Mount Rushmore: What Went Right and Wrong

Mount Rushmore: What went Right and Wrong
Pete Christensen

Mount Rushmore was built on The Six Grandfathers Mountain of South Dakota on land stolen from the Lakota Sioux in the war of 1876 to 1877. The name was changed to “Rushmore” to honor a wealthy East Coast banker by Carrie Swancey, the sister of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who later went on to name Washington’s professional football team. Okay, strike that last part…

The monument was first proposed by Doane Robinson in 1923 to increase Black Hills tourism and to celebrate the first 150 years of North America’s history. If only they’d just gone with my idea of a nice parade.

The original sculptures were Guston Borglum and his understudy Korczak Ziolkowski. The initial idea was to honor five key people:

  1. Lewis and Clark (those who explored the West).
  2. Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce (those who inhabited the West).
  3. Wild Bill Hickok (those who tamed the West), and:
  4. William F. Cody, also known as Buffalo Bill Wildwings (those who kept the Western spirit alive through the use of spicy sauces).

However, when President Coolidge got involved, he demanded the idea involve politicians (go figure). Borglum, who’d become famous by carving the Confederate Memorial on Stone Mountain, Georgia wasn’t really interested in the idea of a Native American sculpture, an idea championed by his partner Ziolkowski.

In 1925 Borglum settled on an immense figure of a young George Washington in a three cornered hat. Funding ran out so they considered a two cornered hat for a time. To avoid controversy, and secure funding, Coolidge insisted on two democrats and another Republican joining Washington.

Several times attempts were made in congress to add figures to Jefferson, Roosevelt, Washington, and Jackson, who were eventually told they should watch their own figures. These other proposals ranged from Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, and astronaut Neil Armstrong. All were defeated, so in 2010 The Daily Discord nominated Rush Limbaugh and rock singer, Geddy Lee, but only because they were trying to be clever.

Despite a public outcry to add Susan B. Anthony in 1937, the project went forward as planned. Ziolkowski left the project when partially completed, as some claim Teddy Roosevelt’s chin frustrated him greatly.

The state of South Dakota has made millions from Mount Rushmore. The Sioux nation has sued for one-tenth of one, one hundredth percent of the money earned from “Black Hills Gold‟. They’ve repeatedly been defeated in both state and federal courts. Not because they’re wrong, but because reparations on this large a scale is a slippery slope, one the United States can’t afford to get involved in. Instead, a portion of all proceeds from Mt. Rushmore tourism should be awarded to the Sioux Nation, to be used strictly for education and job development.

In 1939, at the request of Chief Henry Standing Bear, Ziolkowski began work on the Crazy Horse Monument. Crazy Horse never had his picture taken. His image is depicted purely from spoken descriptions and folklore. He was stabbed in the back by Army scout Little Big Man and died shortly after. The army buried the Oglala Sioux leader in a deliberately hidden grave.

Despite twice being offered ten million dollars by the federal government to complete the project, the family has refused. It should take another thirty years to complete this project and it will be eight times bigger than Mt. Rushmore once complete. It will be indisputably the largest sculpture in the entire world.

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