The Crazy Horse Memorial, located outside Custer, South Dakota, was designed to honor the memory of one of the greatest heroes of the Native American people who inhabit the Great Plains. Unlike its nearby (and better known) rival Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a privately-funded and owned site. If you’re in or near South Dakota, the Memorial is definitely worth a quick visit. In this post I’ll share a bit on the Memorial’s history and construction, inform you of some details on planning a visit, and (hopefully) inspire you with some of my favorite photos of the place.
History and Construction
My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too. – Chief Henry Standing Bear
With those emotional words, written in 1939, Chief Standing Bear invited sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to design and begin work on a sculpture honoring the Oglala Lakota hero Crazy Horse. The Black Hills area of South Dakota was long considered sacred to the Lakota people, and the selection of the site for Mt. Rushmore was seen as a deep and stinging insult to the original inhabitants of the land. The native people of the area wanted to honor their own heroes in their own way, and eventually came to the idea of a monument for Crazy Horse.
Construction on the Monument began in 1948 and has been proceeding non-stop ever since. As of this writing, the head of the sculpture is nearly complete but everything else is still in the early stages. His arm, and the head and neck of the horse he is riding, have been roughed out, but no other work has been done on those sections.
It is estimated that work will continue on the Monument for more than 100 years, based on current technology. The majority of the work required is to just remove excess rock to completely rough out the sculpture. Rock removal is a painstaking and dangerous process. Sculptors dig long holes into sections of the rock and then place explosives into the holes. A timed detonation causes tons of rock at a time to break loose and fall away. Once the sculptors rough the mountain down to something approaching the final form and size, they will finish the memorial with increasingly fine tools.
The size of the Memorial itself is staggering – it’s hard to take it all in. During our tour we were fortunate to get an escort to the top – this photo shows the rest of our group on Crazy Horse’s arm, near the head. When completed, the arm will be over 260 ft. long. The face alone is 87 1/2 feet high.
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. In fact, when the horse’s head is complete it will be larger than two of the Abraham Lincoln heads at Mt. Rushmore.
When the sculpture is completed, it is anticipated it will be the world’s largest sculpture. It will also be the first non-religious sculpture to hold the “world’s largest” title since 1967.
The Visitor’s Center has continually-running movies on the construction of the monument as well as the history of Crazy Horse and the Lakota people. It also contains many exhibits on Native American culture and art. Quite often, independent vendors set up shop in the Center. They are there to sell books, jewelry and artwork relating to Native American life.
Planning Your Visit
- The entrance along US Highway 16/385 (the Crazy Horse Memorial Highway) is 9 miles south of Hill City, SD and 4 miles north of Custer, SD.
- Set Your GPS coordinates to our gates (+43.820279, -103.640092)
- Crazy Horse Memorial is 17 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
Hours of Operation
The hours of operation for the Memorial vary based on the season. However, the welcome center generally opens at 8AM every day, and the educational center opens between 9:00AM-9:30AM every day.
Admission and Optional Tours
Admission prices are free for children under 6. Pricing for older children and adults varies based on your mode of transport (car, motorcycle or bicycle) and the number of people in your party. An individual on a bicycle can enter for $7, and a car of more than two people can enter for $30. Native Americans, active duty US military, Custer County (S.D.) residents, and select other groups receive free admission. Optional bus rides to the bottom of the Memorial are available.
Twice a year, the Memorial Association also sponsors the Volksmarch. This is a 10km (6.2 mile) walk up the back side of the mountain. The march ends on the surface of Crazy Horse’s arm, where you get an excellent vista of the entire area.
When visiting the Memorial, you will likely be awed by the size and scale of the project. You can also get deeply immersed in the culture and customs of Native American people in the Visitor’s Center. If you are planning a trip to the western US states, a detour through the Crazy Horse Memorial area will be well worth your time.