The Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota had its beginnings in these words: "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too." This is what Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote in a letter to the sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski in 1939 after reading an article about a sculpture prize he won at the New York World's Fair. Ziolkowski had spent time working with another sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, who was then in the process of blasting out and carving the iconic Mount Rushmore near the town of Keystone. Ziolkowski met with Sioux leaders shortly afterward, and began work on the Crazy Horse Monument at Thunderhead Mountain in 1948, after service in World War II delayed his intended plan.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is located about seventeen miles southwest of Mount Rushmore and the town of Keystone, and just to the west of the northern edge of Custer State Park. Chief Crazy Horse in South Dakota was of the Oglala Lakota Sioux. In the 1850s and 1860s, he gained renown as a warrior. By the time he was instrumental in Custer's defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, he was respected as a chief and leader of his people.
His fight against the United States Army was doomed. Crazy Horse in South Dakota finally surrendered and was killed in 1877. His heart and bones are buried somewhere around Wounded Knee, which is south of Badlands National Park and about fifteen miles from the Nebraska border. They were placed deliberately by his relatives, so their exact location would never be known.
There is one photograph at the Custer Battlefield Museum that is purported to be of Crazy Horse, but historians question its authenticity because of Crazy Horse's active avoidance of cameras. Ziolkowski conceived the heroic likeness that would appear on his Crazy Horse Memorial as a metaphor for the spirit of the chief and the Native American people in general. The grand figure of Crazy Horse in stone is depicted heroically on horseback, one arm outstretched and pointing to the sacred Black Hills in the distance as though to encompass all the lands he loved and defended so fearlessly. Ziolkowski chose as his inspiration Crazy Horse's supposed response to the mocking question: "Where are your lands now?" Crazy Horse replied, "My lands are where my dead lie buried."
When it is finally completed, the statue of Crazy Horse in South Dakota will be the largest mountain sculpture in the world, standing 563 feet tall and 641 feet long. As a comparison, each of the four Presidential busts on Mount Rushmore is only 60 feet high. One of the reasons the Crazy Horse Monument remains unfinished after more than 60 years of work is that Ziolkowski steadfastly refused all government funding; all money for the sculpture has been raised strictly by donation and admission fees to view the ongoing work. Ziolkowski died in 1982 and is buried in a tomb at the foot of the Crazy Horse Monument and Thunderhead Mountain. He took no pay and worked in obscurity, often completely alone. His wife, Ruth, who was a volunteer at the site when they met and married in 1950, and seven of their ten children have carried on with the carving and fund-raising since his death. To assist in fund-raising, several events are held at the site, including a laser light show, an annual ten-kilometer hike, and an annual rodeo.