A short distance from Custer is the Crazy Horse Memorial. This gigantic figure is the singlehanded creation of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. By the time it is completed it is estimated that 10 million tons of granite will have been blasted from Thunderhead Mountain. Korczak was completely self-taught. He never took a formal lesson in art, sculpture, architecture or engineering. One of his pieces “Paderewski – Study of an Immortal,” won first prize by popular vote at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear saw the sculpture and wrote to Korczak saying, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes also,” and invited Korczak to come to South Dakota to carve Crazy Horse.
The artist was 40 years old and had only $174 when he arrived in the Black Hills on May 3, 1947 to accept the invitation. The first blast took place June 3, 1948 and removed 10 tons of rock from the mountaintop. Korczak was a firm believer in the free enterprise system and felt Crazy Horse should be built by the interested public and not the taxpaper. Twice he turned down offers of federal funding.
There is now a huge complex at the site with a clear view of the ongoing construction. The Indian Museum of North America, the Indian University of North America, and an Education & Conference Center, plus a visitor’s complex with a restaurant and art gallery give tourists plenty to see. The project is completely funded by visitor’s fees and donations.
Korczak died in 1982. He understood that the project was larger than the lifetime of one person and left detailed plans to be used with his scale models to continue his work. His wife Ruth, who previously had worked mainly on raising their ten children, funding, bookkeeping and public relations, continued to direct the project until her death in 2014. The CEO of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation Board of Directors, plus two of Korczak and Ruth’s children (Jadwiga and Monique) have directed the work since. His daughter Monique Ziolkowski is also a renowned sculptor and her works as well as several of her father’s are on display in the gallery. “Brothers” by Korczak – 1935 (on loan)
Korczak had begun working on the head of the horse first but after his death Ruth changed the schedule to complete Crazy Horse’s head first hoping the 87.5′ face would encourage tourists to come and see the project and bring in funding. After the chief’s head was finished in 1998 the Crazy Horse Memorial became one of the top ten tourist attractions in South Dakota. The workers are now blocking out the 22-story high horse’s head and it is expected to take decades to complete. The painted outline (which is 6 feet wide) on the mountain shows the 45-foot ear and the 16-foot wide eye which will be about 260 feet below the head of Crazy Horse. The 1/34 scale model on the viewing terrace gives the visitor a close-up look at what the finished memorial will look like. The poem will also be carved in the side of the mountain. This custom-painted motorcycle and 1860’s stagecoach from the Deadwood-Cheyenne route were on display in the Visitor’s Center. After we left Crazy Horse we drove the Needles Highway on our way Keystone. This 20 mile section of road has hairpin turns, narrow tunnels and granite spires along the roadside. The small parking area at the base of the ‘Needle’s Eye’ was packed with cars. Clambering around on the rocks is a favourite pass time while people wait for vehicles to navigate the tunnel. The most fun was watching the bus come through. The mirrors were tucked in and that driver inched his way through with virtually no room to spare.
We met a herd of Bison that had no issues with holding up traffic. I loved this directional sign. Where are we going exactly?This big fellow was right at home walking down the middle of the road. It wasn’t anywhere near Christmas yet this Pronghorn its horns decorated for the holiday.
And a very friendly group of free range donkeys stopped traffic in order to have a visit (and hopefully, some snacks I would suspect).
There was plenty of wildlife to see that day. We encountered some deer and more pronghorns before finally reaching Keystone, SD for the night.