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.
The reason I was so excited is kind of silly – I had a former job where I tested educational software, and one of the games I tested was a video of the Crazy Horse monument. I had to watch those videos hundreds – no, thousands – of times, so actually going to visit Crazy Horse became an odd thrill.
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 death 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:
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 his death in 1982 was admirable. 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.
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 it 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.
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.”
The memorial is quite expensive to visit. As of 2019, 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.
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.
Here’s a news video with some additional details about the Crazy Horse monument: