Crazy Horse: Carving out world’s largest memorial in South Dakota

Crazy Horse
The memorial will stand more than 500 feet tall when completed

Crazy Horse has long been considered the spiritual leader of the Lakota Sioux (most all Sioux, to be honest). He was among the warriors leading about 2,000 Native Americans to victory at the Battle of Little Bighorn in southeast Montana.

Today, his eyes look over the Black Hills in southwest South Dakota. The Crazy Horse Memorial continues to carve out his likeness along the hillsides near the town of Custer. Work on the mountain started in the late 1940s, when artist Korczak Ziolkowski was hired to build the memorial. The project has taken more than seven decades to reach its current position, because the artist refused to accept government assistance for it. He didn’t want to surrender his views and process for the project.

Ziolkowski worked on the project, alongside family members and other employees, until his death in 1982. He sought to focus on carving the horse first, then adding Crazy Horse’s head. Following his death, his widow, Ruth, changed the plans. She believed if they completed Crazy Horse’s head first, it would help attract visitors. The more people who visited, the more revenue created to help fund the project.

Crazy Horse’s head was completed in 1998. Since then, as progress is made on Crazy Horse’s arm and the horse, more than a million people visit annually. That has helped create interest from private organizations willing to help donate money and equipment to the project.

Crazy Horse
Crazy Horse’s head is 87 feet tall

We enjoyed a great visit to Crazy Horse. It’s been about 15 years since the last time we were there, so we weren’t sure what to expect. We were impressed with the growth of the visitors center, as well as the progress on the monument.

As you stand in the parking lot or even at the visitors center, the monument is an impressive figure. It surprised me to learn that we were about a mile away from it. The monument is going to overshadow Mount Rushmore in size when it’s completed. Each President’s head at Mount Rushmore is 60 feet tall. Crazy Horse’s head is 87 feet tall, alone. The entire monument will be more than 536 feet tall, making it the largest carved monument in the world.

Crazy Horse
The model gives visitors a view of the future

We had the honor of taking a bus ride to the base of the monument. It’s an amazing view from where we stood. Crazy Horse’s head seemed so much larger than I anticipated.

Crazy Horse
We loved our view from near the base of the memorial

I was able to get a nice photo of the warrior’s eyes and nose. A bright spot on his right cheek looked like a tear. It is a flaw in the rock. Who cares? It adds to the view.

Crazy Horse
We loved the view of the tear-like spot beneath his eye

We were able to watch workers doing their thing on Crazy Horse’s arm area. The tourists on our bus were allowed to pick up rocks that had fallen from the monument during the dynamite blasting.

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Crew members work on the memorial

An old shack still stands near the monument’s base. It once belonged to an old guy. He gave the property to the Ziolkowskis when he passed away.

Crazy Horse
A man once lived in this shack

I loved being that close to Crazy Horse. I must have shot about 200 photos during our brief time there. I didn’t want to miss anything.

Once we were back at the visitors center, we took in the sights there. A museum, gallery, gift shop and art studio share the area.

The Indian Museum of North America has a few collections highlighting the history and culture of Native Americans. The Ziolkowskis have a collection of gifts given to them, including a headdress and a vest.

Crazy Horse
Part of the Ziolkowskis’ collection

A tepee is available for people to visit. This was a popular exhibit with several tourists from around the world. We saw people from Asia, Germany and Australia.

Crazy Horse
The tepee is one of several exhibits at the museum

The museum has a buffalo painted with the four colors of the directions. Each color represents a strength from each direction.

Crazy Horse
Bison painted with colors of the directions

Visitors can check out the Ziolkowskis’ original home. Korczak built the two-room cabin when he took on the project. The couple’s bedroom can be viewed, as well pieces of household items, such as a sofa, piano and paintings.

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The Ziolkowskis’ home

The center hosts a Native American cultural and education area. Visitors can watch Native American artists work on their projects, as well as visit with them. I found a 400-year-old grinding stone that people can actually check out. I wasn’t comfortable with touching it, so I let it be.

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The grinding stone is about four centuries old

Several of Ziolkowski’s art pieces are on display, with the most popular being two fighting mustangs. He created the sculpture in the mid-1930s.

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Mustang statue

Another sculpture piece that visitors should check out is the Twin Towers tribute. The sculpture piece reflects the Twin Towers that were destroyed in a terrorist attack Sept. 11, 2001.

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9/11 memorial

The security gate to the cultural center is a piece of art, too. It features designs of items found in the Black Hills area through the years, including dinosaurs that once roamed the land and current animals that live there.

Crazy Horse
Dinosaurs once roamed the region

We thought we’d spend about an hour or so at Crazy Horse, based on our last visit. We ended up on the “so” side of time – about 3 hours, to be truthful. We could have stayed longer, but needed to move along to other attractions.

We strongly recommend visiting the Crazy Horse monument. It should be on everyone’s must-see list.

For more information on the Crazy Horse monument, please visit:

Disclaimer: Thanks to the Rapid City visitors bureau and the Crazy Horse visitors center for the complimentary admission and bus tour. However, all opinion and views are ours.