A Gonzo Memorial to Crazy Horse (South Dakota)

  • Local Projects
  • 1948

Crazy Horse famously refused to be photographed, and after he died in U.S. Army custody in 1877 his burial place was kept secret. So what would he make of a 560-foot-tall memorial to him and his people?

For 65 years, Thunderbird Mountain in the Black Hills has been slowly transforming into an epic tribute to the Lakota fighting chief. Korczak Ziolkowski, a sculptor who cut his teeth as an assistant on nearby Mount Rushmore, began blasting away sections of the mountain in 1948. Ziolkowski continued the laborious work until his death in 1982. Since then his widow, Ruth, has directed the project with the help of seven of their ten children. In 1998, they completed Crazy Horse’s face. Since then they have been excavating his horse one high-explosive gouge at a time. “Go slowly so you do it right,” was Korczak’s parting wisdom to Ruth.

The nonprofit project—the world’s largest mountain carving—has been funded entirely by philanthropic gifts and admission fees. Ziolkowski turned down millions in government funds because of his commitment to “individual initiative and private enterprise,” according to the memorial’s foundation. It’s a good guess that Crazy Horse, a fellow skeptic of U.S. government involvement in people’s lives, would have approved.