Western Adventure: Crazy Horse Monument

From SD Tourism

Located halfway between Mt. Rushmore and Custer, SD off scenic Highway 16, Crazy Horse is a monutment to honor the culture and traditions of Native Americans, including the Oglala Lakota peple.


To the Lakota the Black Hills is the center of the universe. It is their ancestral home and a place sacred to their culture. It defines their heritage and community.

The Black Hills is a beautiful confluence of cultures from the native roots to the gathering of all Americans (from all backgrounds) to celebrate our unique character and patchwork of nationality. However, the jagged granite rocks and sharp spired needles of The Black Hills also remind us of the bloodshed and loss the Lakota faced with western expansion. Gold, greed and a battle of people and cultures led to division.

The discovery of gold in the Black Hills (near Custer SD – you can visit the site at the Gordon Stockade near Stockade Lake) – previous land treaties with the Lakota were overruled. Gold diggers rushed to the area and disquiet emerged. The Lakota fought hard to retain their land and rights.

A leader emerged known as Crazy Horse. Born in 1840 in the Black Hills area. His father was named Crazy Horse as well…Crazy Horse was nicknamed Curly by his mother because he had curly hair. Losing his mother at a young age, Crazy Horse grew up fast. He was tenacious and determined. He eventually was given his father’s name (his father passing it down as he aged). He was also known as ‘His Horse is Wild’

Wanting to protect his people and lands from encroachment he quickly gained recognition and repute as a courageous warrior and leader in the battlefield.

Crazy Horse’s personality was also characterized by aloofness, shyness, modesty and lonesomeness. He was generous to the poor, the elderly and the children (from Black Elk Speaks)

Crazy Horse was known to have a personality characterized by aloofness, shyness, modesty and lonesomeness. He was generous to the poor, the elderly, and children.

 rode into battle with a single hawk feather in his hair, a rock behind his ear, and a lightning symbol on his face.  The symbols and rituals that went into preparing for war provided the warrior power and protection.

In 1876, Crazy Horse led a band of Lakota warriors against Custer’s Seventh U.S. Cavalry battalion.  They called this the Battle of the Little Bighorn also known as Custer’s Last Stand and the Battle of the Greasy Grass.  Custer, 9 officers, and 280 enlisted men, all lay dead after the fighting was over.  According to tribes who participated in the battle, 32 Indians were killed.  Without Crazy Horse and his followers the battle’s outcome would have been much different as he was integral in stopping reinforcements from arriving.

His Death: In 1877, under a flag of truce, Crazy Horse went to Fort Robinson. Negotiations with U.S. Military leaders stationed at the Fort broke down. Eyewitnesses blame the breakdown in negotiations on the translator who incorrectly translated what Crazy Horse said. Crazy Horse was quickly escorted toward the jail. Once he realized that the commanding officers were planning on imprisoning him, he struggled and drew his knife. Little Big Man, friend and fellow warrior of Crazy Horse, tried to restrain him. As Crazy Horse continued to free himself, an infantry guard made a successful lunge with a bayonet and mortally wounded the great warrior. Crazy Horse died shortly after the mortal wound was inflicted. There are different accounts putting the date of his death around midnight September 5, 1877. (from Crazy Horse Memorial website)

Crazy Horse said ‘my lands are where my dead lie buried.’ He continues to be an inspiration to all Americans in fighting with courage and standing up for the rights of all people – especially Native Americans.

The Monument

Quick Facts:

Crazy Horse is carved on a 6,532 foot mountain. When completed it will be the largest monument in the world 641 feet.

It is a work in progress after 74 years because it is funded solely be admissions and donations.

Crazy Horse’s face was unveiled in the 1990s and is 86 feet (26 feet larger than Mt. Rushmore)

Why Crazy Horse?

After the construction of Mt. Rushmore as a symbol of American patriotism and hope towards a better future, Lakota Chief Standing Bear proposed a nearby monument in the heart of the Black Hills be created to honor the Native Americans.

“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes too.” – Chief Standing Bear

Chief Standing Bear recruited renowned sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski – a Polish American from the east coast to design and build the monument. Ziolkowski had previously worked on Mt. Rushmore and involved in art shows throughout the world. His sculpture of Paderewski won top prize at the 1939 World’s Fair.

Before Ziolkowski could commit to Crazy Horse, World War II broke out. At age 34, he volunteered for service in World War II. He landed on Omaha Beach and, later, was wounded.

At war’s end, he returned to The Black Hills and agreed to carve Crazy Horse. This project was completely his blood, sweat and tears as their was not real budget – and he was alone working on the mountain. He refused to take a salary.

To learn more about Ziolkowski click here.

“By carving Crazy Horse, if I can give back to the Indian some of his pride and create a means to keep alive his culture and heritage, my life will have been worthwhile.”

Korczak arrived in the Black Hills on May 3, 1947. He worked on the project until his death on October 20, 1982, at age 74. He is laid to rest in the tomb that he and his sons blasted from a rock outcropping at the base of the mountain. He wrote his own epitaph for the tomb door and cut the letters from steel plate.

Today his family and board of director, volunteers and supporters keep the Crazy Horse dream alive – blasting bit by bit.

It is interesting to note (and a point of some controversy) that Crazy Horse was adament that he did NOT want his photograph taken or picture drawn. So while it seems odd to then carve his image in stone, this monument is more than simply Crazy Horse the man – it is monument to Native Americans and their history and the importance of their history in the fabric of American and the nation we are today.

Your Visit:

From Memorial Site – great museums about Native culture

to donate to Memorial Foundation click here

I’ve been blessed to have visited Crazy Horse three times (2004, 2009, 2022). Each time I learn more about the Native American cultures and am able to see slight progress as the carving continues.

While the monument itself is impressive – the reason I return is the museum. Crazy Horse provides visitors an indepth look into the culture of the Lakota and other tribes.

Native American artisans can be found making tradtional crafts from native dress to gorgeous pottery. You can speak with Lakota and other tribes and LISTEN to their stories and the humanity that connects us.

I was moved by hearing the Lakota version of Psalm 23 and the reverence for taking care of God’s creation.

At the end of the day we are all God’s children – created by HIM and loved by HIM, the time at Crazy Horse helps to build relationships across cultures and tear down walls.

To learn more about planning your visit to Crazy Horse you can visit their website.

They have a fun laser show at night

Amazing painting in the museum!

June and October, Crazy Horse is home to the largest Volksmarch walk in the nation (averaging 15 people) – this is a great time to connect with fellow history/travel buffs and enjoy the beauty of the Black Hills

My pic from 2009 – my camera died this visit 🙁

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