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Crazy Horse Monument to Native American History is Built on Controversy

The street corners of downtown Rapid City, South Dakota, the gateway to the Black Hills and the self-proclaimed “most patriotic city in America,” are populated by bronze statues of all the former Presidents of the United States, each just eerily shy of life-size. On the corner of Mount Rushmore Road and Main Street, a diminutive Andrew Jackson scowls and crosses his arms; on Ninth and Main, a shoulder-high Teddy Roosevelt strikes an impressive pose, holding a petite sword.

As one drives farther into the Black Hills—a region considered sacred by its original residents, who were displaced by settlers, loggers, and gold miners—the roadside attractions offer a vision of American history that grows only more uncanny. Western expansion and settler colonialism join in a jolly, jumbled fantasia: visitors can tour a mine and pan for gold, visit Cowboy Gulch and a replica of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall (“Shoot a musket! Exit here!”), and stop by the National Presidential Wax Museum, which sells a tank top featuring a buff Abraham Lincoln above the slogan “Abolish Sleevery.” In a town named for George Armstrong Custer, an Army officer known for using Native women and children as human shields, tourist shops sell a T-shirt that shows Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, and Red Cloud and labels them “The Original Founding Fathers,” and also one that reads, in star-spangled letters, “Welcome to America Now Speak English.”

The source from which so much strange Americana flows is Mt. Rushmore, which, with the stately columns and the Avenue of Flags leading up to it, seems to leave the historical mess behind. But perhaps we get that feeling only because we’ve grown accustomed to the idea of it: a monument to patriotism, conceived as a colossal symbol of dominion over nature, sculpted by a man who had worked with the Ku Klux Klan, and composed of the heads of Presidents who had policies to exterminate the people into whose land the carving was dynamited.

Past Mt. Rushmore is another mountain, and another memorial. This one is much larger: the Presidents’ heads, if they were stacked one on top of the other, would reach a little more than halfway up it. After seventy-one years of work, it is far from finished. All that has emerged from Thunderhead Mountain is an enormous face—a man of stone, surveying the world before him with a slight frown and a furrowed brow.

Decades from now, if and when the sculpture is completed, the man will be sitting astride a horse with a flowing mane, his left arm extended in front of him, pointing. The scale will be mind-boggling: an over-all height nearly four times that of the Statue of Liberty; the arm long enough to accommodate a line of semi trucks; the horse’s ears the size of school buses, its nostrils carved twenty-five feet around and nine feet deep. It will be the largest sculpture in the history of the world. Yet, to some of the people it is meant to honor, the giant emerging from the rock is not a memorial but an indignity, the biggest and strangest and crassest historical irony in a region, and a nation, that is full of them.

Read entire article at New Yorker