Crazy Horse: The Monument That May Never Be Finished

crazy horse monument

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:

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 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!

Current State of the Crazy Horse Monument

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

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…

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

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. Looking for a hotel? I always recommend Booking.com where you can easily compare hotel rooms, prices, and availability. 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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24 Comments

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

  2. 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

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  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 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

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