Everything that was bad about Mount Rushmore was good at the Crazy Horse Memorial.
In 1939, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear asked sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski* to build a memorial to a great Native American, so that “…the white man [could] know that the red man had great heroes, too.” I guess the white man was too busy to ask the red man who was who amongst the heroes the white man were slaughtering, subjugating and stealing from. Here is a sculpture of Chief Henry Standing Bear by Korczak Ziolkowski:
Korczak, son of Polish parents who died when he was a year old, grew up in foster homes, at least one of which was abusive. Korczak put himself through school and worked as a ship builder. He trained himself in sculpting, painting and woodworking, and won first prize at the New York World’s Fair with this marble bust of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, composer, pianist, diplomat, and third Prime Minister of Poland.Stern looking, puffy-eyed dude, right? Anyway, Korczak quit his then day job, which happened to be working with Borglum on carving Mount Rushmore- will coincidences never cease?!- and went on to dedicate the rest of his life to building a monument that he felt was fit to honor the tribes that peopled the Black Hills. Together with Chief Standing Bear, they decided that the perfect representative would be Sioux Chief Crazy Horse, who defeated the arrogant bastard Custer (more on him later) in the Battle of Little Bighorn, and who famously took up arms against the U.S. government in order to protect the Black Hills and resist being forced onto a reservation. He became a warrior after he saw the Treaty of 1868, which was signed by then President Andrew Jackson, and which promised that “The Black Hills will forever and ever be the sacred land of the Indians,” broken. After that, he rallied his brethren with the famous declaration, “It is a good day to fight; it is a good day to die.”
Crazy Horse himself never touched a pen or signed a treaty. He explains his militantism thusly: “We had buffalo for our food, and their hides for clothing and for our tepees. We preferred hunting to a life of idleness on the reservation, where we were driven against our will. At times we did not get enough to eat and we were not allowed to leave the reservation to hunt. We preferred our own way of living. We were no expense to the government. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone.” In other words, Popeye’s to be exact, “That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more!” Crazy Horse was 37 when he died after being stabbed by a guard while in U.S. protective custody.
Unfortunately, the Black Hills were chock full of resources, so peace and a live and let live attitude were not really options. Besides, the Indians were bloodthirsty, sub-human animals, so who cares. Back to the white guy in this story!
Korczak worked tirelessly on the monument, often alone. He built a log cabin for his wife and 10 kids, and a 741 step ladder to climb to the first level of excavation. He told a story of starting his old compressor up, climbing all those steps, getting to the top, and hearing the compressor die before he could start drilling. Back down the ladder he’d go, to start the compressor and climb up again. Mountain goats loved the steps and sometimes he’d have to wait to let them pass. He loaded blasting caps, set them off, cleared the rock and blasted again. In time, seven of his kids and his wife worked on the statue or on the adjacent Native American museum. In addition to the memorial, humanitarian plans for a medical training facility and a heritage preservation center are part of Crazy Horse, as well as a gift shop which supplies work to local tribes and individuals. Korczak never accepted government funding for the memorial, fearing that the U.S. could not be held accountable for upholding their end of any “treaty” negotiated, and he refused to undermine the integrity or scale of his monument. He believed in private enterprise and individual initiative, and the whole project has been and continues to be financed by donations, admission costs and gift shop sales.
McAdams and I were so overcome by the spirit of the place that we paid our admission price with a smile, hired a rickety bus to take us to the base of the mountain at sunset, and spent a shitload of money in the gift shop. I bought postcards and presents and metal replicas of the Crazy Horse stamp the U.S. Postal Service issued. The trinket has edges so sharp that when McAdams put hers on a chain around her neck, she almost gave herself a tracheotomy, so we decided to give them to little kids we know. We bought buffalo head nickel necklaces that we dedicated to each other “in the sacred shadow of Crazy Horse and the Indian Nation.” (That’s how my dedication began, anyway. It went on for ten minutes or so; fitting for the occasion, don’t you think? McAdams said, “Here! Do you want me to put it on you?” She doesn’t have my flair for oratory.)
Man-oh-Manischiewitz, what a sculpture it is! It is the largest in the world, and once completed it will be 563 feet tall and 641 feet wide, which is about 8 feet taller than the Washington Monument, which is real tall. This makes ol’ George nervous, so he’s always looking over his shoulder at Mt. Rushmore, to see what “those crazy Injuns are up to now!” He tries to look calm, but I can sense his fear.Crazy Horse’s 63 foot arm points over the Black Hills. 4,000 people could stand on that arm. The horse’s head will be 22 stories high. All four of the Mt. Rushmore heads could fit in Crazy Horse’s cranium. In the words of Brittney Spears, “Dang, y’all! That’s just a whole lot of head!”
It’s magnificent. It’s inspiring. It’s a testament to human ingenuity, vision and promise. I hope I am alive to see it completed.
Last night Glenn Beck held a rally to take back honor for America. He honored America in 2009, when he said that President Obama was a racist.** He said restoring honor could only be achieved by a religious rebirth, and that his role, as he sees it, is to “wake America up …most of all [to] God.” He also said, according to the NYT, “We are a country of God. As I look at the problems in our country, quite honestly, I think the hot breath of destruction is breathing on our necks, and to fix it politically is a figure that I don’t see anywhere.” I don’t really know what that means, but thank goodness we have Glenn Beck as an example of what America should be. Otherwise, we’d have to look elsewhere for inspiration, like to the memorial, which was created by godless heathens like Crazy Horse and long-haired, hippie, non-conformist Poles, like Ziolkowski.***
*And you thought I made up the name Guzton Borglum! I guess when you give your kid a wacky, zee-heavy name, you just kind of expect he’ll end up doing some massive mountain sculpture in South Dakota. It’s kind of like naming a kid Velvet Lushbottom or Klyde King Klansmann – what career choices do you really think they have?
**Beck has since amended his statement. Now he says Obama isn’t a racist; “he’s just a guy who understands the world through liberation theology.” As with many of Beck’s pearls of wisdom, I had no idea what he was talking about, so I had to do some digging. The New York Daily News explains that liberation theology, which was founded in the 1950’s in Latin America and based in Christian beliefs, involves the idea that the poor need to be freed from economic, political and social injustice. Beck claims that this is “Marxism disguised as religion” and that it is at odds with what most Christians believe. “That is a direct opposite of what the gospel is talking about.” http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/2010/08/29/2010-08-29_glenn_beck_i_shouldnt_have_called_obama_racist_hes_really_just_a_liberation_theo.html
Not being the scholar that Beck is on what most Christians believe and WWJDology, I will have to look that up too, as I was under the mistaken belief that JC was cool with the poor and believed in helping others. All I know is this: the only way of righting America’s wrongs is by a religious revival, but we have to be really careful it’s the right kind of religion, and we need to listen to the voices of righteous like Father Beck and Sister Sarah, who will lead us away from equality for all and give it back to those who really deserve it. Here’s more, if you want it, from America Magazine, which is a Catholic weekly.
Did he say his name was “BM”? Is he speaking English? What the hell is that all about? And wait, did I just embed? Oh, HELLZ YEAH!!!! A new day has dawned! Yeah!