Is monument a fitting memorial? Sculpture: Historians say Sioux chief Crazy Horse worked at avoiding attention. Some are questioning how he would feel about a 563-foot tribute on sacred land.


BLACK HILLS, S.D. -- Five faces now humanize this mountainous neck of the Great Plains: Mount Rushmore's Presidential Foursome and around the bend, the world's biggest nose.

This month, 7,000 people from Parts, U.S.A., gathered to see the finished face of Sioux chief Crazy Horse. For 50 exacting years, the Ziolkowski family drilled and detonated their Thunderhead Mountain until, finally, they sculpted an 87-foot face that one can only imagine resembles Crazy Horse.

The deed is fixed in stone. For $7 a head (Mount Rushmore costs $8), you can stare at the Indian face built by Korczak Ziolkowski and family. For another quarter, you can look up the nostrils of Crazy Horse from binoculars near the Crazy Horse gift shop a mile away. It's a package deal -- the gift shop and the view.

Even mighty visions, though, have skeptics.

The Crazy Horse Memorial is brazenly big and immodest. But is a towering, world-record sculpture a fitting monument to Native Americans? Would Crazy Horse have accepted or even acknowledged this "tribute"?

In short, does the monument fit the man?

Crazy Horse -- called Curly in childhood -- was uncharacteristically shy for such an outstanding military man, historian Stephen E. Ambrose has written. The Oglala Sioux was quiet. He was modest in dress; he didn't wear the traditional war bonnet, but wore a single hawk feather in his hair.

This was a wily warrior who, granted, was hell on wheels while fighting. But he was a human wallflower every other day of the week, historians attest. He worked at avoiding attention.

"Curly was quiet and modest, not boastful like most Oglala boys. He had a sense of reserve that was unusual -- Curly was somewhat offended by the Sioux custom of wild displays of emotion at moments of tragedy or victory," Ambrose wrote in his acclaimed 1975 book, "Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors."

And what of carving up this Black Hill called Thunderhead Mountain? The Black Hills were considered the center of the 10 Sioux nations, the place of gods and visions, their last great hunting grounds. Sacred, untouchable land.

So, the idea of blowing up chunks of earth in the name of a white man's "tribute" would have repulsed Crazy Horse, a few of his ancestors said recently in published accounts about the memorial in progress.

"A monument is just not the Lakota way. We do not memorialize the individual. And we do not tear up the earth," Rosalie Little Thunder told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in March.

It's been said (and passed along in Crazy Horse Memorial literature) that he told his people that "I will return to you in stone." But return in stone to the tune of 563 feet high and 641 feet long -- the projected dimensions of the final memorial?

Obviously, this has been the vision of the Ziolkowski family for the last 50 years -- and for the next 50 years.

"Why? Why should it be done? Because it needs to be done," says Korczak's youngest daughter, Jadwiga Ziolkowski. "And he Korczak] is the force that keeps it going."

For the sake of argument, let's agree that Crazy Horse promised to return in stone. But maybe it is a far smaller legacy than the one growing atop Ziolkowski's famous mountain. Think much smaller.

It's well documented that Crazy Horse carried a lucky stone with him. A medicine man had given Crazy Horse the stone to ward off danger: "a little white stone with a hole through it; suspended from a buckskin string that Crazy Horse wore slung over his shoulder," Ambrose wrote.

That white stone, in its little way, also transfixes the Crazy Horse curious. Seekers on expedition still look for Crazy Horse's stone as a clue to his exact burial spot, according to Dee Brown, author of the 1970 book, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."

After Crazy Horse was stabbed to death by a U.S. soldier in 1877, his parents buried his remains in a secret location near Wounded Knee. "No one has ever found the stone," says Brown. "But people still look for it."

A well-traveled story claims that Crazy Horse was camera-shy, which accounts for the fact that no pictures of him exist. (At the memorial, a marker says Korczak's composite likeness of Crazy Horse was drawn from "word pictures" of the Sioux leader.) Crazy Horse reportedly refused to be photographed, telling one photographer, "My friend, why should you wish to shorten my life by taking from me my shadow?"

"Sure, he would have been photographed," Brown says. "But there was no proof that any photographer was anywhere near him."

In other words, Brown can't imagine a white man with a camera ever catching up with the famously elusive warrior.

In any case, the American artist known simply as Korczak hTC (CORE-jock) spent his life building a monument to a Sioux warrior who probably never would have sat still for a photo -- much less sanctioned his likeness on Crazy Horse Frisbees on sale in something called a "gift shop."

Truth is, this Crazy Horse cottage industry is a bit tacky. Souvenir sales are big business at the memorial, which proudly accepts no federal or state money -- but sells enough merchandise for someone to start his own Crazy Horse Memorial.

In this way, though, nearby Mount Rushmore is no better for all its prim and proper construction and offerings. For example, visitors can buy key chains showing four little presidential heads atop the mount.

It has been suggested that Crazy Horse was built to compete with Mount Rushmore -- a who's-got-the-biggest-monument contest between Ziolkowski and his former employer at Mount Rushmore, sculptor Gutzon Borglum.

What does exist are two competing portraits of the Black Hills. On one hand, the land. Any visitor to the Black Hills wouldn't deny that the landscape has no peer. "An Eden in the clouds -- how shall I describe it! As well try to paint the flavor of a peach or the odor of a rose," Samuel Barrows wrote in 1874 for the New York Tribune.

But how to describe the human services and amusements in 1998?

Strung out through the Black Hills are bars, casinos, video stores, taco stands, McDonald's with pony-express service, a sprinkling of strip joints, and an avalanche of panning-for-gold attractions.

Stop if you want. Or follow the road signs along Highway 16 out of Rapid City, south-southwest to the Crazy Horse Memorial. See the 87-foot granite face that is a monument to Crazy Horse -- and to Korczak, a skeptic might add. Either way, it's one big hunk of rock for the ages.


What would have Curly thought?

Pub Date: 6/14/98

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