The Lakota elders had a dream. Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski had a vision. His wife, Ruth, and seven of his 10 children now have a mission.
While South Dakota's Black Hills are probably best known as the home to Mount Rushmore, another carving, far larger in size and scope, continues to gain fame and attract visitors.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is far from finished, but the face alone is as impressive as it is massive. Standing 87 1/2 feet tall, it is almost a third larger than the faces of the four presidents on Mount Rushmore.
Unlike Rushmore, which was finished in 14 years (just six of those actually spent on carving), Crazy Horse remains a work in progress after more than six decades of work.
"The face of Crazy Horse was finished in 1998. Our work now is focused on blocking out the 219-foot horse's head to within 20 feet of the finished surface," said memorial president and chief executive Ruth Ziolkowski, wife of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. "There were times Korczak worked alone on the mountain, and now we have a 10-man crew working on the carving, including our son Casimir, who is the foreman."
The monument depicts Lakota leader Crazy Horse, astride his stallion, stretching his left arm eastward and declaring "my lands are where my dead lie buried."
To the casual observer, it does not appear that much has been done in the 12 years since the face was completed in 1998 -- 50 years after the project was dedicated on June 2, 1948. But in reality, tons of granite have been blasted away in little more than a decade.
Original sculptor left plans
Work is slow as all funds come from donations and other fundraising efforts. Korczak, a Boston native of Polish descent, did not want government money or the strings that might have been attached to it.
Many wonder how the artist was able to come up with a likeness of the famed Lakota warrior, who led the battle against Custer's troops at Little Big Horn, since he never had a picture taken and there are no known drawn likenesses. His age was estimated at 35 when he was stabbed to death by a soldier in 1877. The face is a representation, a tribute to the spirit of Crazy Horse.
Korczak, who died in 1982 at age 74 and is buried in a tomb at the base of the memorial, left detailed plans with the admonition to his wife, Ruth: "You must work on the mountain -- but go slowly so you do it right."
Ruth and seven of the 10 Korczak children, who were all born on the site, have taken on the challenge.
The modern visitor center has been expanded to include a museum displaying Native American artifacts. Recently, the University of South Dakota announced that it would locate a satellite campus at the memorial.
Despite such boosts, the sculpture is decades from being completed. It's a monument, and it will take a monumental effort to finish.