Saturday, October 9, 2010

Crazy Horse


My goodness!  What can be said?  So very much I'm not even sure where to start.....the visuals, the history, the emotions it evoked, the intellectual discussions it brought forth - all were endless.  Endless.

First, some technical stats:  The Crazy Horse head is 219 feet high.  His face is 87.5 feet.  The faces on Mount Rushmore are 'only' 60 feet high.  The carvings of Mount Rushmore can fit perfectly in that white space behind the face, just to give you some perspective.  Keep in mind that the closest we could get was a bout a mile away.  Still, even from this distance, it looks H-U-G-E!  Once completed it will be the largest sculpture in the world.  


What it will look like -

So, to ask the usual question, what IS Crazy Horse?  Or more to the point, WHO was Crazy Horse?

Crazy Horse was indeed a person.  A Lakota Indian.  A legend.  But here, he's more than that.  Here, he represents every Native American.  Everyone.  His presence here demonstrates to the white world that, to quote Chief Henry Standing Bear, "the red man has great heroes, too".

Let me back up a bit to give you some history.  They'll be a quiz later, not to worry.

The Black Hills, where the Crazy Horse Monument is (as well as Mount Rushmore) have always been one of the most sacred places to the Sioux Nation.  The Sioux Nation is comprised of many sub-divisitions, among them The Lakota.  This area was 'given' to the Lakota in one of the many government/Indian treaties.  This one was in 1851.  Their territory was later drastically reduced in an 1868 treaty.  In 1874, General Custer and his 7th cavalry marched into the Black Hills in search of gold, in direct violation of that last treaty.  Well, they found it, the gold rush followed and there you have the beginning of the great conflict between these particular indigenous people and the US government.

The government, for its part, wanted to buy or rent the land from the tribes.  Well, at least they didn't, in this case, just go in and say it's mine the heck with you. Yet.  Being Native American though and believing that the land is not ours to buy or sell, they said no.  Not to mention the sacred status of said land.  The government then got annoyed and ordered Custer to gather up those Natives and put them on a reservation.  In 1876 the famous Battle of Little Big Horn, or as the Native Americans refer to it, The Battle of Greasy Grass, took place.  The Sioux won this battle and killed off Custer, as in 'Custer's last stand'.

Following the historic battle the Sioux scattered, some surrendered and ended up on reservations.  The government then demanded that *all* Sioux relocate to the reservations and so, hungry and tired, they did.  The government still insisted on buying the Black Hills from the Lakota people.  They still refused.  The government introduced the 'Sell or Starve Bill' in 1877 (can you believe it?!) and they STILL refused.  They starved, but they stuck to their guns.  Or their hills really in this case.  The government then proceeded to illegally go in and take the lands.  The Tribe's lands were now further reduced and the Great Sioux Nation was broken up into even smaller reservations.

More atrocious historical events then took place, including the Massacre at Wounded Knee.  There, Custer's famous 7th cavalry (sans Custer of course) caught up with some tribe members they were hunting down, took all their weapons and proceeded to massacre over 300 people, including women and children.

Why am I sharing all this?

Well, for starters, it was part of what we learned about while visiting the Crazy Horse memorial and museums.  Second, it's an amazing, and horrific, part of history and will, hopefully, explain our emotional reaction to it all.  Third, it will help remind everyone (or inform) of the atrocities committed by the US government back then and the horrors inflicted on the people native to this land.  This, btw, was the first time us adults learned about these events.  Yes, we had heard the various names thrown around, but never really knew the chronology and the details.  We do now.  And our curiosity is peaked.  I for one plan on doing more reading on the subject and will of course bring the kids in on it too.

Back to Crazy Horse.

We can understand why the "red man" would be resentful, to say the least, when a larger than life monument, of those same people who basically ruined their life, was put in their sacred Black Hills.  I'm referring to Mount Rushmore of course.  Can you imagine??  These strange people come to YOUR land, kill off YOUR people, desecrate what is holy to YOU, destroy YOUR way of life, and then, carve the faces of THEIR leaders in YOUR sacred mountains!  All in a period of less than a 100 years!  Again, can you imagine?!?!

So, Chief Henry Standing Bear went out and found a sculptor who would commit to sculpting a Native American hero, Crazy Horse.  Crazy Horse was a warrior and a defender of his people.  He is famous for never having signed a treaty.  He is famous for the answer he gave when asked in ridicule "where are your lands now?"  To which he answered:  "My lands are where my dead lie buried."  That is where he will be pointing out to in the finished carving.  To his land where his people lie dead and buried.

The carving is not designed to be an exact likeness of Crazy Horse.  There is no picture of him in existence.  Instead, it is memorial to his spirit, and the spirit of his people.  All of them.

A side story here about the sculptor.  He was a fascinating man.  In short, born of Polish decent, he spent nearly 36 years of his life working on the Carzy Horse memorial without taking a penny for it.  Federal money was also turned down as the goal was for this to be an entirely private endeavor.  For years he was the only man working on it.  Later he had a few helpers, among those were his sons.  When he died, his children (10 in all!) continued his work.  They are still working.....When it is complete, not only will it be a huge memorial carved on the mountainside, but it will be part of a huge campus that will serve the native people.  It will include, among other things, a university, a medical center and of course a heritage center.

Chief Henry Standing Bear with the sculptor, Korczak.


The museum offers a Jr. Ranger like program for the kids.  But this time they got to earn symbolic rubber bracelets that I'll describe later.  Here's Whirlwind working on his drawing of Crazy Horse.


The Sundance exhibit fascinated the older two.  Inventor was horrified at what they had to go through for this renewal ceremony.....


Marveling at the beed collection.  Before the first white men brought beads over, the natives used sea shells and animal claws for all their decorative purposes.



These 16 glass made beads are some of the beads that were given to the Indians by the Dutch to purchase Manhattan in 1626!  Did you know that the *Brooklyn* (or Canarsee) were the tribe it was purchased from??  Wow!


This wonderful woman was an absolute pleasure to talk with!  She helped Inventor try on these items -


She talked to the kids about all the 'hand on' artifacts.


They already knew what the buffalo bladder was used for!


We talked with her for a good 45 minutes about her history (she's a full blood Lakota, as she put it).  She told us about her life on the reservation, how her grandmother told her she must learn English as she will one day work with the white man.  How she got off the reservation, went to school and got her master's.  How she goes up into the Black Hills once a year for 3 days to fast and pray.  That she is a Sundancer and has a great responsibility to set a good example in all she does due to that fact.  The 'old' painful Sundancing methods don't apply anymore....She said if we had come earlier in the summer she would have taken us up to the tribal gathering....Oooff!  Our timing was way off for that one!

Here the kids are getting their bracelets along with an explanation as to what the traditional colors of black, red, yellow, and white signify.  Each represent a direction (east, west, etc.), a characteristic and an associated animal.


After wrapping up our day wandering the multiple sections of the museum, we headed home for a quick dinner and returned for the evening laser audiovisual show.


The kids entertained themselves playing Native Americans on a buffalo hunt while we waited for it get dark enough and for the show to start.  Guess who's the buffalo?


The show was absolutely spectacular.  Not to be missed.  Completely worth the trip back if you missed it last time.  Not only were the visuals amazing, but again, the feelings it evoked were indescribable.  The ending brought tears to my eyes and a mixture of pride and angst.  A mixed bag of emotions I would guess, based on what we saw, the Native Americans experience on a daily basis.  After recounting their history the show ends with a very emotional presentation of 'I'm Proud To Be An American', sung by Garth Brooks (I think).  Quite the unexpected ending.  Left us pondering its meaning for several days.....

Well, Crazy Horse now became our kid's hero too.  Everyone wanted to be him.  They can quote him too now.


Whirlwind had this to say when all was said and done:  "When I'm older with my kids, I'll take  Daddy in my RV to see Crazy Horse again when it's all done.  And BTW, I promised to take EVERYONE.  Put that on the blog!"  And then he had this to add: "And BTW, I don't want a motorhome, It can fall over." (he wants a fifth wheel like ours).

Crazy Horse continues to occupy our minds, even a couple weeks after our visit.   After climbing up on the top bunk in the bedroom Whirlwind  asked me:

Can I carve crazy horse?


Wait!  What does that involve?

Well, I'll climb on Inventor's bed since Mt. Mushmore is done already on Analyzer's bed.


And so, he took a compass and a snap bracelet and set to work!

I have promised them to get some model magic so they can all carve their own Crazy Horse.

And so, that ends our encounter with what we found to be even more spectacular than Mount Rushmore.  Crazy Horse will be with us for a very very long time I believe.......


  1. I am once again catching up on your ultimate family vacation. I must say that I really appreciate the time you spent parsing the history and feelings of Native Americans.

    My dad is definitely patriotic and pro-American. But one thing that always resonated with me and that has stuck with all these years is his adamant feelings about the mistreatment -- to say the least -- of Native Americans. It is a true scourge on the history of America.

  2. Thanks Natalie :-). Parsing out it was, but I felt the need to really get it, and pass that understanding onto the kids of course.