The Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota's Black Hills may become the world's largest monument if it's finished according to plan. The grave face of this warrior, carved into a granite mountainside makes an impact on visitors. It measures more than 87 feet in height. At the foot of the mountainous statue, guests can learn more about Native American culture at the Indian Museum of North America.

Crazy Horse, An American Hero

If the sculptors complete the monument according to plan, it will be 641 feet long and 563 feet high, according to the memorial's website. To put that in perspective, the faces at Mount Rushmore are about 60 feet from chin to hairline. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. is 99 feet tall. The Statue of Liberty towers in the sky at 305 feet. Crazy Horse's head, arm, and stallion will outmeasure them all. So what did Crazy Horse do to deserve such recognition?

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Crazy Horse was born into the Oglala Lakota Tribe at a time of conflict. Settlers of European descent were invading the Oglala's country in larger and larger numbers. The tribe reached many legal agreements with the U.S. government. Most often, these treaties stated that both groups would remain peaceful. In exchange, the Lakota would have to accept these new immigrants residing in their territory. The U.S. guaranteed that the Native Americans would continue to have exclusive access to certain areas, like the Black Hills.

Time and time again the government broke the agreements and the Lakota people defended their rights. Crazy Horse aided his tribe in 1876. In the Battle of the Little Bighorn, he protected his tribe's sacred Black Hills by preventing US Army reinforcements from arriving. Some people also know this conflict as Custer's Last Stand.

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In 1877, tired of war and the persecution suffered by his people, he approached Ft. Robbinson with his colleague, Little Big Man. The pair intended to conduct peace talks. A mistranslation of his words during this meeting caused soldiers to arrest him. When he resisted, they killed him and he became a legend at about 35 years of age.

Later, Chief Standing Bear, Crazy Horse's cousin, asked a sculptor named Korczak Ziolkowski to create a monument of the warrior. The rest of Crazy Horse's family was not included in the decision. During his life, Crazy Horse also asked that photographers and artists not make likenesses of him. These conditions, along with the fact that few Native Americans have been employed as sculptors or museum employees, have caused continued conflict around the monument.

The Colossal Sculpture

Artist Korczak Ziolkowski began hand carving the monument in 1948. Work has continued on the memorial since that time. More than 60 years have gone by. The artist passed away in 1982 and his family buried him in a tomb at the base of the mountain he was carving. His wife, children, and grandchildren have continued to direct the sculpting, public relations, and museum at the site.

The dream of creating a 563-foot sculpture out of a natural mountain is an impressive one. Especially when workers have done so much of it by hand. Visiting this monument means becoming a part of its history. Years from now, the grown children of current tourists will recall how they visited the mountain before work on the stallion's head was complete. The grandparents of those children may remember a time before sculptors completed work on Crazy Horse's face in 1998.

Some critics doubt if workers will ever complete the monument. After all, historians estimate that it took twenty years to build the great pyramid. This project has already taken more than three times as long. On the other hand, many medieval cathedrals took well over 100 years to construct. The reason for the delays in finishing the Crazy Horse Memorial may be that the Ziolkowski family only funds the construction privately with donations and entrance fees.

South Dakota's Black Hills and Other Attractions Near Crazy Horse Monument

A vacation in the Black Hills is well worth it. In addition to seeing the Crazy Horse Memorial, visitors can have some astonishing experiences like visiting Mount Rushmore, exploring Jewel Cave by candlelight, trying elk meat at local restaurants, driving on backroads next to bison herds at Custer State Park, or seeing a prehistoric sinkhole full of mammoth remains.

Jewel Cave National Monument is just a half an hour drive from the Crazy Horse Memorial. It is the third-longest cave in the world. People can visit the cave on a traditional tour with electric lighting to view incredible formations in hidden chambers. More adventurous tourists may pick the historic candlelit experience.

The Mammoth Site, about an hour from the Crazy Horse Memorial, is an active paleontological excavation site and museum. Guests here can watch as scientists work to uncover new fossils and preserve them. So far, they know of more than 1200 fossils within the 20,000-square-foot site.

South Dakota's Black Hills are full of amazing adventures. Families will find plenty to do there. The one thing they can't miss, though, is seeing the Crazy Horse Memorial.

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