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The Memorial to Crazy Horse Has Been Under Construction For Almost 70 Years

But you can still visit the memorial, which is located in South Dakota

The beginning of the Crazy Horse Memorial. (Flickr)
smithsonian.com

Oglala Lakota leader Crazy Horse, born on this day in 1849, was a famous war leader who participated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn and several other important battles of the American Indian Wars. According to the National Park Service, he fought in defense of Oglala land, but eventually brokered a surrender with the white leaders of government troops. The exact details of Crazy Horse's personal life are shrouded in mystery, but he's still remembered as one of the most prominent Native American figures of his time. His memorial, like his legacy, is larger than life–that is, if it ever gets finished. Here are three things to know about the historic site:

It’s far from complete

The Crazy Horse Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota has been under construction since 1948.  Although it’s open as a site for tourists to visit and it does feature a completed, 87-foot-tall head of Crazy Horse, it’s far from finished.

A few factors explain why, wrote Martin Rand III for CNN in 2012, when the monument had been under construction for a paltry 64 years. For one thing, the harsh weather of South Dakota and the iron-heavy rock of the mountain that is becoming the monument have made construction technically challenging. For another, the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation is a non-profit that’s funded by admission fees and donations.

The foundation, and the site, are overseen by the family of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. Ziolkowski designed the monument—his life’s work—and he is buried there, writes CBS News. True to his decisions on the project, the foundation has not sought federal funding.

It’s the largest monument carving currently in progress

According to NPR, this monument is the largest being carved anywhere in the world. In fact, writes contributor Charles Michael Ray, “when finished, [it] will dwarf the four presidents” of Mount Rushmore. According to the memorial website, Ziolkowski designed a 563-foot-tall mountain carving that shows a mounted Crazy Horse with his arm extended. That’s still the plan, although some alterations have been made to accommodate the mountain’s natural shape and composition.

Not all of Crazy Horse’s descendants agree with the memorial

Ziolkowski was asked to design and execute the monument by Henry Standing Bear, who at the time was the chief of the Lakota. In 1939, when Standing Bear commissioned the sculpture, Mount Rushmore was almost complete. The leader wanted to create a Native American counterpart to the monument. However, writes Indian Country Today, the modern descendants of Crazy Horse don’t think that Standing Bear had the right:

Elaine Quiver, a descendant of Crazy Horse, told Voice of America in 2003 that Lakota culture requires consensus among family members, but nobody asked his descendants.

"They don't respect our culture because we didn't give permission for someone to carve the sacred Black Hills where our burial grounds are," Quiver told Voice of America. "They were there for us to enjoy and they were there for us to pray. But it wasn't meant to be carved into images, which is very wrong for all of us. The more I think about it, the more it's a desecration of our Indian culture. Not just Crazy Horse, but all of us."

The memorial's future is an open question. Although the face in the mountain certainly isn't going anywhere, it remains to be seen whether it will ever be joined by a body.

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