Choosing Crazy Horse and the Black Hills
In a statement, which is addressed to W.O. Roberts, Superintendent of the Pine Ridge Agency and dated June 28th, 1943, Henry Standing Bear explains how he, relatives of Crazy Horse, and fellow tribal leaders decided on both the subject and location of the planned memorial: “This memorial is to be an image of the head and face of the great chief carved on a rock. The location of the memorial should more properly be in the Black Hills of South Dakota . . . [c]ertain relatives of Crazy Horse and also the head chiefs of the tribes forming a group are back of me in promoting this project.”
Ultimately, it was his dedication and devotion to serving his people and to preserving their valued culture that led Lakota leaders and family members of Crazy Horse to choose him as the subject of a memorial. Crazy Horse was a formidable warrior and brilliant military strategist – often using decoy in order to defeat superior numbered forces. However, not only was he chosen because of his skill in battle, but also because of his strong character, humble ways, and enduring loyalty. Accordingly, Crazy Horse is remembered for how he cared for the elderly, the ill, the widowed, and the children.
Paha Sapa, the Black Hills has long been and continues to be sacred to the Lakota people. A place of family, ceremony, and narrative tradition, the Black Hills was the only place for such a memorial, as Standing Bear explains in a March 9th, 1942, letter to Korczak Ziolkowski, “there could not be any other place so appropriate as it is in the Black Hills.” While the two men discussed different locations, Standing Bear was adamant about locating a memorial to Crazy Horse in the Black Hills. His passion was not lost on Korczak whom Standing Bear trusted a great deal as he admits to the sculptor in that very same letter, “I know you understand me so well.”
After Standing Bear and his fellow leaders chose Crazy Horse as the subject, the Black Hills as the location, and Korczak as the sculptor, Korczak began to talk with Standing Bear and others who knew many stories of Crazy Horse and his deeds. At the same time, Korczak continued to work on multiple models of the planned carving – models which he never intended to represent a lineal likeness of Crazy Horse, whom he knew had never sat for a photograph. Instead, Ziolkowski often explained, “Crazy Horse is being carved not so much as a lineal likeness but more as a memorial to the spirit of Crazy Horse — to his people.”
Not long after Lakota leaders decided on the subject and general location of the project and after Korczak created a scale model and shared this with Standing Bear, the two friends began detailed planning of the memorial . . .
This article is the sixth 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