Model and sculpture

We decided to start the day (6/29/16) at the Crazy Horse monument, then head out to Custer’s State Park.  The vision Korczak  Ziolkowski had for this area is an incredible one.  The entrance fee of $28.00 for a carload may seem steep, but when you consider that all the work on the project is paid for out of the proceeds of the admission, gift shop, and private donations (with No Government Support), it’s an investment worth making.

We started at the museum with the movie, which gives insight into this remarkable family. The Ziolkowskis and their ten children have truly made this sculpture a life calling.  It was fascinating to me that Korczak didn’t really know many Native Americans before beginning this project, and yet honoring, preserving, and enhancing the Native American experience has become a driving force for not just Korczak, but also his children.

Korczak’s portrait

After the movie, we took a tour of the museum given by one of the students of the Native American summer program. The first place he took us was to the portrait of Korczak his friend Dean Nauman painted. Korczak himself made the frame. He asked for them to put only half of it up initially and put the other half up when the mountain is finished.  The estimated finished date is unknown

Crazy Horse’s gun and saddle

One thing I especially enjoyed on the tour was the sections of artifacts from Crazy Horse. We were told a bit of Crazy Horse’s life which I was not aware of.  First, he went on a vision quest at 14 instead of the usual 16.  While on his vision quest, he saw a horse and a red hawk. When he became a warrior, he always wore a red hawk feather to commemorate this event. He also took over his father’s name Crazy Horse. As a warrior, he became a shirt wearer (police officer)–another testament to his ability as a warrior.

Horse armor with 24,960 beads

One interesting story was that Crazy Horse tried to run away with a married woman. Her husband caught them and shot him in the shoulder (which I’m betting is not where he was aiming.)  Because of this attempted affair, Crazy Horse was ostracized by his tribe and sort of separated from them.  Thankfully for him, he became famous as a warrior in his own right. In one skirmish, he drew 86 soldiers into an ambush.  He also fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn. Because he had repeating rifle, he was able to beat the military who was still using single shot.  Eventually, however, he was captured, tried to escape, and was stabbed in the back.


Bedroom in the Cabin

Another interesting part of the museum is the information about the sculptor himself.  I was fascinated to find out that Korczak actually worked on Mount Rushmore, but had been fired when Borglum discovered he was learning techniques to do his own monument.   He also served in the war.  When he came back, he built his cabin to work on the mountain.  He had met his second wife while he was carving in Connecticut.  She had actually met him at 13, but they became better acquainted when she worked with a group of artists who helped him on a sculpture.  The cabin he built them is still used by their daughter.

Horse and Old Pagan sculptures

Another thing that was especially interesting was how incredible of a carver Korczak really was.  Looking around both the cabin and the studio, one can’t help but be impressed with his ability.  My favorites were the horse he carved in just 9 days.  Next to that is a sculpture entitled Old Pagan.  This man was carved when Korczak was 21 out of wood taken from Boston Harbor. Pagan was a carpenter and sailor who had memorized most of Shakespeare. The carving shows him reciting King Lear.  Next to that is a woodcarving from Oberammergau carved by a man who was the cousin of the famous actor Anton Lang who played Christus in the Passion Play.   Since it’s my goal to go to the Oberammergau Passion Play, this was also an incredible connection.  Among the other amazing antiques were pieces of furniture and items that were a gift from the late King Farouk of Egypt.  He had replicas made of items found in King Tut’s tomb. I would have loved more time to browse all the amazing things around the room, but the tour continued.

Sculptors’ studio of Korczak and Monique

Our next stop was the Sculptor’s Studio. Here we heard about Korczak’s early life. He was orphaned at one and was raised by an Irish prize fighter (Though I heard somewhere that he was placed in a series of foster homes.). He moved out at a fairly young age (16), so he basically raised himself. He even created his own name by taking his mother’s last name as first name and father’s last name as his last name. The pieces pictured in this area are both Korczak’s and his daughter Monique’s who has definitely inherited her father’s talent and is currently supervising work on the mountain.

One fun fact our guide told us was that Korczak carved his sculpture of Wild Bill Hickok out of rock blasted from the mountain.  As he was carving, he found three pieces of gold in the area for the chin!


Eager Donkeys

Since we were trying to beat the storm to Custer State Park, we left after browsing through the wares of a variety of Native American artisans.  Custer State Park is a vast landscape, and we hoped to see animals on the wildlife loop.  Our fist animal sighting was a pair of turkeys complete with babies.
We continued the baby theme when we came across the donkeys.  These donkeys were definitely not shy, and they were even sticking their heads in the windows of passing cars–largely, I’m sure, because people kept feeding them.  They created a nice traffic jam trying to get food, which I’m sure the park discouraged.


After the donkeys, we went looking for bison, which we really wanted to show my niece. But, they were very elusive.  In fact, on the main trail, we only found one.  Driving down the gravel road, we found a small herd, but they were too far away for good pictures.  We were blessed to see a few antelope and deer before the storm set in.


The View from the Top

We concluded our day taking the winding road back.  The rain lifted, and the views were incredible.  Whether it was viewing Mount Rushmore through a tunnel or the hairpin turns of “the pig tails” where the road literally curves back on itself, we loved the beauty of the landscape. But, alas, it was time to head back and get packed.  Next stop:  Williamsburg, Virginia!