As you drive along Highway 16 in the southern Black Hills, you’ll notice all of the features that make the area so recognizable. Dense pine trees, rolling hills and elevation changes, and granite spires that sometimes seem like they’re pushing their way through the earth like a new tooth. As you approach Custer, the landscape starts to change drastically and the granite hills give way to flatter prairie. One of the final visages of the Black Hills and its towering granite structures blanketed by pine trees is a monument that has been in development for over 60 years. Crazy Horse Memorial stands as a testament to the perseverance of our human determination while honoring a great warrior and his people.
Crazy Horse was a legendary warrior and leader of the Lakota Sioux, celebrated for his battle skills as well as his efforts to preserve Native American traditions and way of life. Resisting efforts to force the Sioux on to reservations, he fought alongside Sitting Bull and others in the American-Indian Wars, and was instrumental in the defeat of George Armstrong Custer’s forces at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. After surrendering to federal troops in 1877, he was killed amid rumors of a planned escape.
Henry Standing Bear ("Mato Naji"), an Oglala Lakota chief and well-known statesman and elder in the Native American community, recruited and commissioned Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to build the Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota after unsuccessfully reaching out to Mount Rushmore sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. On November 7, 1939, Henry Standing Bear wrote to the Ziolkowski, who worked on Mount Rushmore under Borglum. He informed the sculptor, "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too." Standing Bear also wrote a letter to Undersecretary Oscar Chapman of the Department of the Interior offering all his own fertile 900 acres in exchange for the barren mountain for the purpose of paying honor to Crazy Horse. While the government responded positively, Standing Bear chose not to seek government funds, and relied instead upon influential Americans interested in the welfare of the American Indian to privately fund the project.
During the spring of 1940, Ziolkowski spent three weeks with Standing Bear at Pine Ridge, South Dakota. The two discussed issues like land ownership issues, and Ziolkowski learned everything he could about Crazy Horse and the Lakota way of life.
In 1948, Ziolkowski began sculpting the pegmatite granite mountain. At 6,532 feet tall, the Crazy Horse Memorial is the 27th highest mountain in South Dakota. Members of Ziolkowski’s family and their supporters are continuing his artistic intent to create a massive statue that will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high. To give that some perspective, the heads at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet high.
Unfortunately, Ziolkowski never got to see the monument completed. After Ziolkowski died in 1982, his widow, Ruth Ziolkowski, took charge of the sculpture. Ruth oversaw work on the project from the 1980s to the 2010s. She decided to focus on the completion of Crazy Horse's face first, instead of the horse as her husband had originally planned. This was because she believed that Crazy Horse's face, once completed, would increase the sculpture's draw as a tourist attraction, which would provide additional funding to complete the rest of the monument.
In 1998, workers completed the carved 87½-foot-tall Crazy Horse face. Work on the memorial has changed focus and current efforts are centralized on thinning the remaining mountain to form the 219-foot-high horse’s head.
Crazy Horse Memorial hosts between 1 and 1½ million visitors a year and includes a Welcome Center, the Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Educational and Cultural Center. In all, Crazy Horse Memorial features more than 12,000 contemporary and historic items, from pre-Colombian to contemporary times.
Crazy Horse Memorial is open every day, from 7 a.m. to dark during the summer season. From mid-May to mid-October. The storytelling continues each night at dark with the “Legends in Light” laser-light show projected on the mountain carving.
The Black Hills is rich with history and there are so many attractions in the area that showcase and honor that history. Crazy Horse Memorial is a “must-see” attraction for your Black Hills vacation. Call us today at 1-800-321-0692 or check availability on our website to book your stay. Our restaurant is open daily, and we serve breakfast (7:00 am – 11:00 am), lunch (11:00 am – 4:00 pm), and dinner (4:00 pm – 9:00 pm). We feature prime rib nightly (while it lasts); an extensive selection of pastas, seafood and wild game; as well as a gluten sensitive menu. See you soon!