Michael Pearce

The Eagle's outdoor reporter highlights the latest hunting, fishing and wildlife news.

Crazy Horse Memorial remains a stirring work in progress

09/18/2011 12:00 AM

09/18/2011 7:39 AM

The Wichita Eagle

CRAZY HORSE, S.D. —When we first met in 1968, it was still just a monstrous hunk of stone and an idea.

When I visited the Crazy Horse Memorial last month, his face was vividly complete and progress showed all over.

Someday I'm sure he'll be finished.

Then the famed warrior will be seen with his hair flowing and astride a charging great horse. An arm will point toward the prairies where his people once roamed.

At 563 feet high and 641 feet long, it will be the largest sculpture in the world. His face alone is about 20 stories tall.

When finished, it will dwarf Mount Rushmore.

One reason I so enjoy following the sculpture's progress is I first learned about it from the sculptor.

Korczak Ziolkowski spoke to our scout troop on that long-ago trip to the Black Hills.

A history-loving kid, I was spell-bound by his tales of the Lakota tribe and his ongoing project of carving a mountain into a warrior.

Even a child's imagination struggled to see the famed Lakota someday coming from the mountain when we saw it the next day.

No matter, my interest has stayed strong since. To me the story is much larger than the sculpture.

It began in 1946, when a Lakota chief sent a letter to Ziolkowski. The tribe was dismayed at the Mount Rushmore project being built in their holiest of hallowed grounds.

They wanted to show their people, too, had great heroes.

At the time, Ziolkowski had brought himself from a tough childhood to becoming a budding world-renowned artist. One of his sculptures had won first place at the recent World's Fair.

But the self-taught artist from Boston left the glitz to live in a tent in the Black Hills while he began carving a mountain.

In the early days he climbed hundreds of stairs each way, equipment on his back, to reach his work place. Forgotten items or broken tools meant as many steps back down and up again.

Though Ziolkowski died in 1982, his family follows his detailed instructions. Seven of his 10 children have been involved.

Though nearly 90, his wife, Ruth, directs every detail.

I like that the project has refused government money; partially because of the headaches that could bring, and the insult it would be to the Lakota because of so many broken treaties.

It's done on private donations. Judging from the improvements I've seen on the mountain and the visitor's center on my seven visits, obviously many people greatly appreciate the project.

Blessed to have met some of the family a few visits back, I spent a few minutes on the mountain with Ziolkowski's son, Casimir, last month.

From about halfway up the project, he showed and explained how technology is helping the project move faster.

Depending on timing, I may be able to make out Crazy Horse's hand or the horse's head on my next visit.

Maybe someday I'll see it finished.

I hope so, but it really doesn't matter. I'm perfectly content to watch it progress and remember how far it's come since we first met.

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