Building a Legacy for Native Americans: The Story of Crazy Horse | Black Hills Travel Blog

Building a Legacy for Native Americans: The Story of Crazy Horse

  • Building a Legacy for Native Americans: The Story of Crazy Horse
Updated: 
Monday, June 22, 2020
By : 
BHVIC

Crazy Horse was born during a time of great upheaval in the annals of the West. It was a time when settlers came in droves to claim land that was once the property of the Sioux Indians. Some western historians note that the 1840s were an era that brought the expansion of the West to the forefront. Many settlers considered Western lands theirs for the taking and attitudes towards the Native Americans that lived on the land were poor.

Environment of the Times

It was during the 1840s and 1850s that Americans embraced "manifest destiny," a term first coined by John L. O'Sullivan in an article he wrote on the annexation of Texas. The feelings of the settlers mirrored the manifesto—they believed they were entitled to land and should uproot the Native Americans who lived there in the process.

Other events stirred the pot of discontent and anger. Crazy Horse, a member of the Lakota tribe, had already proven himself a noble warrior by the time he was a teenager in the mid-1850s. His early legacy included stealing horses from the neighboring Crow tribe and fighting in the 1865-1868 war to eradicate settlers in Wyoming. It was Crazy Horse's determination to save his heritage that tipped the scale for him. In the turbulent and unsettled time in which Native Americans were considered less than human, Crazy Horse rallied his tribe to fight against the encroachment of settlers on their land.

Battle of Little Big Horn

Crazy Horse's legacy is tied to the Battle of Little Big Horn, which many know as "Custer's Last Stand." Because the US Government made the decision to force the Lakotas onto reservations, Crazy Horse was spurred into action to attack and take back the land. He gathered a huge force of fellow tribe members and others to fight the encroachment. The Battle of Little Big Horn marked an important turning point in the relationship between the Native Americans and the settlers. It also made Crazy Horse famous along with Sitting Bull. Both had proved that the Native Americans were a force to be reckoned with and respected.

The story of Crazy Horse inspired Henry Standing Bear, chief of the Lakota tribe, to ask Korczak Ziolkowski to create a memorial in 1939 and show that "...the red man has great heroes, also." To Standing Bear, it seemed fitting that the victor in the Battle of Little Big Horn would be recognized. Ziolkowski took up the project in 1948.

A Memorial for the Ages

Ziolkowski's commitment to the project showed in the detailed model he created. Taking direction from photographs, drawings and written descriptions, Ziolkowski created a model that personified Crazy Horse's spirit. The Black Hills of South Dakota, near to where the battle took place, was chosen for the grand stone memorial. The granite composition of the mountains proved to have some unique properties, which brought along some challenges that deterred the project. Some of these challenges were easily surmountable while others proved to take longer to accomplish.

It was deemed early on in the process to create a monument that surpassed Mount Rushmore in its scope. It was the feeling that the monument would reflect the traditions and spirit of the Native Americans.

Learning and Supporting a Legacy

All visitors to the Black Hills should visit this historic and moving memorial. Understanding the rich legacy Native Americans have left us enriches our lives, and it is important to understand what Crazy Horse and many indigenous tribes undertook to preserve their heritage and way of life.

Challenges do remain. The magnitude of the project has increased exponentially as the work continues. Time and money each play a role in the project. New technologies are helping, including VSAT services and excavation projection software that help reduce the amount of time it has taken to do the work.

As for funding, the Crazy Horse Memorial is funded primarily through private donations and public admissions. There is no exact estimate of the cost of the project, but, to date, the foundation has raised over 19 million dollars to finance various stages of the mountain carving. Local colleges and universities often utilize the Memorial's facilities to learn about Native Americans and their role in American history.

The work is ongoing today as three members of the Ziolkowski family have taken over the reign from Ruth Ziolkowski. Currently, focus has turned to finishing work on the outstretched arm and hand of Crazy Horse along with the horse's mane. Most of the work that will continue on this area of the mountain will be done by hand. 

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