Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Making—and Controversy—of the Crazy Horse Memorial


By Jennifer Uhlarik


Last month, I shared about the creation of Mount Rushmore. This month, I wanted to share another Western monument that sits only seventeen miles southwest of Mount Rushmore. Do you know the one I mean? It’s the Crazy Horse memorial.




Crazy Horse was a Lakota Sioux leader who was born somewhere between 1840 and 1845, though common thought is it was around 1840 or ’41. He was the son of a Lakota medicine man and a Miniconjou woman. His mother passed away when he was a small child. In 1854, during his early teens, Crazy Horse witnessed the Grattan Massacre, where an Indian stole and ate a cow from one of the Oregon Trail wagon trains, and when thirty soldiers, led by Lt. John Grattan, marched in to retrieve the animal, gunfire broke out and all but one of the soldiers was killed. This sparked quite a war on the Plains and set Crazy Horse on a path to become a great warrior. 


After the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, where the U.S. Army slaughtered a sleeping camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho women and children, the Lakota and other tribes aligned with the Cheyenne to make war on the white man. Crazy Horse distinguished himself in battle over and over and participated in many of the biggest conflicts in the Plains Indian wars, including the Battle of the Little Big Horn (aka Custer’s Last Stand). But eventually, the tide turned against the Lakota and other Plains Indians, and Crazy Horse ended up surrendering in September of 1877. When an interpreter wrongly interpreted something Crazy Horse said, the general he was supposed to meet with was told he intended to kill the general during the proceedings. Crazy Horse was arrested, and as he struggled to free himself and flee, he was stabbed with a bayonet and died soon after.


Crazy Horse was known to be very caring toward his people, always helping the poor or elderly. He poured his life out to benefit his people, and he is remembered in history because of it.



Crazy Horse Monument
(c) RJA1988

Like Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse memorial is a statue carved into the side of a mountain in South Dakota’s Black Hills. The sculpting of Thunderbird Mountain (now known as Crazy Horse Mountain) began in 1948 when Oglala Lakota chief Henry Standing Bear unsuccessfully requested a Native American face be included in Mount Rushmore. Since his request was never answered, he took it upon himself to hire Polish sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to begin work on a mountainside statue dedicated solely to a Native American hero. In his letter to the sculptor, Chief Standing Bear wrote, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.” Ziolkowski agreed to the project, and the Department of the Interior gave the necessary permitting to begin work.


Unlike Mount Rushmore, the sculpture is still in progress and probably will be for many years to come. Chief Standing Bear chose not to receive any money from the government for the project, so it is completely funded by private donations from wealthy citizens and from the visitor’s center. Work began on Crazy Horse’s face in 1948, but it took until June 3rdof 1998—a whopping fifty years—to complete that portion. 


1/34 Scale Model of the Crazy Horse Memorial.
(c) Mark Bellingham on Flickr

When completed, the entire sculpture will show Crazy Horse seated on his horse, pointing toward his people’s sacred lands. It is a monumental undertaking, and if it is ever completed according to its current plan, it will be the second tallest sculpture in the world, following India’s Statue of Unity. The entire carving, as proposed, will be 641 feet long by 563 feet high. Crazy Horse’s face is 87 feet, 6 inches tall. Other dimensions of the proposed statue are as follows:


Outstretched arm—263 feet long

Pointing finger—29 feet, 6 inches long.

Horse’s head—219 feet (or 22 stories) high

Horse’s mane—62 feet high

Horse’s ears—54 feet long

Horse’s eyes—20 feet wide by 15 feet high

Horse’s feet—26 feet in diameter


Also included at the Crazy Horse monument are the Indian Museum of North America, the Native American Educational and Cultural Center, the Mountain Carving Gallery, and the Sculptor Home and Studio.




While many see this great monument as a positive step in telling the history and culture of the Native American people, there are many who aren’t as impressed. Many, particularly among the very Native American culture this statue tries to uplift, have taken issue with dynamiting the natural rock face to create a manmade image of Crazy Horse. They would far prefer nature be left alone. It is beautiful as is.

Commemorative postage stamp
released on January 15, 1982


Crazy Horse Commemorative Postcard from
the stamp's release day--January 15, 1982

To make matters worse, some have pointed out that during his lifetime, Crazy Horse took great pains to avoid being photographed, as he believed that to capture his image with a camera was to trap a piece of his soul with it. So these naysayers feel that it goes against the very spirit of Crazy Horse to create such a mammoth image of him. 


Others have taken issue with the fact that the Crazy Horse monument and park seems to be more about the sculptor, Karczak Ziolkowski, rather than Crazy Horse himself. And still more complaints have been raised by some of Crazy Horse’s family’s descendants that the money raised by the visitor’s center and shops isn’t going into completing the sculpture, but instead, to lining individuals’ pockets. 


It's Your Turn: How do you feel about Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial? Are they positive additions to the fabric of American culture, or do they detract? If the latter, why do you feel that way?


Award-winning, best-selling novelist Jennifer Uhlarik has loved the western genre since she read her first Louis L’Amour novel. She penned her first western while earning a writing degree from University of Tampa. Jennifer lives near Tampa with her husband, son, and furbabies.





Love’s Fortress by Jennifer Uhlarik


A Friendship From the Past Brings Closure to Dani’s Fractured Family


When Dani Sango’s art forger father passes away, Dani inherits his home. There, she finds a book of Native American drawings, which leads her to seek museum curator Brad Osgood’s help to decipher the ledger art. Why would her father have this book? Is it another forgery?


Brad Osgood longs to provide his four-year-old niece, Brynn, the safe home she desperately deserves. The last thing he needs is more drama, especially from a forger’s daughter. But when the two meet “accidentally” at St. Augustine’s 350-year-old Spanish fort, he can’t refuse the intriguing woman.


Broken Bow is among seventy-three Plains Indians transported to Florida in 1875 for incarceration at ancient Fort Marion. Sally Jo Harris and Luke Worthing dream of serving on a foreign mission field, but when the Indians reach St. Augustine, God changes their plans. However, when Sally Jo’s friendship with Broken Bow leads to false accusations, it could cost them their lives.


Can Dani discover how Broken Bow and Sally Jo’s story ends and how it impacted her father’s life?



  1. I admire the Natives for persevering with this project.

  2. Thank you for posting today. I didn't realize this was happening. I think it's wonderful, but when you said that Crazy Horse didn't want himself photographed, I wonder if it should be done. I admire the Natives for funding it privately.

  3. I visited Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse with my family back in 1982. There wasn't much to see on the Crazy Horse monument other than a long, flat area that would eventually be his arm. I have mixed feeling about the monuments. Like some, I'd prefer to leave nature as is and honor people in other ways. Especially when the money could be used in so many other more beneficial ways. But I must admit seeing Mt. Rushmore was rather thrilling.