Day 5: August 9, 2016
Crazy Horse Memorial is an interesting place. It was designed as a Memorial to Crazy Horse, a Chief and respected elder of the Oglala Lakota tribe, by Korczak Ziolkowski, a Polish American sculptor who worked on the nearby Mount Rushmore, It was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, another Lakota elder, who wanted to honor a tribal warrior. We drove over to see it after we drove the Needles Highway. Fun Fact: Ziolkowski shares my birthday – I hope I don’t need to clarify we share month and day only, not year…
Crazy Horse was a war leader of the Oglala Lakota tribe – the Oglala Lakota are one of seven sub-tribes of the Lakota Nation, which are also a part of the larger Sioux Nation. Crazy Horse fought against the United States government and the encroachment of the white man on Sioux territory and the tribe’s way of life. His most famous battle was at the Battle of Little Bighorn. He was killed by a military guard after surrendering to U.S. troops in 1877.
The planned dimensions of the Crazy Horse Memorial are huge – 641 feet wide and 563 feet high; his head alone will be 87 feet tall. It is way bigger (or going to be) than Mount Rushmore, where the Presidents are each 60 feet high. Crazy Horse was begun in 1948, and there is no real idea on when it will be completed.
The memorial has become a family project, with most of Ziolkowski’s immediate family working on it, as well as some other family members. The vision includes the monument, as well as an education center and scholarships for tribal members. They received a $2.5M donation a few years back that seems to have breathed new life into the project, so perhaps that will get things moving a bit faster on the sculpture.
When we visited, we started out watching the movie. It explained the history of the monument, and the fact that proceeds go to scholarships to help tribal members get their education. Once the movie was finished, we made our way outside to see the monument. I felt like they intentionally tried to create a maze – you can’t get outside without winding your way through a ton of vendors and gift shop stuff. That was frustrating.
Outside, we checked out the model of the finished monument, and posed for photos. Admittedly, if they ever finish it, it will look really cool. The actual monument is huge. It is crazy to imagine how large it really is up close, because it looks really large from far away.
It was an interesting monument to a great tribal leader, but it really didn’t take much time to see. I had hoped that there would be a museum or exhibit with more information about Crazy Horse and the history of the campaigns the Oglala Lakota and other tribes fought with the U.S. government. To be honest, I was less than wowed. It felt like there was a less than subtle request for donations throughout the experience, and after spending $11 per person for admission, well… Other than the movie (which had its own fundraising vibe) and the mountain itself – there wasn’t much to see or do.
All in all, I was glad I went, but unless there is considerably more progress on the monument itself – particularly the horse part – I don’t feel I need a return visit.
Costs and Fees: $11 per person up to 2 in a car, includes parking. $28 per car if more than 2. There are some other prices for bicycles, kids, active military, Native Americans, etc., so check the website.