Crazy Horse: The Monument That May Never Be Finished

crazy horse monument

The Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota. Will it ever be finished?

 

When I finally made it to South Dakota last summer (state #47 in my travels!), one of the sites I was most excited to see was the Crazy Horse monument.

Why was I so excited? Well, it’s kind of silly. Years ago in my former job, I worked on educational software. One of the games I tested was a video designed to teach kids about the Crazy Horse monument. I had to watch those videos thousands of times, so they became burned in my brain. Going to actually visit Crazy Horse in person became an odd thrill.

Here’s what you’ll see at the Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota. And we’ll try to answer the lingering questions: Will Crazy Horse ever be finished?

What is the Crazy Horse Memorial?

Crazy Horse was a famous Lakota warrior who resisted U.S. efforts to take possession of Native American lands, notably at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. He wanted to preserve the traditional Lakota way of life, and fought to do so until his passing in 1877.

In a nutshell, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a monument in South Dakota that was started decades ago and is still many, many decades away from being completed. It will depict Crazy Horse riding on (what else?) a horse.

When (if?) it’s completed, it will be a ridiculous ten times larger than Mount Rushmore: 563 feet high, vs. the Rushmore heads’ 60 feet height. It may actually be the largest sculpture in the world.

Here’s how the actual site looks now, as compared to a miniature-size model in the foreground that shows how it will look when the work is done:

crazy horse model

There Once Was a Man With a Plan

The project was initiated in 1939 by Lakota elders, who wanted to create a giant rock sculpture to honor Crazy Horse. They hired Polish sculptor Korczak Kiolkowski, who began blasting away in the Black Hills of South Dakota, often drilling by hand.

Korczak worked on the project his entire life. Considering that he was working either alone or with a very small staff, the progress Korczak made before he passed away in 1982 was admirable.

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But if we’re being honest, considering how far the sculpture has to go, Korczak really didn’t accomplish as much as he would’ve liked.

He repeatedly turned down millions in federal funding that could’ve sped up the project, saying that it would compromise the site. His family continues the work, with no end in sight.

Korczak’s widow Ruth took over the lead on the project and made a strategic decision to focus on completing Crazy Horse’s face first, rather than the horse, as had been originally planned. This was a smart idea, because she felt that having the face done would bring in more tourists.

Ruth passed away in 2014, and the Korczak children are leading the work. The memorial is now slated to be part of a satellite campus for the University of South Dakota.

They sure have some ambitious ideas for the Crazy Horse monument; now it’s just a matter of making them happen.

When Will the Crazy Horse Monument Be Finished?

The face of Crazy Horse is now visible, and you can make out the beginnings of the horse. But it’s obvious this thing isn’t anywhere close to being finished.

You can visit the site in South Dakota to see the progress. If you’re lucky, you may even catch the workers blasting away the rock. Visitors are shown a video with black and white clips of Korczak from the old days.

It’s a fascinating video that clearly shows the amazing determination of Korczak, who was willing to work for decades on a project he knew he’d never see to the end.

You can touch pieces of rock that have been blasted away from the side of the mountain. And for a small donation – whatever you’re willing to put in the box – you’re allowed to take a piece of rock home with you.

crazy horse rock

You can handle and purchase rock from the Crazy Horse monument at this South Dakota landmark.

 

All in all, I dare say the Crazy Horse Memorial is a bit more interesting and educational than Mount Rushmore, even if it doesn’t hold the same level of iconic American prestige as the presidential heads.

When will the Crazy Horse mountain be finished? Nobody knows just yet. The completion date is up in the air, and no estimate has been given. It still looks decades away from being completed.

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As time has gone on, some folks have expressed concern over the lack of progress on the Crazy Horse Memorial, hinting that the family is dragging their feet while at the same time enjoying the profits from tourists who visit.

Seth Big Crow, a distant relative of Crazy Horse, has reportedly said, “When you start making money rather than to try to complete the project, that’s when, to me, it’s going off in the wrong direction.”

Another criticism that has been leveled is that Crazy Horse was known as a humble man, and he may not have been thrilled by the idea of being immortalized in such fashion.

There are numerous strong viewpoints on the issue of Crazy Horse and his monument. You can read many of them right here if you scroll down to the comments!

crazy horse souvenir rock

Specifics for a visit to Crazy Horse

The memorial is quite expensive to visit. As of 2020, the memorial is open 365 days a year. Admission price is a steep $30 per car for vehicles with three or more people. Otherwise, the cost is $12 per person if arriving by vehicle. It’s $7 if you arrive by bicycle, motorcycle, or on foot.

When you consider that thousands of tourists visit the monument each year, that’s millions of dollars that are going into the coffers of the folks running this place.

If you plan to visit here, the street address is 12151 Ave of the Chiefs, Crazy Horse, SD 57730. It’s just 16 miles (and 30 minutes) from Mount Rushmore, so why not stop by when you’re in the area?

Visiting hours vary by season and by month. During the summer season (late May to late September), the Welcome Center opens at 7 am and closes a half hour after the laser light show ends.

crazy horse when will it be finished

During winter months, when far fewer people visit, the Welcome Center may close as early as 4 pm, and there’s no laser show at all.

That’s right, there’s a nightly Laser Light Show here in the summer! The show pays tribute to the contributions of Native Americans in society. It uses lasers projected against the mountain. The laser and music show takes place during the summer between 7:30 and 10 pm, depending on when sunset is.

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Another attraction at the Crazy Horse Memorial site is the “Bus to Base.” You can hop aboard a bus and take a ride up to the base of the mountain, for an ultra-close view of the warrior’s emerging face in the rock.

Here’s a news video with some additional details about the Crazy Horse monument:

Where to Stay: Hotels Near Crazy Horse

This part of South Dakota has a moderate amount of hotels, and they can sell out during peak season, so planning out your lodging in advance will be key. I recommend staying in Custer, which is only five miles away from the Crazy Horse monument.

The Chalet Motel is an affordable (less than $100/night) option, while the Bavarian Inn is a nice upscale property. Check out the map from our partners at Booking to browse all the available hotels in the region.

Where to Stay Near Crazy Horse:
Budget: Chalet Motel.
Mid-Range: Days Inn by Wyndham.
Upscale: Bavarian Inn.

CRAZY HORSE REGION HOTEL MAP:



Booking.com

South Dakota Tours & Excursions from Our Partners at Viator

If you’re interested in a group tour or outdoor activity in South Dakota, check out this list from our partners at Viator. It includes a convertible vehicle tour of the Black Hills & Mount Rushmore, scooter rentals in the Black Hills, and private bicycle tours in the area.

About Quirky Travel Guy

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based freelance writer & fan of indie rock, road trips, ice cream, squirrels on power lines, runaway shopping carts, and six-way intersections. Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.

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48 Comments

  1. It’s been 70 years why is only the face of Crazy Horse still looking the same as in 2010? Only the chalk of the horse is there as it was in 2010. Eleven years has passed since my visit & nothing has changed.

  2. I read about this forty years ago and visited it about ten years ago. Just a disappointment in the progress and the fact I will never see it done.

  3. Geologically, it might have to be shored up like the Roman Coliseum, and become part mountain and part statue. It shouldn’t take any more concrete than Grand Coulee Dam. It probably should have been a non-profit.

    1. Kids don’t always share the passion of their parents. This could account for any lack of urgency to complete this project.
      I also believe there is more to the story of the feelings of the native people both pro and con. My opinion, use the funds to build the school and medical facilities now and let the monument pay the bills at the current slow methodical pace.

  4. My wife and I visited in 1998. Still looks the same. You would assume that some form of work would be visible. I am sure multi million dollars have been spent. There are no comments on any other work being done for the University. Have they invested anything yert???

    1. I took the time to read everyone’s comments both pro and con alike. Besides the fact that everyone is an expert one way or another, many of you need to invest in spell-check. The point is completely lost when instead demonstrating the obvious lack of command of the English language in print.

  5. I just found this while doing research on the controversy surrounding this monument.
    Elaine Quiver, a descendant of one of Crazy Horse’s aunts, said in 2003 that the elder Standing Bear should not have independently petitioned Ziolkowski to create the memorial, because Lakota culture dictates consensus from family members for such a decision, which was not obtained before the first rock was dynamited in 1948. She said:
    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. They were there for us to enjoy and they were there for us to pray. But 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.

  6. Years ago I had relatives living in So.Dakota…I visited the CH monument in the mid 60’s and I was totally flabbergasted when I can across this article to see that it pretty much looks like it did back then..The difference is negligible!..To think that I was 10 years old when I saw it and I’m now in my 60’s is hard to believe!!!…at this rate it will take another 100 years to complete!!..either the government should step in to finish it or just leave it be..But the people shouldn’t be duped into thinking that their donations are being used to finish this in this century!.. it would be much better if the donated money went to the Native American people..

  7. I’m certain there are many positive reviews concerning the memorial but as I started reading through them I was depressed to see the negativity and apparent ignorance expressed in such quantity. The memorial IS A WONDER of the world. Unlike some references to it falling apart as is Mt. Rushmore, it is not. As to the “milking” of the project for personal gain the writer/observer obviously never understood the complexity and the expense involved in the undertaking. Among the many points expressed which probably frustrates me most is the “there has not been any progress in— years. What few people seem to really grasp is that you are seeing a mountain of granite that has to be removed to get to the finished product and that ain’t easy. I could go on but suffice it to say is is one of the greatest personal undertakings in the history of man AND well worth support of any kind. Go, enjoy, learn.

    1. sorry deb … but NO progress is still NO progress …. if it were legit we would see SOME progress if only a small amount …. the Lakota people have just been scammed again …..

      1. I just read an article stating that no Indian would ever want to be seen pointing his finger. Nothing I have read speaks of this but I understand it is a fact how to know

  8. I almost donated money to this monument today but after reading these posts and viewing progress over 40 years I too am convinced that the family is milking the contributions.

  9. This is not something the Indians wanted. Their whole way of life was to preserve the earth, waters, trees and animals in its natural state – not tear up their mountains by putting a ghastly humongous statute in the middle of it. There isn’t even a known picture of Crazy Horse, he was like other Indians of the belief that you take his picture you steal his soul. This is an atrocity against the Indian Nation, why do you think they fought so hard to keep the oil pipeline from going in there – it destroys the natural state of life and nature.
    This is the white man’s way of apologizing and soothing his own conscience. We have Mount Rushmore, but again that’s the white man doing something for the white man. Ask any Indian out there, this is not what they want.

    1. Colette, I have asked and did not receive the reply you suggested I would get. Native Americans flock to this memorial to pay respect and get a feeling of pride in their cultural heritage and history. Your comments seem to reflect the teachings of White professors who promote white guilt which lead to government handouts and keep people of all races enslaved and indebted. P.S. most folks don’t refer to them as “Indians” anymore.

  10. I’m a geologist. I’ve been there. It will never be finished. There are too many fractures in the granite. Mt. Rushmore was moved something like seven times because of fractures that were encountered. And Rushmore is much better rock then CH. The fractures are the reason why some MR faces are “deep set” into the rock. They had to go deeper into the mountain to find good rock. In fact, the face of CH is ALREADY falling apart. From a recent picture I saw it looked like the top of his head had a big part missing too. That is why they are moving at a snail’s pace (if at all) …….they are into bad rock and there is no way to continue. So they just continue to milk it for the money it brings in. I don’t blame them. Why not milk it. Tourists happily pay to see it as it is. I did.

      1. I just came back from CH. Disappointed in progress and would like to see finished vision. We must remember, Mt Rushmore was never finished to original design. They were to include upper torsos.

    1. Came here to post this. Went to field camp at SDSM&T and that was the “rumor” we heard from the faculty. Either the first few blasts fractured everything or it was fractured/not ideal structurally to begin with. Biggest issue I can see is that they won’t let anybody run any geophysical surveys of the rock. Seems like it would be pretty easy to dispel those rumors and show if the full project is still viable or not

    2. Exactly. However, before the family is simply satisfied to ‘milk’ if for all they can, I think it’s too bad they don’t just fess up, and then advertise it as the unfinished likeness of Crazy Horse, explain the history of it and the reasons it will not be finished, and use some of the funds received to commission/purchase a large statue (much larger than the small examples on site) of the proposed finished work to display on the site of the visitor information grounds. People would still come, but understand what is really going on with it, they history and and pros and cons that have been explored and discussed over the years. The last time I was there, there was a family of Native Americans that were ‘allowed’ to dance on the grounds’ stage and take up a collection afterward. That, to me, was the saddest part of the day. The family danced well, but I couldn’t help feeling sad and humiliated for them, dancing for the primarily non-Native audience and their ‘donations.’ Even if the family was making great money (which they very well may have been the case), and perhaps thought they were the ‘winners’ – taking money from all who came to the attraction, but it just felt sad. Most visitors I spoke with thought the ‘Indian’ (their word) community owned and operated the site and were dragging their feet regarding lack of progress, for the money. Few visitors knew the truth about the monumental undertaking, and those who did try to educate themselves, were confused as to what was fact and what was fiction. I would love to see a FACTUAL presentation be given, before any dancing or other entertainment, on the history and future of the sculpture. I, myself, am confused because history and supporting documents reveal that the U.S. government cut off the supplies of the Sioux tribes and forced them to relinquish their Black Hills land to the government. Therefore, does the government own the project? Do the Native tribes that commissioned it, own it? Why does the family of the Polish sculptor own it and gain the money from it? Seems to me the Native tribes should be receiving the funds, or at very least, the stinking government – who should be required to disperse the earned funds to the tribes. Does anyone know what the factual deal is, and has documents and reliable, verifiable sources and facts ? Please share, if so.

  11. i first went to see the crazy horse monument in the in the 1970s when i was 27 years old, i am now 71 , i went back in 2017 and it don’t look much different, this looks like a project that will last generations and not get done, by the time they finish no one will remember who crazy horse was, it seems to me that this is just a cash cow to the people who are building it. the federal government should step in and finish it with the permission of the Sioux nation, if we can send millions to other countries why can’t we spend money here for our people.

    1. I agree! I cannot, for the life of me, (now old), understand why they turned down the Federal Funds to finish this Masterpiece? Our Government should step in, hire the best and complete this monument. It is long past due, and would be a credit and benefit to the History of our people. I do not want History to be forgotten… EVER.

  12. My husband and I visited the site today, June 12, 2017 I’m truly impressed with the museum. I’m thankful that our Native Americans are refusing to take any federal money. The reason for that should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about U.S. history. Have you watched the documentary on the monument? Quite interesting and inspiring.

  13. I’ve just returned for my second visit to this site after 25 years. I’m thoroughly unimpressed with the progress. I have some experience in drilling and blasting and frankly don’t see what is taking so long. A rough analysis of the income stream suggests they’d have the money to move this project along at an appreciably faster pace, and have concluded they either can’t finish the project due to geologic issues and are deliberately creating the illusion that work is nonetheless progressing, or the project is just simply mismanaged. The fact that they want to portray Crazy Horse in a pose that is offensive to many Native Americans suggests the latter.

  14. WE SAW THE CRAZY HORSE MONUMENT ABOUT 30 YEARS AGO. I CAN UNDERSTAND WHY THE INDIANS WANT THE GOVERNMENT TO HAVE NO PART IN PAYING FOR THIS GREAT EFFORT BY THE INDIANS. I HOPE THAT SOME DAY IT WILL BE COMPLETED. I HOPE THAT FUTURE GENERATIONS WILL REASON WHY IT IS BEING DONE.

    1. “Indians” is not an accurate name for this honored group of people. The correct name is “Native Americans.” Please make note of that.

  15. Incredible work—unfortunately the pointing arm is too short in porportion to his body! Not sure how this could happen, but it will become even more clear in a couple generations as this is completed.

    1. I agree Dan, that was my first impression as well. The arm is too short! Best not to finish the project…

  16. In 1955, I was 14, my Polish father wanted to visit Crazy Horse and see what that crazy Polak was doing. So 6 of us took a 2 week camping trip to see that, Mt. Rushmore, Jackson hole and all of the surrounding area. When my eldest son was 14, 1976, we went to see that area with my children. Wasn’t a lot of different in the amount of work that had been finished. I’m 73 now it will probably never be finished in my life time. They really should accept some other financing so they could see Korczak’s dream finished.

  17. My wife and I visited the monument in July 1995 on a move from Ohio to Montana. I totally understand about keeping the goverment out of financing, but how about corporate financing in some manner.

    I only wish it could be finished in my lifetime, but maybe in 250 years.

    Gary

  18. Not hardly the family is in no rush to complete, even after receiving a 5 million dollar donation. Extremely little to no progress since 1998!

  19. I was there in about 1980ish. Since then the only thing that has been completed is the face. I may have just been a kid then, but I can look back at pictures!! Back then all that was there was the flat spot for the top of the arm and the hole in the middle. So considering thats been over 30 years ago, I would have to say this will never be completed. At least not in my or my sons lifetime! I wonder how many coats of white paint they have slapped on the model of what its suppose to look like?

    1. Wow, it’s amazing how slow this is going. You’d think with all the technological advances, they would be able to work faster. It looks like this will take several more decades!

      1. They are milking it for more money. With modern technology, they should have finished already.

  20. I like the idea of a tribute to Crazy Horse but hate the poem that will be carved into the sculpture. Historical revisionism and slanted perspective will only foster resentment and hostility. The fact is that atrocities were committed on both sides of the conflicts is ignored. Conquest has always been a historical fact and to treat this nation as though it is some kind of hate filled war mongering pariah is just wrong.

  21. My sister actually lived near there for a while and told me about this. I think that is so crazy… Hopefully one day it will get completed~

  22. You know, even if never does get finished, the workers working on it could become part of the attraction permanently. It would then have its own unique identity as the monument in progress. Great article!

  23. Love the monuments and national parks and state parks – best idea america has had and love those few politician who have supported the idea for public lands

  24. Looks the same as when I visited about ten years ago. Definitely worth the trip. The onsite sculpture museum is enjoyable too.

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