Permit me one more day of my experience in the Black Hills and it will focus on the person of Crazy Horse and an American the iconic chief never met. Korczak Ziolkowski was born in Boston in 1908 and grew up a foster-child in a first generation Irish family where the father was an professional boxer. His father repeatedly beat the young boy and when the lad reached 16 he left home, discovered that he was born of Polish parentage and changed his name to that given to him at birth. He had artistic talent and was somewhat adopted by the famous New England Cabot family who saw to his further education in fine arts. He won the highest prize for a sculpture at the New York World’s Fair in 1938 and attracted the attention of Henry Standing Bear, the chief of the Sioux tribe in the Dakotas. The Sioux were put out, to put it mildly, with the further desecration of what they considered sacred ground when the work began on the faces of the four presidents on Mt. Rushmore and Standing Bear wanted something in the hills to recall that the “red man” also had heroes worthy of appropriate remembrance. Korczak and Standing Bear chose a mountain and the former arrived with only $174.00 in his pocket. With what he had and what he could assemble, he bought the mountain and without compensation from anyone except those willing to donate to the monument began his work in 1947. Although accompanied by his wife, she soon abandoned him to return east as she did not like either the harsh climate or the spartan living in a tent. Another young woman, Ruth Ross came west, and after the legal divorce married Kocrzak and together they had ten children. Without a dime of federal or state support and with no money from the poor Native American community, the project continues to this moment to carve the largest monument in the world, taller than the Washington monument and the Eiffel Tower and many times the size of the great pyramids of Egypt.
Like Mt. Rushmore, the sculpting is done first by carefully placed dynamite blasts and then finished with chisels. Crazy Horse’s head, which is finished and which I include below, can fit the four giant figures of the American presidents in his right ear alone. It is an amazing accomplishment and since his death in 1982, Ruth and the children have continued work on the monument uninterrupted. Korczak and Standing Bear’s dream is more quickly becoming a reality due to precision tools and new technologies, all of which are donated to the project. I stood in awe of what two people had done and are doing and I was lucky enough to join her good friend, Bishop Cupich in having lunch with the indomitable and unsinkable Ruth Ziolkowski. There are now thirty-two grandchildren, seven of whom are working at the monument site this summer. All share their grandparents passion for the mountain and the monument. True Grit if I ever met it face to face.