The treatment of Native Americans by European-Americans is deplorable. There is little in the history of their relationship that is not embarrassing today for sensitive USAmericans with European roots. The construction of the Crazy Horse Memorial, though, is one small attempt to rectify the appalling past.
Earlier this year after viewing Mount Rushmore for the first time, June and I visited the nearby memorial being built to honor one of the most famous Native Americans, Crazy Horse. Born around 1840 into the Lakota (Oglala) tribe, by about 1860 he had demonstrated great bravery in battle (against other Native Americans) and was on his way to becoming a great warrior.
Crazy Horse became involved in raids against the white settlers after the November 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, led by the despicable John Chivington (1821-94). By 1868, or maybe earlier, “he reached the top of Lakota society. To many Lakota, he seemed to display the four virtues that the tribe most admired: courage, fortitude, generosity, and wisdom” (Jon Sterngass, Crazy Horse, 2010, p. 58).
Crazy Horse was heavily involved in the Great Sioux War of 1876-77. He was highly successful in the Battle of Little Bighorn in June 1876. The leader of the whites was General George A. Custer (1839-76). It turned out to be “Custer’s last stand,” a victory for the Native Americans—and their last.
Embarrassed by Custer’s defeat just at the time of their centennial celebration of the United States’ independence, white Americans began to fight in retaliation. After suffering through an extremely harsh winter, it gradually became clear to the Native Americans that they were no match for the whites. Thus, in May 1877 Crazy Horse and his people surrendered.
Later that year while a prisoner, Crazy Horse was stabbed in the back with a bayonet. That was on September 5, 1877; he died the next day.
Exactly 31 years later, on September 6, 1908, Korczak Ziolkowski was born to Polish parents in Boston. In 1939 he worked briefly as an assistant to Gutzon Borglum, who was carving Mount Rushmore. Later that same year Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota educator, invited the young sculptor to carve a Native American memorial.
Standing Bear explained, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, also.”
Several years later, in May 1947, Ziolkowski set up camp near the mountain he would carve into a giant sculpture. With the first blast on June 3, 1948, the Crazy Horse Memorial was dedicated. At that time Ziolkowski pledged that his project will be “a nonprofit educational and cultural humanitarian project financed by the interested public and not with government tax money.”
|Photo by June Seat, May 2012|
Ziolkowski worked for the rest of his life on the memorial, “the largest sculptural undertaking the world has ever known—563 feet high and 641 feet long.” (By comparison, the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall.) He died unexpectedly at the age of 74 in 1982, but his wife and some of his ten children kept the project going. Now some of his grandchildren have joined the effort.