The Black Hills…”Native” vs.” American” History


Mt. Rushmore


Crazy Horse


The Black Hills of South Dakota behold many miles of impressive scenery and a wealth of wild west history.  It is also home to two majestic stone mountain carvings drawing millions of tourists annually to marvel at the beauty and perhaps embrace the history that so inspired these masterpieces. And although we don’t like to put ourselves in that “tourist” category (yes, we have totally become travel snobs), I will say that our initial reason for visiting the area was to do just that.

We decided to start at Mt. Rushmore, the monument that epitomizes what most Americans consider the ultimate memorial to the birth, growth, development and preservation of our country. Admission to the memorial is free, however they do get you with an $11 parking fee which was not covered by our National park pass. Apparently, federal funds weren’t used in the construction of the lot which is a concession operating under a contract between the National Park Service and The Mt. Rushmore society.  What???   That aside, the sight of the 60 foot heads of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln from The Grand View Terrace is well worth paying the parking fee.

We began our tour the same way we do at every National Park we visit.  We spent about 45 minutes in the visitor center, first checking out the exhibits followed by a viewing of the park movie detailing its history, culture, science and nature. Then we headed out to walk the 1/2 mile Presidential Trail loop, admiring the different viewpoints, waiting patiently for our turn at the prime photo spots and shooting a few takes for the  “On the Road with Mercy ” series.

This  is what we learned while we were there…

Gutzon Borglum was an incredibly talented sculptor.  It took 400 workers 14 years to complete. The conditions were at times very harsh but there were no deaths. They blasted with Dynamite.

This is what we did not learn while we were there…

The land on which Mt. Rushmore sits was wrongfully taken by our government from the Lakota Indian tribe .

Gutzon Borglum was at one time an active member of the KKK.

17 miles away sits Crazy Horse,  the memorial honoring the culture, tradition and living heritage of  North American Indians.  When finished (which most likely will not be in my lifetime) it will be the largest outdoor sculpture in the world.

Being the colossal size that it is, you can actually get a fairly decent view  from the road.  That being said, we had already planned on going in for a closer look  as for some reason or another Bri and I bypassed this one 20 years ago. Paying the $27  wasn’t  all that difficult to swallow once we were informed that every bit of the fee goes to the non-profit foundation which funds construction of the monument as well as various educational programs and scholarships. The fact that we were able to leave with a chunk of the granite blasted from the mountain was an added bonus.

Once you’re on what they refer to as their campus, you have access to the entire visitor complex which consists of  The Visitor Center, The Indian Museum of North America, The Native American Education and Cultural Center and Korczak’s Studio/Home. Again,we began by viewing the 20 minute orientation movie, “Dynamite and Dreams” which left us all just sitting in our seats trying to absorb the magnificent feat set out upon by one determined man whose motto was “Never Forget Your Dreams”.  We spent the next couple of hours on campus.

This is what we learned while we were there….

Korczak Ziolkowski was a gifted sculptor who worked briefly on Mt. Rushmore.  He was invited by  Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear to carve a memorial celebrating the spirit of their Sioux Warrior Crazy Horse.

Ziolkowski accepted the invitation and singlehandedly took on the project first by constructing roads to the base, stairs to the 600 ft. summit and a cabin to live in. He declined two offers of  10 million dollars in federal funding. He married and had ten children. He worked on Crazy Horse until his death and left detailed plans to carry on his work. His wife Ruth, now in her 80s and 7 of their children are dedicated to continuing his dream. When completed, all four presidential heads will be able to fit inside Crazy Horse’s head.

Crazy Horse was an inspiration to Native American tribes. A legendary leader who wanted for his people to remain on their lands and live freely without having to seek out permission of the white man.  He was stabbed and killed by an American soldier while under a flag of truce.

This is what we didn’t learn while we were there…..

Hmmmmm…..nothing comes to mind.

We ended up extending our stay in The Black Hills region where we camped in an area held sacred to many Native American tribes. We experienced the land, the legends, the history and the culture of these indigenous people and I personally left with a spiritual connection.

However, there is one thing that does not sit well with me and perhaps the reason for me writing this post. From a moral standpoint, how was the US government able to   continuously violate treaties allowing the Indian tribes to keep their own land every time an opportunity for personal gain was revealed?  How ironic is it that the very culture of the indigenous people revolved around respecting and protecting  the land and today these reservations are some of the most run-down and impoverished  areas of our country.  I have seen this personally. This, my friends is American history and it is unfortunate that for centuries this feeling of entitlement may be the only thing that has “trickled down”.


Crazy Horse

5 thoughts on “The Black Hills…”Native” vs.” American” History

  1. Once again, another great entry! Native American history is one of my favorite things to learn about.

  2. Thanks for the post, Tanya. I have spent a lot of time on reservations, mostly in New Mexico and Alaska. It was shocking to me to see the conditions, particularly in New Mexico. It was literally like a third world country. We learned very, very very little about this in “U.S” History while in high school, probably because, until recently, history has been written by the “winners”. With that being said, this sculpture of Crazy Horse and the long term vision Ziolkowski and his family have will some day represent that history can also be expressed by the strongest survivor. There’s a lot of power up in that land. We have a lot to learn from the Native Americans…

Comments are closed.