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Crazy Horse monument an original tribute -- and story


By Jeff Flock
CNN Correspondent

In this story:

June 5, 1998
Web posted at: 12:43 p.m. EDT (1643 GMT)


CRAZY HORSE, South Dakota (CNN) -- When our Chicago-based CNN team came here seven years ago to do the first-ever live broadcast from the top of Crazy Horse Mountain, we came for two reasons: one, it was a great story, and two, nobody had ever done it before.

Those are pretty much the same reasons that, 50 years ago this week, sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began to carve the likeness of the great Sioux warrior Crazy Horse in what was then called Thunderhead Mountain: one, the story of the "red man" needed to be told, and two, nobody had ever done it on this scale before.

Yes, there was Mount Rushmore. That's where Crazy Horse, the monument, got its start.

A monument to Native American legacy

Back in the 1940s, the Indian chiefs in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where Gutzon Borglum was fashioning the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln into stone, were upset.

They wanted, in the words of Sioux Chief Henry Standing Bear, "for the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too."

Enter Ziolkowski, a prolific sculptor who had won the prize for sculpture at the 1939 New York World's Fair and had helped Borglum at Rushmore.

Ziolkowski, who died in 1982, was hard-living, hard-working and perhaps most important, hardheaded. Who else, with hammer and little else, would have begun hewing out the spaces for the first explosives that carved the mountain?

It all makes for an impressive and moving story, out here in the wilds. But it also has relevance beyond this mountain.

For starters, it is awfully big. When it's done, Crazy Horse will sit astride a horse and point one arm toward his Black Hills homeland. Only the face is now done, and all four heads on Mount Rushmore would fit inside Crazy Horse's head alone.

If you take the Winnebago out to these parts, it will cost you $7 to get in. But none of your tax dollars has ever been spent on it. Ziolkowski twice turned down $10 million in federal money for the project (back when, as they say, $10 million amounted to something).

Crazy Horse

But it is not just a novel tourist attraction. There is a museum and plans for a university and a medical training center, all for Native Americans.

It is also a chance to commune, as it were, with Crazy Horse. Best known for helping defeat General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876, Crazy Horse was by all accounts a courageous warrior who inspired his people and others alike.

The rock is an appropriate metaphor for the man. He never signed a treaty with the "white man," never allowed his picture to be taken. The sculpture is Ziolkowski's conception, based on what the Indian chiefs told him.

A good old-fashioned kind of story

QuickTimeQuickTime Movies
Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski, on the initial working methods
  • 1.3M/36 sec./160x120
  • 2.1M/36 sec./240x180
Ziolkowski, on the monument not being a tourism gimmick
  • 718K/19 sec./160x120
  • 1.1M/19 sec./240x180
Sculptor's wife Ruth Ziolkowski on the early days
  • 747K/20 sec./160x120
  • 1.2M/20 sec./240x180

Ziolkowski, meantime, was a master promoter. There is a wonderful grainy old film in the museum of the sculptor in the early days: man and mountain.

He and his wife, Ruth, who carries on the project, had 10 children, most of whom have helped with the work of seeing through their father's dream.

Though the sculptor started the project, he knew he would never see it completed. His wife and children have been responsible for bringing the face to life, guided by the model left behind when Ziolkowski died.

It has been a story worth telling, and fun to tell, for much longer.

Robb Dewall, the keeper of the Crazy Horse flame who has handled publicity for the memorial since the early days, tells a great story of a crew from CBS' "60 Minutes," who visited in the 1970s.

Back then, Ziolkowski wasn't as proficient with explosives. Filming a blast from what they were told was a safe distance, a "60 Minutes" cameraman rolled as a giant boulder sailed over his head. As always, Ziolkowski knew how to get people's attention.

The day we visited in 1991, the work crews did three blasts. Dewall made us hide inside a big steel cage.

When we returned just a few weeks ago for the last blast before the June 3 dedication, we wanted to put one of our small home video cameras beneath the falling rock from the explosion.

Dewall said no, "too dangerous." But Casimir Ziolkowski, a true heir to his father's dream, said, "I'll take you down there and set up the camera. It'll be a great shot."

When it was all ready to go, he asked, "After it gets destroyed, can I have the camera?"

Jeff Flock shows us the last blast before the dedication
video icon 1.7 MB, 29 sec, 160 x 120
2.2 MB, 29 sec, 240 x 180 QuickTime movie

"Sure, I guess so, if it's busted up anyway," I answered.

"Well, if it doesn't get busted, can I still have it?" Cas asked slyly. He, like his father, prevailed.

Big blast, good pictures, shown live on CNN, but the rocks missed the camera, which Cas' daughter Taylor now uses to document the work on the mountain.

It's a perfect example of how, through guile and wit and hardheadedness, the Ziolkowski family carries on its five-decade tradition of making something from nothing in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

And on Wednesday, that something was dedicated with a quiet dignity that Crazy Horse himself probably would have brought to bear on the moment. The monument, like the man, is still an original, and still a great story.

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