Crazy Horse Memorial will be home to Native education programs

CRAZY HORSE, S.D. – While the huge likeness of a horse’s head takes rough shape from the granite of Thunderhead Mountain, educational buildings begin to emerge at Crazy Horse Memorial, where the massive statuary tribute to a Lakota warrior and leader is accompanied by a commitment to Native education.

“Everything is coming along very well,” said Ruth Ziolkowski, memorial president and widow of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, who began the memorial to Crazy Horse more than 60 years ago on this mountain about 17 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills (He Sapa).

In addition to the sculpture, which will reach nearly 600 feet in height when completed, the Crazy Horse Memorial complex will include the University and Medical Training Center for the North American Indian and an enlarged museum.

At the invitation of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, “Crazy Horse will become a satellite affiliate of the University of South Dakota,” Jack Marsh, of the foundation’s board of directors, said in recent remarks for Native American Day at the memorial.

“USD will hire special faculty, write curriculum, and teach preparatory and college-level courses to Native students,” he said. “The Crazy Horse/USD academic partnership will begin as a summer program.

“Initially, Native students, attending other schools and colleges during fall, winter and spring will reside at Crazy Horse for the summer and become temporary students of the University of South Dakota,” said Marsh, who is the founding director of USD’s American Indian Journalism Institute.

The students will divide their time between classroom and workplace, earning college credit for USD-taught classes and receiving income from jobs and paid internships provided by Crazy Horse. Eligible Native students will receive tuition scholarships from the foundation.

It is hoped the educational program will be “in full swing for the summer of 2011,” he said.

Funding has begun for the program, said Ziolkowski, who noted that T. Denny Sanford, of Sioux Falls, S.D. provided $2.5 million for the first student learning and living center of the university. A ceremonial groundbreaking took place in late September.

Operating funds for the university in the future will come from the Crazy Horse Centennial Endowment Fund, established with a $5 million donation from Donna “Muffy” Christen, of Huron, S.D., she said, noting “All in all, it’s (the Native education initiative) going as planned.”

Ziolkowski said that in mid-2007 Sanford also said he would match $5 million to complete the head of Crazy Horse’s steed. He has matched $3 million and the memorial has two years to raise the additional $2 million, she said.

Her late husband blocked out the rough shape of the vast carving before his death in 1982, six years before crews completed the Crazy Horse face in 1998. Since then, nearly 300,000 tons have been removed from the mountain in order to contour it to his plan.

He had also worked on nearby Mount Rushmore, and is said to have begun work on the Crazy Horse Memorial in 1948 after receiving a letter from Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota leader, requesting a memorial on a vast scale like that of Rushmore.

“We hope that by the end of this year we’ll have enough information so that we can start carving Crazy Horse’s hand and start going down the horse’s head to below the eye,” she said.

A concentrated effort on the 219-foot-long horse’s head is close enough in places that recently completed extensive measurements and painstaking rock analysis will soon guide finishing phases.

Fully blocking out the horse’s head will require clearing rock to the 360-foot level to reach below the muzzle. Because of increased funding and the mountain’s thick base above the finished surface, average blasts have increased to 1,000 tons.

“You’re talking such massive amounts of stone up there, whether it’s the horse’s head or (Crazy Horse’s) arm or what have you, and something could go wrong,” Sanford said. “But they are taking all the necessary precautions to assure that it’s not going to happen.”

An analysis of the mountain’s characteristics is used for planning work stages and to determine if existing rock seams or fractures need reinforcement. For example, 15 steel rods 12 to 16 feet long were placed into Crazy Horse’s nostrils during carving of the face to secure the 27-and-a-half-foot-long nose.

Total costs for the mountain carving, museum, educational programs, visitor center and other memorial projects reached about $22 million over the years and were $1.4 million in 2008 alone.

The nonprofit memorial relies on donations, proceeds from special events and fees paid by the million-plus people who annually visit the site located between Hill City and Custer, S.D.

From the beginning, the huge undertaking has been the subject of controversy. Some detractors “do not like carving the mountain,” a memorial spokesman said.