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A Brutal Summer
Nebraska, by many accounts experienced an unusually long, hot summer in the year of 1877. Heat can do funny things to people, it can get into anyone’s head. Perhaps it added to the tension that would have been palpable anyways, and in any climate at Fort Robinson, the military outpost near the location of Crazy Horse’s surrender, and where he was awaiting reassignment to a reservation. Crazy Horse defied his instructions to remain on the Fort when his wife became sick. After taking her to his parents he returned to Fort Robinson, where he willingly surrendered to awaiting soldiers. At first he offered his captors no resistance. Quickly though it became apparent that he was to be held in a guardhouse. This according to accounts agitated Crazy Horse and a struggle ensued. During the incident, a soldier bayoneted Crazy Horse in the kidneys, a wound that would ultimately be fatal. With his father by his side, Crazy Horse would pass away on September 5, 1877 still just in his late thirties.
What About Us?
Henry Standing Bear, a famous Oglala Lakota chief watched Mt. Rushmore being carved into the South Dakota Landscape in the 1930’s and apparently felt empty. The white men were making a giant memorial to some of their greatest people for everyone to see, but what about the great Indians of the past, like Crazy Horse, where was their representation? So he contacted the United States government’s Department of the Interior and struck a deal to obtain a barren mountain and build something to honor Crazy Horse. But he needed a brilliant sculptor to lead the project. So he recruited a renowned man of Polish descent
Born in Boston Massachusetts Korczak would spend the majority of his childhood in foster homes, often being mistreated and abused. This difficult upbringing would shape the boy into a hardened, hard working man. He put himself through school, and thanks to his talent and sheer will became a renowned sculptor. By the 1930’s his reputation had garnered national attention. Gutzon Borglum asked him for his help on Mt. Rushmore. It was this project that brought Korczak to the attention of Henry Standing Bear. The two would meet and even visit potential locations for the Crazy Horse Memorial. After serving and being wounded in World War Two Korczak was asked to make government funded war memorials in Europe. Instead he opted to return to the U.S. and dedicate the rest of his life to the Crazy Horse Memorial. We can only imagine how ecstatic Henry Standing Bear must have been with the decision.
Construction and the Future
After planting himself in the Black Hills Korczak would spend the next 35 years beginning the Crazy Horse Memorial. Along with his wife, Ruth and their children he would work tirelessly to start carving the mountain into the image of the great Indian leader. Several health scares and his advancing age would cause Korczak to create three books of detailed plans so that Ruth and his descendants could continue his dream. Ruth would take the mantle following his passing in 1982. Crazy Horse’s face was finally finished in 1998, complete with seventeen foot wide eyes. Ruth would not only make vital, necessary changes to the measurements of the sculpture, but she was also instrumental in expanding the facilities surrounding the monument, which attract thousands annually. Though she passed away in 2014 she is largely responsible for the magnificent state of the project today. As you can see there’s still a ways to go to complete the Memorial, but when it’s done, it will rank as the single largest sculpture in the world.
Not everyone is as thrilled as Henry Standing Bear once was about the Monument. Many, including his own descendants point to the fact that Crazy Horse didn’t even want his picture taken in life and say that the monument goes against the man’s spirit and everything he stood for. They also don’t like the millions of dollars generated by the various facilities surrounding the monument and the fact that Crazy Horse’s name is generating wealth for the Ziolkowski family. That last fact touches on why almost any Indian likeness, think a sports team like the Washington Redskins, for instance, when used by the white population, is seen by many as exploitative.