged and wooly guy!)
This whole project has been privately funded from day one. Korczak believed it should be built as a love offering by the people and refused Ten Million dollar grants that were offered by the government on two separate occasions. But he believed if the government got involved, it would never be completed (and when you think about what our government really did for the Indian, who could blame him?)
The mountain that is being blasted and carved for the likeness of this great Sioux leader is 600 ft. high. When it is completed, the Crazy Horse Monument will be a 3-D carving in stone, in the round, that stands 563 ft high. In comparison, the Washington Monument in Washington, DC, is 555 ft. and the largest pyramid in the world a mere 481 ft. If you can imagine the size of Mt. Rushmore, it will fit easily in the back of Crazy Horse's flowing hair!
Keep in mind, there is no documented photograph of Crazy Horse. The model and work prepared by Korczak was created in his likeness from "word pictures" given in the 1940's by old Indians who had known Crazy Horse in the few years that he lived from 1843 - 1877.
Korczak is buried in the tomb that he and his sons blasted from a rock outcropping near where the permanent Indian museum will rise at the foot of the mountain carving. For the tomb door he wrote his own epitaph and cut it from three-quarter-inch steel plate. It reads:
Storyteller in Stone
May His Remains Be Left Unknown