Sharon Koehler

Stone Industry Consultant

Photos © Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation

The Black Hills of South Dakota house many secrets… Mount Rushmore not being one of them (everyone knows about Mount Rushmore). And to be truthful, most of us probably know about the Woolly and Columbian mammoth excavation site there, and the gold rush action that happened there, as well.

But did you know that the four faces of Mount Rushmore are not the only faces carved in the Black Hills? About 25 miles southwest of our four presidents is another face in another mountain in the Black Hills. It is the Crazy Horse Memorial.

Carving progress as of 2023. Ziolkowski left detailed measurements and instructions to complete the massive work.  Right: Ziolkowski with a carved mockup of the completed project.

Carving progress as of 2023. Ziolkowski left detailed measurements and instructions to complete the massive work.

Right: Ziolkowski with a carved mockup of the completed project.

 It was started back in 1947 by Korczak Ziolkowski [Core-chalk Jewel-cuff-ski]. Back then, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear got the idea and asked Ziolkowski to spearhead the project. Ziolkowski had worked on Mount Rushmore. The first phase involved creating a model and securing support for the monumental project.

In June,1948, Ziolkowski made the first blast and started carving the colossal sculpture into the side of Thunderhead Mountain, chosen for its symbolic significance to the Lakota people. The mountain itself is 6,532 feet above sea level and is the 27th highest mountain in South Dakota. It is made of pegmatite granite. 

In May of 1951, Ziolkowski painted the outline of Crazy Horse on the mountain. It took 176 gallons of paint. In April 1952 the first cut of Crazy Horse’s 90-foot-tall profile was made. In May 1988 work on Crazy Horse’s face began and in only 5 years the forehead, eyes and the area under his nose was complete. In June 1998, 50 years after the first blast, the face of Crazy Horse was finished. 

The next phase of the project is Crazy Horse’s left hand, left forearm, right shoulder, his hairline and part of the horse’s mane and head. This phase of the project is scheduled to be completed in 2037.

The construction of the Crazy Horse Memorial has been a slow and ongoing process, relying on private donations and admission fees for funding. Ziolkowski wouldn’t accept any government grants or funds, fearing he would lose control of the project. The project faced financial hardships, but despite the obstacles, progress has continued and is in its 76th year. Also, in the beginning, Ziolkowski worked almost completely solo on the carving, again fearing that if he allowed others to work on it, he would lose control. Ziolkowski carried dynamite and stone up and down the mountain by hand. He worked on the project non-stop until his passing in 1982. He is buried at the base of the mountain in a tomb he carved, himself..

After his passing, his wife, Ruth Ziolkowski, took control of the massive project, making sure of its continuity and fostering collaboration with their 10 children and a dedicated team of sculptors and artisans. Today 4 children and several grandchildren work on behalf of the memorial.

Originally, it was thought that the memorial would be complete in 30 years, but it is now in its 76th year of on-going work and has no true completion date. 

The sculpture’s final dimensions are planned to be 641 feet long and 563 feet high. His outstretched arm will be 263 feet long, the opening under his arm is to be 70 feet wide and 100 feet high, and the finger 29 feet 6 inches long. The face of Crazy Horse, completed in 1998, is 87 feet 6 inches high;  in comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet high. The eyes are 17 feet wide each. 

As for the horse, the head will be 219 feet high, the mane – 62 feet high. The horse’s ears will be 54 feet long. The eyes will be 20 feet wide by 15 feet high and the nostrils will be 26 feet in diameter.

Time-wise, it is the longest on-going mountain carving in the world and when it is complete, it will be the world’s second tallest statue, second only to The Statue of Unity in India which stands 597 feet tall. It is considered by many to be the 8th wonder of the world in progress.

As was mentioned earlier, there are no government funds or grants to help defray the cost of this huge undertaking. It is done by donations and admissions. “Donations” is pretty self-explanatory, but admissions? Yes, admissions. There is a welcome center at the site, but it isn’t free. The fee for admission varies depending on the time of year. For your admission fee, you have access to 3 museums, a cultural/orientation film and you get to see the monument from the veranda. Plus, if you are there after dark, weather and season permitting, there is a laser light show. There are also frequent cultural events and a gift shop.

 However, if you really want to get up-close and personal, you can take a bus to the base of the mountain. If that’s not close enough, you can get a guided van ride up to the top of the mountain. (Both of these adventures are a fee separate from your admission fee). If you can’t get it in all in one day, you can get a re-admit pass good for one more admission in a three-day period.

For more information (and there is a lot more), you can go to their site at: The website is a wealth of information but be sure to look at two things: Number 1 is the live webcam page, and number 2 is the photo history of the project. It starts with the very first photo in 1948 and progresses through 2023.

Let’s face it, we are all stoners. Whether we install it, fab it, carve it, quarry it, sell it, transport it, repair it, or write about it, we are all stoners. But how many of us would have the vision and the knowledge to pull off something this big? Think about it.

Please send your thoughts and comments on this article to Sharon Koehler at .