“To me a great granite sculpture of Crazy Horse would be magnificent. The only way you and your associates can evaluate my ability is by our meeting . . . .” And so reads a letter dated March 7th, 1940, in which Korczak Ziolkowski responds to Standing Bear’s invitation to carve a memorial to Crazy Horse. This response signals the beginning of an early correspondence between the two men – a correspondence that would develop into a friendship focused around a common vision.
In a letter dated March 11th, 1940, Standing Bear explains that the Lakota and Dakota people are poor, but that they are determined – “We are not going to give it up nor lay down, but it’s about time to start to do something in promoting this.” A few short days later, on March 14th, 1940, Korczak replies with an offer of support — “As my contribution toward the noble and glorious project you wish to promote; the greatest stimulus would come from a large model which would speak for itself to all the people . . . My work and my religion is the dedication of the highest ideals of all races and of all men to be perpetuated in my chosen field. I wish to leave a record in the mountains of our land, of the great deeds of our noble men of all races. And therefore I feel that by my offering to come out and sacrifice so much of my time, thought and energy on a project which in the beginning cannot have a settled and legal agreement, your dreams and mine may come to fulfillment.”
Shortly after this commitment of support from Korczak, Standing Bear is called away to jury duty in Sioux Falls. An extended stretch of inclement weather further postpones the initial meeting between the two men. A few more letters, which illustrate a developing friendship, pass between the two. In a letter dated May 14th, 1940, Standing Bear expresses his desire to “find spare time to work on the Crazy Horse matters” and in a post script notes “Mrs. Joins me in wishing you and Mrs. Ziolkowski all success.”
In 1940, the two men have their first meeting. This meeting has a profound influence on both. Korczak is affected, so much so that he creates a mahogany sculpture of Chief Standing Bear. This sculpture is now on exhibit in the J.F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston, MA. Likewise, Standing Bear follows up with a letter dated August 3rd, 1940, which explains that despite ongoing hardships of unemployment and sickness within his family, he wants Korczak to know, “I feel stronger in the matter since I met you . . . .”
After their initial meeting, Korczak continues to work back in Connecticut, all the while continuing to think about the Crazy Horse project. By this time, he had created two models of Crazy Horse – his way of helping to promote the project. However, his efforts to help his new friend go beyond carving. In a letter dated December 3rd, 1940, Korczak shares that he has been advocating in Washington for the project with Congressmen and the Department of the Interior. Despite meeting with denial at every turn, he assures Standing Bear that he “refused to admit defeat.” In a reply dated December 9th, 1940, Standing Bear shares Korczak’s resolve — “I want to say that I never will give up my project on Crazy Horse.” Subsequent letters show evidence of not only mutual resolve and support but also evidence of a deepening relationship.
On May 4th, 1941, referencing his initial visit to meet Standing Bear, Korczak inquires, “How are you and Mrs. Standing Bear? We talk of you constantly and think of our beautiful talks with you, a little over a year ago. That experience means a great deal to both of us, for we value most highly your friendship. Please know that we are thinking of you all this time, and that we are working toward your great ideal and mine. It must come true.” Within this same letter Korczak also makes his first mention of the ongoing war in Europe when he alludes to the “terrible things” happening in Poland, the home of his ancestry.
Later that year, in a letter dated November 8th, 1941, Korczak writes of his recent advocacy for the project to Senator Francis Case. He also invites Standing Bear to visit the Ziolkowski home in Connecticut and mentions the possibility of making a trip to Washington D.C. Standing Bear would eventually visit Korczak in Connecticut. Afterwards, inspired by their second meeting, the men continue their correspondence with a new vigor.
With each exchange, Korczak’s references to the ongoing war grow – a sure sign that he was becoming more and more concerned about the matter. Consequently, in 1943, at age 34, Korczak volunteers to fight in WWII. And while his enlistment would delay a return to the Black Hills and postpone further planning by the two friends, upon his return from the war, Korczak, with a new determination and a new appreciation for humanity, would once again connect with Chief Standing Bear to advance the planning and work to bring the Crazy Horse project to fruition once and for all . . .
This article is the fifth installment of a periodic chronology that will be published by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation on the history of the Memorial.
–Dr. Jason Murray for the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation