Once known as the Six Grandfathers (Tȟuŋkášila Šákpe) by the Lakota Sioux who lived in the area, the mountains now more commonly known as Mount Rushmore are something of a visible representation of injustices faced by the native occupants of this land. While the territory was originally protected by the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868), once gold was discovered in the Black Hills, the government swiftly and illegally claimed the land. After wealthy New York businessman Charles E. Rushmore visited the area- jokingly naming the mountain after himself, the name stuck and the mountain was officially recognized as Mt. Rushmore in 1930.
The Mount Rushmore National Memorial sculpture project was begun in 1927 and finished fourteen years later with no fatalities amongst its 400 workers. The four 60-foot tall presidents- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln- are intended to represent important aspects of American history; the birth, growth, development, and preservation of the United States.
The project was intended to promote tourism in South Dakota and was hugely successful. These days the Memorial is the most popular tourist attraction in South Dakota, drawing in just over 2 million visitors a year. It is also home of an unintentionally hilarious gift shop absolutely stuffed to the brim with presidential souvenirs. If there’s a certain president whose face splashed over an ash tray you wouldn’t mind snuffing your cigarettes out on, this is the place for you!
Just under 20 miles away from the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills rests the Crazy Horse Memorial. Henry Standing Bear kickstarted the project by recruiting Korczak Ziolkowski in 1939- even going as far as trading his own more profitable lands to the US Government in exchange for Thunderhead Mountain where the project is located.
Although the ground on the sculpture was first broken in 1948, it is still very much a work in progress- and a lot of that is due to its massive size! Crazy Horse’s head alone is 87 feet high, and when completed the sculpture is anticipated to be 641 feet long and 563 feet high, which will make it the second tallest sculpture in the world.
Unlike Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse memorial does not accept any federal or state funding, instead collecting money from admission tickets and gift shops. Admission is charged by the number of passengers in the vehicle and can vary by date, so make sure you check online to find the current cost of the tickets, and for any special events!
Both of these memorials are very much quick stops to get your obligatory photos in. There are, of course, gift shops to browse and historical talks to attend, but neither location is going to be an all-day event- even if you make your way closer to the sculptures.
While these memorials are marvels of sculpting and the huge scale of the projects are incredible to witness, I personally think that the best way to respect and admire the land of the American people would be to stop carving out huge chunks of it.