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Enjoy & Learn


The Man Who Fulfilled the Chief’s Dream

Korczak with a model of Crazy Horse
In South Dakota, near Rapid City, not far from the famous Mount Rushmore, work is going full steam ahead. The biggest monument in the world is being carved out of the Black Hill rock.

The idea of a Crazy Horse Memorial was sparked off by Chief Standing Bear in the late 1940s. But the man who devoted his life to the project was a Polish sculptor, Jan Korczak Ziółkowski, a descendant of Count Ignacy Ziółkowski. Without him there would be no Crazy Horse Memorial.

But who was Crazy Horse? And why was a location near Mount Rushmore chosen, the place where the most famous giant rock sculpture of white people is already?

Defeated in the bloody Indian wars, the Sioux were given the barren rocky land of South Dakota in place of the fertile soil of their native Arizona. But the Black Hills, where the
Korczak Ziółkowski and Standing Bear
tribe was forced to live, soon turned out to be full of something that drew the white settlers like a magnet–gold. Cities and mines were built with lightning speed. Hundreds of thousands of gold seekers invaded the land. The Indians didn’t give up their hope for freedom and new wars broke out as a result. Before the brave Sioux were almost completely wiped out, they managed to win an important battle, that of Little Bighorn in 1876. The Indians, led by chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, crushed General Custer’s men in a single victorious assault. Crazy
The Mount Rushmore presidents
Horse had halted the expansion of the white people, but not for long. Enraged by the Little Bighorn defeat, American troops massacred the Indian camp at Wounded Knee Creek. Crazy Horse was captured and then stabbed to death in mysterious circumstances.

Years passed, and the Gold Rush ended. The Black Hills were quiet again until some white people came again to disturb their peace. This time they were not soldiers and they didn’t carry guns but they did have a lot of dynamite! They were artists. In the late 1930s, sculptor Gutzon Borglum began his
The model and the monument
unusual project of carving out of the rock-face of nearby Mount Rushmore four mammoth heads of American presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. The Danish artist and his helpers were watched by the natives of the land, the Sioux Indians, with their chief, Standing Bear. One day, he said to one of the sculptor’s assistants: “We would like the White Man to know that the Native Americans have their heroes too.” The assistant’s name was Jan Korczak Ziółkowski, a fairly well-known sculptor himself. He took the chief’s words seriously. A few years later, the Polish immigrant started a project that was to become his life’s work. As an Indian hero to be immortalized in stone, Korczak chose the warrior who never gave up or went to a reservation–Crazy Horse.

You can see Crazy Horse at close range
Without the publicity or money that accompanied the Rushmore project and allowed the relatively speedy completion of the presidents’ heads, Korczak Ziółkowski spent the rest of his life fulfilling his own dream as well as that of Chief Standing Bear. Over the 34 years he refused to take any pay for the Crazy Horse Memorial, on which he worked single-handedly until his death on October 20, 1982 at the age of 74. He managed to move seven million tons of rock in this time. Knowing that the job would take well beyond one lifespan, Korczak prepared detailed plans and instructions so that his children (all seven of them!) could carry on the task. They may not live long enough to see the completion of this immense undertaking either. There are plans to include a permanent Indian museum, a medical centre and even a university. According to Korczak’s will, all the funds must come from donations.

Nobody knows when Crazy Horse will be ready. The monument is to be 172 meters tall. The chief’s face alone, currently the most advanced part of the work, is 28 meters high. Crazy Horse’s extended left arm is 80 meters long. The horse’s head is planned to be the size of a 22-storey building! “The history of the American Indians is an epic and so it requires epic dimensions,” Ziółkowski used to say.
Ruth Ziółkowska with her children and grndchildren
Therefore, depending on the funds, weather and dozens of other unforeseen factors, the whole project may still take decades to finish. One thing is certain, though. According to the will of the author and his heirs, the work will be completed, no matter what.

Another thing that should be spread is knowledge and the memory of the little-known Polish visionary who started it all.

In 1996, I had the pleasure of preparing a documentary for Polish Television, entitled “The Man Who Fulfilled the Chief’s Dream,” telling the story of this “writer in stone,” Jan Korczak Ziółkowski. The film also showed the past and present of the Crazy Horse Memorial, how unusual the place is and what it has to offer as a tourist attraction.

The local Indians of Dakota’s Black Hills believe that, once completed, the giant sculpture will finally give them back their lost dignity and honor because Crazy Horse himself believed he’d return to earth in the form of stone.

Ryszard Wolański

 

translation by Jerzy Chyb

 
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