Top 10 Things You Never Knew about the Crazy Horse Memorial

Many have heard of its very famous neighbor, Mt. Rushmore, the iconic sculpture of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and (Theodore) Roosevelt that was built in the Black Hills of South Dakota in the first half of the 20th Century. But how much do you know about the Crazy Horse Memorial, in many ways a “sister” site to Rushmore, which lies only about 20 miles away?

We thought we’d gather a few interesting facts that just might put this monument to the enigmatic Native American leader on your “must see” list. (Plus you never know when you might pick up some pertinent nuggets for our big trivia discount promotion!)

1. The monument is set to stand at 563 feet high and 641 feet wide; when it’s finished, it will be the largest sculpture in the world – bigger than Mt. Rushmore – and will be the first piece of non-religious sculpture to hold that title since 1967. (To put it in perspective, the heads of all 4 presidents appearing on Mt. Rushmore will fit inside Crazy Horse’s sculpted cranium when it’s complete. Pretty impressive, right?)

2. Visiting the site is an opportunity to learn about how artistry meets engineering: creating a sculpture on such a massive scale requires explosives (dynamite is used daily to weekly to mold the rock face), detailed measurements, and lots of heavy equipment. Among the most popular events of the year are the two celebratory “night blasts” which light up the mountain with pyrotechnic displays and fireballs.

3. The statue was commissioned by Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear, who specifically requested that the monument be carved in the Black Hills, an area sacred to the Lakota nation. Disturbed by the creation of a monument to white men on important Lakota ground, Chief Standing Bear wished to create an alternate site of honor for Native Americans. As he said in a letter proposing the project at the time, “My fellow chiefs would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.”

4. The statue’s primary sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, who had formerly worked at Mt. Rushmore, was recruited for the project by Chief Henry Standing Bear after he won the sculpture competition at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. After serving in World War II, the Crazy Horse Memorial became Ziolkowski’s life’s work, and he spent the rest of his days planning out and sculpting his dream, often on his own. He died on site in 1982, and is buried in a tomb near the base of the mountain.

5. The project has now become a family affair. Ziolkowski married one of his early site volunteers, Ruth Ross, and together they built a house and raised a family of 10 children on the monument grounds. Ruth continues to work at the monument site every day, as do seven of the 10 Ziolkowski children and numerous grandchildren. One of Ruth’s sons, Casimir, is the construction foreman.

6. Known best for playing a key role in the defeat of General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse is one of the most famous Native Americans in history. Despite the massive likeness that is being carved of him, ironically, he never had his picture taken, and no accurate drawings or portraits are known to exist of the Oglala warrior. The sculpture is thus said to be a “tribute to his spirit” rather than a specific likeness.

7. Ziolkowski’s vision for the Crazy Horse Memorial was as a centerpiece of a much larger venture, which would have education and community service for Native Americans at its heart. Currently, the site houses the Indian Museum of North America, a Native American Education and Cultural Center, conference facilities, a restaurant, and the Ziolkowski home. Long-term plans also include an American Indian University and Medical Training Center, athletic facilities, and more.

8. The monument is located only a few miles from the Pine Ridge reservation, where much of Crazy Horse’s Oglala tribe was relocated during American settlement and expansion in the mid 19th Century. Programs that have begun at the Memorial have improved the lives of some young people on the reservation, where many of its residents live below the poverty level.

9. Although there is a marker at the spot where Crazy Horse was killed, his burial place is unknown. The memorial will serve as a place to honor the warrior and his fallen tribesmen.

10. The entire Crazy Horse Memorial is a nonprofit venture, raising money through the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation as well as revenues raised from entrance fees to the site. Visitors now keep the dream of the Memorial alive.

Want to do your part to help this important project, and see some of the most stunningly beautiful spots in the American West at the same time? Why not try one of these fantastic tour packages, or check out our special deals on West Coast tours:

7 Day Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore and Arches National Park Tour

5 Day Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, Grand Teton & Don King’s Western Museum Tour Package

8 Day LA/LV to Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore and Arches National Park Tour