Korczak & Sitting Bull
“The granddaughter of Sitting Bull slowly lifted her head and gazed at the sculptor with warm brown eyes. This, he thought, is a proud woman . . . ‘I have heard Standing Bear talk of you. He is a nephew of Crazy horse, who knew my grandfather . . . My grandfather was a great chief worthy of respect, and I want a memorial to remind all people he was an honored man . . Would you make a memorial to my grandfather?’ (The Saga of Sitting Bull’s Bones)”
In 1939, Korczak Ziolkowski had been invited by Chief Henry Standing Bear to carve a memorial of Oglala Lakota leader Crazy Horse. It would not be the last invitation he received to carve a memorial of a revered American Indian leader. Only a handful of years after arriving to the Black Hills and beginning work on the Crazy Horse project, Korczak received an invitation to create a memorial to Hunkpapa leader Sitting Bull by members of the Dakota Memorial Association. And though Korczak had often thought of carving a portrait of Sitting Bull, the initial invitation from members of the Association did not convince the sculptor. However, a short time later, when one of the three living granddaughters of Sitting Bull, Nancy Kicking Bear, paid a visit to Ruth and Korczak’s home, the sculptor instantly committed himself to fulfilling Kicking Bear’s request to carve a memorial to her grandfather. The sculptor insisted that the Dakota Memorial Association, who had been advocating for relocation of Sitting Bull’s remains from Fort Yates, North Dakota, to Mobridge, South Dakota, could pay for the materials and transport of the memorial, but that he, as the artisan, would not take payment for his work. In addition to being inspired by Kicking Bear’s request, Korczak had earlier visited Sitting Bull’s grave at Fort Yates and was appalled at its dilapidated condition. He, like many American Indians and non-Indians, felt that the condition of the grave proved to be very disrespectful of such a great and revered leader.
What ensued following Korczak’s agreement to carve the Sitting Bull Memorial is the stuff of legend. There exist stories of stealing bones in the middle of the night, lawsuits, feuding legislatures, dueling politicians, and an American Indian family determined to bring their ancestor home. In efforts involving the three granddaughters of Sitting Bull, Clarence Grey Eagle, the Dakota Memorial Association, and several others, Sitting Bull’s remains were eventually relocated to South Dakota. Subsequently, Korczak, always true to his word, carved a one-of-a-kind memorial to Sitting Bull.
Korczak carved the actual memorial out of an 11 ton chunk of granite from Thunderhead Mountain. The completed portrait weighed 6 tons, and the pedestal on which it sat, also granite, weighed 16 tons. Ziolkowski drew upon the image of Nancy Kicking Bear and her likeness to her grandfather to create the portrait. The bust was transported according to a much guarded plan and route as the sculptor feared potential hijacking as the feud about Sitting Bull’s bones raged on. Only the sculptor and a handful of others were privy to this plan.
Finally, on September 2nd, 1953, the memorial was unveiled and dedicated just outside of Mobridge, SD. In attendance were Sitting Bull’s three granddaughters, Sitting Bull’s nephew, Clarence Grey Eagle, who would address the crowd of over 5,000 attendees, along with Oklahoma Governor, Johnston Murray, a Chickasaw and long-time American Indian advocate who Korczak helped secure as a speaker for the event. Dakota Memorial Association members who proved key to pursuit of such a memorial were also in attendance. In addition, South Dakota Governor Sigurd Anderson was in attendance. At learning that Governor Anderson was scheduled to attend, Korczak declined his own personal invitation, commenting that the South Dakota Governor, who had just two years previous spoken out against the Crazy Horse Project, could only be there for political gain and not as a true friend of the American Indian. The newspapers had a field day with the dedication and the surrounding controversy.
Ultimately, despite all the media attention, the legalities, the posturing, and the political back and forth, Korczak Ziolkowski delivered on his promise to Nancy Kicking Bear. He carved a memorial to her grandfather, and as the controversy surrounding Sitting Bull’s remains and the memorial raged on for a number of years, Ziolkowski quietly turned his attention back to a project much larger in scope – Crazy Horse Memorial. He had another promise to keep . . .
This article, based on information found in Robb DeWall’s The Saga of Sitting Bull’s Bones, is the thirteenth 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