Custer, South Dakota is between two incredible mountain memorial sculptures and next to a state park in the Black Hills. The town is named for General Custer’s gold find in 1870, not for his battles in Montana. We chose to make this interesting spot a base for a few days. Custer is small with western ware and cowboy fare. There is a giant sign in the ponderosa pine hillside above the town a la the HOLLYWOOD sign, a few rose quartz quarries and life-sized, artist-painted fiberglass bison on most corners. You know you are out of the big city when you park next to a pickup filled with skulls, antlers, and skulls with antlers (antlers are shed many times during an elk or mule-deers life). Less than a ten minute drive from the center of town is the Crazy Horse Memorial. This is not a government project, and there is no corporate funding. It is a private venture. It is the world’s largest mountain carving in progress.
Henry Standing Bear, Chief of the Lakota asked sculptor Korezak Ziolkowski in 1939 to create a memorial in response to Mt. Rushmore “to let the white man know that the red man has great heroes too.” Ziolkowski accepted the project and found a way to get the land (a US Forest Service land swap) and begin this dream project. A carving of Crazy Horse on his horse pointing towards his lands was the final goal. The first blast of rock was in June of 1948. Ziolkowski’s wife Ruth and their ten children all assisted in this dream. 70 years later, the dream continues. The face is finished and work is constant on the arm, hair, and horse. There is a third generation of Ziolkowski working on the project. Also included in this project are a visitor center, a museum, and a Native American College with medical training center. The scale of the sculpture is enormous. The four heads of the presidents on Mount Rushmore could fit inside the head of Crazy Horse.
The project is remarkable and beautiful, however, some Native Americans understandably take issue with the desecration of a beautiful mountain to make a statue of someone known to be reluctant to even be photographed.The eye of the horse will be large enough to drive a bus through. Work will continue on this memorial sculpture and with new and developing technology, the completion of the Crazy Horse Memorial in the next 70 years is possible. In the words of Ziolkowski, “never forget your dreams”.