Saturday, August 10, 2013

Pahá Sápa Adventure

Part 5: "I Will Return to You in the Stone"

In early June I traveled to Pahá Sápa, which is the Lakota (or Sioux) name for that area of North America also known as the Black Hills of South Dakota. Accompanying me on this journey were my friends Kathleen, Joey and Will.

As I mentioned previously, one of the things I was particularly looking forward to on this trip was the experiencing of places and landscapes associated with the Oglala Lakota warrior and mystic Tȟašúŋke Witkó ('His-Horse-Is-Crazy' or 'His-Horse-Is-Spirited,' generally known as Crazy Horse), someone for whom I have much respect, and in whose life and times I am greatly interested.

Accordingly, a real highlight of my time in the Black Hills was my June 10 visit to the memorial being built in honor of 'the spirit of Crazy Horse' and all Native Americans.

Here's part of what Wikipedia says about this massive monument-in-progress:

The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument complex that is under construction on privately held land in the Black Hills, in Custer County, South Dakota. It depicts Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing into the distance. The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by Korczak Ziolkowski. It is operated by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a private non-profit organization.

Right: Korczak Ziolkowski with Henry Standing Bear.

The memorial consists of the mountain carving (monument), the Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Cultural Center. The monument is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain on land considered sacred by some Oglala Lakota, between Custer and Hill City, roughly 17 miles from Mount Rushmore. The sculpture's final dimensions are planned to be 641 feet (195 m) wide and 563 feet (172 m) high. The head of Crazy Horse will be 87 feet (27 m) high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet (18 m) high.

The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is far from completion. If completed, it may become the world's largest sculpture, as well as the first non-religious statue to hold this record since 1967 (when it was held by the Soviet monument The Motherland Calls.)

Here's an interesting fact: Crazy Horse died on September 6, 1877. Thirty-one years later Korczak Ziolkowski was born on the same day, September 6.

Ziolkowski began blasting the stone of Thunderhead Mountain on June 3, 1948. He labored 34 years on the mountain, right up to the very last day of his life. His work is continued by his wife Ruth and their seven children.

As a warrior, Crazy Horse always wore an "Inyan creature," a stone, under his left arm and behind his ear. These stones came from Maka Sica, the White River Badlands, and it was said that they provided powers that made him invincible in battle. When questioned about the stones by his people, Crazy Horse is said to have replied: "I will return to you in the stone."

The Crazy Horse Memorial project is not without its detractors. Elaine Quiver, a descendant of Crazy Horse, said in 2003 that Standing Bear should not have independently petitioned Ziolkowski to create the memorial. She believes that Lakota culture is based on getting a consensus from family members for such a decision, and no one asked the opinions of the descendants of Crazy Horse before the work on the memorial began in 1948.

Others also oppose the monument. John Fire Lame Deer, a Lakota holy man, said in 1972: "The whole idea of making a beautiful wild mountain into a statue of [Crazy Horse] is a pollution of the landscape. It is against the spirit of Crazy Horse."

I must admit I have concerns about the project. For one thing, the sheer size, some might say grandiosity, of the Crazy Horse Monument is the antithesis of Crazy Horse's life of simplicity and humility. Also, carving up the landscape to build an imposing sculpture seems to be a very European way of paying homage to a historical figure.

Another issue I have is that Crazy Horse in the sculpture appears unnaturally rigid. I picture Crazy Horse galloping across the plains, his body loose and fluid, his head down low to that of his horse's. I would have loved to have seen a sense of this energy and movement reflected in the sculpture. And of course the monument's depiction of Crazy Horse pointing his finger towards his ancestral home of the Great Plains is problematic. Why? Well, many Native American cultures prohibit using the index finger to point at people or objects. It's considered rude. Perhaps this issue will be addressed when that particular part of the sculpture is completed.

Having said all this, I realize and accept that the Crazy Horse Memorial is here to stay, and that it was started and is continued with good and noble intentions. Thus, although I have my own 'issues' with aspects of it, I choose to support the Crazy Horse Memorial.

I conclude this installment of "Pahá Sápa Adventure" by sharing (with added images and links) an excerpt from Larry McMurtry's book Crazy Horse: A Life. In this excerpt, McMurtry reflects on the life of Crazy Horse and recalls the first time he saw the Crazy Horse Monument, one which he refers to as "an American Sphinx."

Crazy Horse, a Sioux [or Lakota] warrior dead more than one hundred and twenty years, buried no one knows where, is rising again over Pa Sapa, the Black Hills of South Dakota, holy to the Sioux. Today, as in life, his horse is with him. Fifty years of effort on the part of the sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and his wife and children have just begun to nudge the man and his horse out of what was once Thunderhead Mountain. In the half-century that the Ziolkowski family has worked, millions of tons of rock have been moved, as they attempt to create what will be the world's largest sculpture; but the man that is emerging from stone and dirt is as yet only a suggestion, a shape, which those who journey to Custer, South Dakota, to see must complete in their own imaginations.

It is a nice irony that the little town Crazy Horse has come to brood over is named for his old adversary George Armstrong Custer – Long Hair, whose hair, however, had been cut short on the day of his last battle, so that it is not certain that the Sioux or Cheyenne who killed him really recognized him until after he was dead. Crazy Horse had one good look at Custer, in a skirmish on the Yellowstone River in 1873, but Custer probably never saw Crazy Horse clearly enough to have identified him, either on the Yellowstone or at the Little Bighorn, three years later. The thousands who come to the Crazy Horse Monument each year see him as yet only vaguely; but that too, will change. One day his arm will stretch out almost the length of a football field; statistics will accumulate around his mountain just as legends, rumors, true tales and tall tales, accumulated around the living man.

What should be stressed at the outset is that Crazy Horse was loved and valued by his people as much for his charity as for his courage. Ian Frazier, in his fine book Great Plains, reports correctly that the Crazy Horse Monument is one of the few places on the Great Plains where one will see a lot of Indians smiling. The knowledge of his charity is still a balm to his people, the Sioux people, most of whom are poor and all of whom are oppressed. Peter Matthiessen was right to call his bitterly trenchant report on the troubles the Pine Ridge Sioux had with the U.S. government in the 1970s In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, because the spirit of Crazy Horse was a spirit unbroken, though it was certainly raked raw by the difficulties of his last few months.

[Above right: Detail of a depiction of Crazy Horse by Kenneth Ferguson (2006)]

George E. Hyde, the great (if cranky) historian of the Oglala and Brulé Sioux, a man not easily swept off his feet by even the most potent myth, confessed his puzzlement with the Crazy Horse legend in words that are neither unfair nor inaccurate: "They depict Crazy Horse as a kind of being never seen on earth: a genius at war yet a lover of peace; a statesman who apparently never thought of the interest of any human being outside his own camp; a dreamer, a mystic, a kind of Sioux Christ, who was betrayed in the end by his own disciples – Little Big Man, Touch-the-Clouds and the rest. One is inclined to ask, what is it all about?"

A Sioux Christ? That touches on his charity and on his betrayal, but he was a determined warrior too, one of the great Resisters, men who do not compromise, do not negotiate, do not administer, who exist in a realm beyond the give-and-take of conventional politics and who stumble and are defeated only when hard circumstances force them to live in that realm.

I saw the Crazy Horse Monument one day while traveling north to visit the grave of that sad, boastful woman Martha Jane Canary (Calamity Jane), who lies in the Deadwood cemetery next to James Butler Hickok (Wild Bill), a proximity he could not protest, since Calamity outlived him by a quarter of a century. I was easing through the Black Hills buffalo heard – many of the buffalo stood in the road, dull and incurious, as indifferent to the traffic as they had been to the buffalo hunters who slaughtered some fifty million of them in a short space of time in the [nineteenth] century – when I slowly became aware of something: something large. I looked up and saw Crazy Horse mountain, just to the northeast. Great hundred-yard swirls of white paint streaked the mountain, representing his hair; below him more swirls of the same white paint formed a Picassoesque horse head.

Like most travelers who come unexpectedly onto the monument, I was stunned, too stunned even to go up to the gift shop. I stopped the car, sat on the hood, and looked, as buffalo ambled by. What loomed above me, framed by the blue Dakota sky, was an American Sphinx. He was there, but as a force, an indefiniteness, a form made more powerful by his very abstractness.

I suppose, someday, the Ziolkowski family will finish this statue. It may take another generation or two, and when it's finished, if I'm alive, I'd like to see it. But I'm glad that I saw the mountain in the years when Crazy Horse was still only a form and a mystery. Now that I've read what there is to read about him, I think this indefiniteness was also an aspect of the man. His own people experienced him as a mystery while he was alive: they called him Our Strange Man. In his life he would have three names: Curly, His Horses Looking, Crazy Horse (Ta-Shunka-Witco). We know him as Crazy Horse, but in life few knew him well; in truth it is only in a certain limited way that we who are living now can know him at all.

– Larry McMurtry
Crazy Horse: A Life
pp. 1-4

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Pahá Sápa Bound
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 1: The Journey Begins
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 2: The Badlands
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 3: Camp Life
Pahá Sápa Adventure – Part 4: "The Heart of Everything That Is"
Crazy Horse: "Strange Man" of the Great Plains

Related Off-site Links:
Crazy Horse Memorial Official Website
Dreamers of Crazy Horse: Korczak and Standing Bear – The Black Hills Travel Blog (November 5, 2012).
Crazy Horse Memorial Turns 60 with No End in Sight – Carson Walker (Associated Press via USA Today, June 2, 2008).
Mistake on the Mountain – David B. Conrad (, November 9, 2006).

5/23/14 UPDATES: Crazy Horse Sculpture Widow Dies, Project Ongoing – Carson Walker (Associated Press, May 22, 2014).
"Mother" of Crazy Horse Monument Dies – Bob Collins (Minnesota Public Radio, May 22, 2014).
Widow's Death Won't Slow Crazy Horse Memorial – Associated Press via Minnesota Public Radio (May 23, 2014).

Images of Crazy Horse Memorial: Michael J. Bayly (June 10, 2013).

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