Crazy Horse Monument 65-Years in the Making, and Counting


The numbers are staggering. Sixty-five years in the making, the Crazy Horse Memorial will be the largest sculpture on the planet when it’s completed, all though no one can say when that will be. Slated to stand at 563 feet tall and 641 feet long, with the nose alone reaching 27-feet in length, this controversial monument has been under construction since 1947 in Crazy Horse Memorial in Crazy Horse, South Dakota.

The New York Times reported on the monument to the Sioux warrior this past Saturday, tracking the efforts from the beginning, when sculptor Korczack Ziolkowski boldly promised this monumental effort would be completed in 30-years. Today, his 85-year old widow, Ruth, leads the continued push to complete her late husband’s work with the help of her 10 children and grandchildren. Although far from completed, it is the number one tourist attraction in the state.

The 65-years of construction has yielded the legendary Sioux warrior’s face, a face that was never photographed in his lifetime and has caused consternation amongst tribes regarding historical accuracy. Sonny Skyhawk wrote in Indian Country Today Media Networkthis past Noevember, “There are no photos of Crazy Horse, who died in 1877, so an image being made in the 21st century cannot be accurate. The Lakota consider the effort a folly of sorts.” The final monument will have the Sioux leader on horseback, pointing out over the plains.

While the presidential busts were being completed on Mount Rushmore, just 17-miles away, local tribal leaders wanted Indian heroes honored. Ziolkowski was fired after working on Mount Rushmore, only to be contacted by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear to work on an even more epic sculpture. The Times reports that the Lakota Chief wrote in a 1939 letter to Ziolkowski, “this is to be entirely an Indian project under my direction.” That never happened, however. When Ziolkowski arrived local tribes weren’t in a position, financially or otherwise, to offer support, and thus the 65 years and counting odessy began, and continues, as a family effort.

Mount Rushmore was completed in 14 years and for less than $1 million. The Crazy Horse Memorial has had to raise annual revenue in the millions to keep the project moving forward. The Times reports that in 2010 admission revenues totaled $3.8 million thanks to a $10 entry fee paid by most adults (Tribal members do not have to pay a fee) and raised $19 million in the last fear years in donations.

All this money has been the source of much criticism. There have been complaints that the Ziolkowski family has made millions of dollars from a project that carries the name and imagined likeness of Crazy Horse, while much of the surrounding tribes are living in abject poverty and unemployment. The family points out that the plans for the completed monument include a call for creating a university for American Indians on the property. The Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation already has programs for American Indian students and has given $1.5 million in scholarships.