With the completion of "Mount Rushmore" featuring heads of white leaders dominating the landscape of 'sacred lands' it was time for a different focus...
Chief Henry Standing Bear of the Lakota wrote him, saying, "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too." This then became the project of Korczak Ziolkowski and family.
In 1947 Ziolkowski moved to the Black Hills, and began to search for a suitable mountain for his sculpture. Korczak thought the Wyoming Tetons would be the best choice, where the rock would be better for carving, but the Lakota wanted the memorial in the sacred Black Hills on a 600-foot (180 m)-high mountain. The monument was to be the largest sculpture in the world. When completed, it would be 563 feet (172 m) high by 641 feet (195 m) long. Crazy Horse's head would be large enough to contain all the 60-foot (18 m)-high heads of the Presidents at Mount Rushmore.
On June 3, 1948, the first blast was made, and the memorial was dedicated to the Native American people. In 1950 Ziolkowski and Ruth Ross, who had become a volunteer at the monument, were married. Work continued slowly, since he refused to accept government grants. He raised money for the project by charging admission to the monument work area
Education is the key to future success of Native American youth who are faced with surviving and competing in today’s society. The Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation is committed to taking an active role in their educational endeavors.
When Korczak Ziolkowski returned to the Black Hills after accepting the challenge to carve a memorial “so the White Man would know the Red Man has great heroes also,” he discovered local businesses displaying signs that said, “We do not serve Indians.” The local hostility toward Native Americans ran very deep.
Korczak quickly saw that the mountain carving could ultimately serve a larger purpose. He envisioned the mountain carving as a symbol that would instill pride in the Native American. But he also saw it as a means to promote reconciliation among the races and, further, as a revenue source that would fund an educational institution for Native Americans. Korczak, an orphan who was largely self-taught, and who funded his own schooling, strongly believed that education was an important key to resolving the dilemma of being a Native American in a white society.
The self-taught sculptor also was a teacher at heart, and he schooled his family in every aspect of Crazy Horse, including the special skills of mountain carving.
The boys grew up helping him on the mountain, the girls assisting Ruth in the ever expanding visitor complex. Everyone helped with the big dairy farm, the lumber mill and the multitude of other year-around activities at Crazy Horse, where, since 1947, the construction has never stopped.
As they reached adulthood, the Ziolkowski sons and daughters demonstrated that Korczak and Ruth imparted to their family not only knowledge and skill, but also a deep love of the Crazy Horse dream. All have been free to leave, but seven remain involved in the project today, working under Ruth’s direction. Grandchildren now help, too.
The second generation of Ziolkowskis began writing a new chapter of the unique Crazy Horse story when Korczak died October 20, 1982. His parting words to his wife were, “You must work on the mountain-but go slowly so you do it right.” The torch was passed, and Ruth and her sons and daughters, together with the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation board of directors, now are guiding Crazy Horse and the ongoing progress.
Korczak’s remarkable family is motivated by their individual and collective dedication, determination and courage to carry on Korczak’s work. They are supported by his great faith and confidence in them, schooled by his years of instruction, toughened by his example and uplifted by his sense of humor. They also are guided by his detailed plans and scale models and inspired by his life, vision, legacy, and most importantly, by what he often referred to as “the beauty and justice of the Crazy Horse dream.”