The Crazy Horse Memorial Has Been Under Construction Since 1948 And It’s One Of The Largest In The World

The Crazy Horse Memorial is a monumental sculpture which is under construction in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It has been in progress since 1948 but it is still far from completion, even after 72 years. So, the mountain monument depicts Tasunke Witco, famously known as Crazy Horse, a Lakota war leader of the Oglala band in the 19th century. The gigantic monument will depict the legendary warrior riding a horse and pointing towards the land where Native Americans were buried.

It is also notable to point out that the memorial site isn’t far from Mount Rushmore. And there’s actually a historical connection between these two iconic monuments that most of us didn’t know. Witco rose up against the U.S. Federal Government to prevent white settlers from encroaching on the territories of the Lakota people. Some of his famous clashes against the U.S. military include the Fetterman Fight (December 1886) and the Battle of the Little Bighorn (June 1876).


Crazy Horse Memorial at Black Hills, South Dakota

crazy horse memorial
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He was already a full-fledged warrior in his mid-teens. So, he was well-known by the Lakota people for his bravery and prowess in battle. He went into battle riding his steed with a single hawk feather in his hair and a lightning mark on his face. After defeating the U.S. Army at the Battle of Little Bighorn, the U.S. government retaliated by sending scouts to round up any Northern Plains tribes who resisted. Because of this, many Indian Nations made the decision to move across the country.

crazy horse memorial black hills south dakota
Jonathunder | Wikipedia

The warrior surrendered to the U.S. army under General Crook in May 1877 and he was allegedly killed by a military guard when he attempted to resist imprisonment. Even years after his death, many Native Americans still recognize his heroism and valor. In the 1930’s, the U.S. government started working on the Mount Rushmore National Memorial depicting the faces of U.S. Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Henry Standing Bear, the chief of the Oglala Lakota at that time, appealed to the government to include the legendary Lakota leader in the memorial but this was rejected.


This Statue Has Been Under Construction For 72 Years

So, Henry Standing Bear took it upon himself to build a memorial statue of the warrior. He wrote to Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowsk who had been working under Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor behind Mount Rushmore. Ziolkowsk found the project intriguing and decided to give it a go. Henry Standing Bear had to trade all of his land to the government in exchange for the mountain where the monument was to be built. And in 1948, the project began under Ziolkowsk.

Ziolkowsk thought it would take them 30 years to complete the monumental memorial. But he was wrong. The sculptor died in 1982 at the age of 74 leaving behind his unfinished sculpture. After his death, his wife Ruth decided to continue the project using Korczak’s original plan. But instead of starting with the horse, she decided to focus on the warrior’s face first. She thought that completing the face would attract tourists which could help with the funding. Apparently, the U.S. government has no involvement with the project in any way. So, Ziolkowsk has to find the funds for the project.


A Model Of The Planned Sculpture

In 1998, the face of the warrior was completed flaunting a staggering 87 feet height. That’s actually bigger than the 60-foot portraits at Mount Rushmore. So, when Ruth died in 2014, her daughter Monique Ziolkowski took over the project as an attempt to complete her parent’s unfinished work. After over 70 years since it started, the memorial is still far from completion. Although the face of the great leader is now visible, Monique still has a long way to go to finish the statue. Based from the original plan, the sculpture’s final dimensions are 641 feet long and 563 feet high. If completed, it should become the second tallest statue in the world, after India’s Statue of Unity at 597 feet high.


The Unfinished Memorial Statue Is Now a Popular Tourist Attraction


Now, you may think that everyone would wish to have a colossal sculpture built to commemorate their heroic deeds. But that may not be the case with the warrior. As it’s a well-known fact that the he refused to have his picture or likeness taken. So, without any photos of him, Korczak only relied on descriptions from survivors of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Relatives of the great Lakota leader opposed the idea of building him a statue because they believed he wouldn’t agree to this if he was alive. Furthermore, some members of the Lakota community find it disrespectful because the memorial site is a sacred burial ground.

Well, there’s always a story and controversy behind every piece of artwork and the Crazy Horse memorial is no different. But, only time can tell if the ambitious project will be completed or not and it will be a record-breaking feat if it does.