Crazy Horse Memorial

Several months before my Mom passed late November 2014, we had discussed my hope to some day be able to travel cross-country in our motorhome.  She made me promise that if I ever got the chance, I had to go see the Crazy Horse Memorial for her, a sighting she had longed to see herself but never got the chance.

I fulfilled my promise to her this past summer.  In the Black Hills of South Dakota and only 17 miles from Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, we visited Crazy Horse Memorial, the world’s largest, ongoing mountain carving.


Back in 1939, Korczak Ziolkowski, a noted New England sculptor, first came to the Black Hills to help Gutzon Borglum on the creation of Mt. Rushmore.  That same year, Korczak received recognition at the New York World’s Fair for winning first prize for his Carrara marble portrait, “PADEREWSKI, Study of an Immortal.”

When the carving of Mt. Rushmore began in 1927, the local Lakota Indians objected loudly. The Black Hills of South Dakota, by treaty, belonged to them.

Hearing the news of Korczak’s NY World’s Fair win, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear sent Korczak a letter to come back to the Black Hills and do a mountain carving for their people because “my fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes also”.

Korczak decided to accept the invitation of Chief Standing Bear.  Crazy Horse was the chosen subject.  Korczak said, “By carving Crazy Horse, if I can give back to the Indian some of his pride and create a means to keep alive his culture and heritage, my life will have been worthwhile.”

Korczak carved a clay model to present to Chief Standing Bear, depicting Crazy Horse on his horse, his hand outstretched that would point to the Black Hills in answer to the sarcastic question asked by the white man, “Where are your lands now?” with “My lands are where my dead lie buried”.

chief-standing-bear-korczak2Photo Courtesy of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation

dsc_4002-1-82116Several scaled models range from 1/24th to 1/300th

Korczak’s “Dream” began construction in 1948 with only $174.  He worked alone with one small jackhammer powered by a gas compressor (“Old Buda”) at the bottom of the mountain.  Korczak later built a 741-step staircase, descending and reclimbing it several times daily, often to restart “Old Buda” that would “kaput”.


dsc_4017-1-82116“Old Buda” gas compressor

Having met Korczak a few times prior, Ruth Ross followed him from Connecticut to the Black Hills to volunteer her assistance.  They fell in love, married in 1950, and had ten children.  The children contributed to the “Dream”; the five boys worked on the mountain, and the five girls assisted Ruth in the Visitor Center.


After having several health scares, Korczak realized that Ruth might one day inherit the responsibility of carrying on the Crazy Horse Dream, so they prepared three books of comprehensive plans for the continuation of the mountain carving.


Mr. & Mrs. Korczak Ziolkowski
(photo courtesy of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation)

Korczak dedicated 36 years of his life working on the project until his death on October 20, 1982, at age 74.  After his passing, his wife, Ruth, took over leadership, until her passing in 2014.  Ruth was accredited for completing Crazy Horse’s head and the growth of the Foundation.

The beautiful Black Hills Nature Gates to Crazy Horse Memorial

Today, the Dream is still alive in those who remain at Crazy Horse, including four of the 10 children and many of the 23 grandchildren who work on the project and foundation along with a volunteer Board of Directors and many dedicated skilled professionals.

The Crazy Horse Memorial does not nor has it ever accepted federal or state funding. The project is financed entirely by admissions and contributions.  Much more information and a donation link can be found at the Crazy Horse Memorial website.



Planned Mountain Dimensions
Entire Carving – 641 feet long
Entire Carving – 563 feet high
Crazy Horse’s Face – 87 feet, 6 inches (completed June 3, 1998)
(compared to Mt. Rushmore, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents are each 60 feet high)
Outstretched Arm – 263 feet
Opening under arm – 70 feet wide and 100 feet high
Hand – 25 feet high
Finger – 29 1/2 feet long
Horse’s Head – 219 feet high (22 stories)
Horse’s Mane – 62 feet high
Horse’s Ears – 54 feet long
Horse’s Eyes – 20 feet wide; 15 feet high
Horse’s Nostrils – 26 foot diameter


“Never forget your dreams.”  – Korczak Ziolkowski, Storyteller in Stone
(photo courtesy of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation)

Today would have been my Mom’s 77th birthday.  Happy Birthday, Mom.  It was an inspiring & emotional joy to see this with you in spirit this past summer.  I love and miss you always.




38 thoughts on “Crazy Horse Memorial

  1. What a wonderful story and beautiful pictures. Thank you so much for sharing! And your last sentence really hit home. I will be 77 next year, and feel so lucky to have seen so much of the world and our country — but while I have been to Mount Rushmore, I have not been to the Crazy Horse Monument. I must put that on my ‘bucket’ list! 🙂

  2. I’ve seen that mega sculpture and I can only imagine the grandiosity when they finish the project. ( I don’t think it’s going to be soon! Wonderful post Donna! Thank you. 🙂

  3. Thanks so much for the beautiful post. I’d been thinking about this memorial with all that’s going on at Standing Rock, albeit in North Dakota. I’m glad you went and shared this with us.

  4. Thanks for sharing this very interesting
    achievement Donna. Your mum would be
    pleased you visited for her. It was inspiring to
    read how this couple and children pressed on
    To achieve the dream, and also bless the
    Traditional owners of the land. Thanks again
    my friend 😊

  5. I never heard this much of the story about the Crazy Horse memorial, Donna, and appreciate hearing the history. I am glad you made it to the site for yourself and for your mother. if I get south, it is a place that I want to visit. aThe nature gates are beautiful and I am glad the dream is still alive.

  6. Wonderful!

    I was there twice like a decade or more between visits and work hadn’t progressed that much. Funding always an issue.
    The first time I saw it it was mostly a drawing on the rock face just beginning to take shape. The second time I saw it some of the face was done, but wow! So much more is has been done. I guess a third trip is in my future. 🙂

    It must be a wonderful feeling knowing you kept a promise to Mom about going there.

    How you doing? Getting around now? I hope so!

    • Thanks so much, Deborah! When the wife took over, she was determined to finish the face. The face gave the dream more reality. 🙂 I hadn’t known of this monument until Mom talked about it. It was nice to be there for her. Me not getting around too well, small accident, not my fault, has put me back a bit with my health. But I’m working on getting better!! 🙂

  7. Excellent post, thanks for the comprehensive back story. It is good to see they are still working on it but, based on my pictures from a vist about 10 years ago, it seems to look almost exactly the same.

    • Thanks so much, Kent! It doesn’t get very far with the lack of funds and the winters’ weathers. The face was completed in 1998, I think it’s not changed so much since then. 😦

  8. What a beautiful post in so many ways, Donna! I am happy you could fulfil your promise…and tell the story to us with so many beautiful pictures. Lovely!

  9. Pingback: Crazy Horse Memorial — Photos by Donna – The Punk Rock Hobo

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