Dedication of Crazy Horse Memorial ~ June 3, 1948
Clouds loomed, but they could not dampen the spirits and expectations of the almost five-hundred people in attendance that day. They wondered at Korczak Ziolkowski’s two-foot marble scale model of what would eventually become the world’s largest mountain carving in progress. The model was perched atop a rough-hewn wood scaffold in the foreground, while the large granite mountain that the sculptor and Chief Henry Standing Bear had chosen stood waiting to be carved in the background. Sensing the wonderment of onlookers, Korczak shared with reporters, “A lot of people think I’m trying to fly to the moon by even dreaming of the project.”
In the planning that led up to the dedication, Korczak had voiced his thoughts about possibly locating the memorial elsewhere – fearing that the close proximity to Rushmore would not be looked on favorably; however, Standing Bear and his fellow Lakota leaders insisted that the Black Hills, Paha Sapa, was the only place for such a memorial. Ultimately, the Lakota prevailed in their insistence and Standing Bear and Korczak worked together to bring the project to fruition. On June 3rd, 1948, after years of correspondence between the two friends and delays in starting the project due to sickness, war, and planning, dedication day for Crazy Horse Memorial arrived. The two men stood in front of a curious crowd and shared their dream.
That day was one of dedication – not just of Crazy Horse Memorial, but of the mission to honor the heritage and living cultures of American Indians. Accordingly, to show their support for the project, five survivors of the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn – known to the Lakota as the Battle of Greasy Grass – attended the dedication. James Comes Again, Joseph High Eagle, Iron Hawk, Henry Little Soldier, and Pemmican all looked on in anticipation of the beginning of a memorial to Crazy Horse. In total, about forty other Lakota tribal members showed their support by attending the dedication.
Also, in attendance was famed South Dakota Governor, George Mickelson, who told the crowd, “The memorial will serve to remind us of the debt we owe to these first Americans.” Mickelson’s son, then seven, was so impacted by the event that he would grow to also become a South Dakota Governor. Subsequently, in keeping with the philosophy of his father, he would become known for leading a push for reconciliation within the state – going as far as renaming and re-designating what had been long recognized as “Columbus Day” to “Native Americans’ Day.”
And though rain would eventually chase away a majority of the crowd, the historic nature of the event was evident. Looking back, Korczak would refer to dedication day as “an American chronicle.” As the first blast rang out, the real work on carving the mountain had begun . . .
This article is the seventh 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
– Director of Indian University of North America