Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Presidents vs. Crazy Horse (Part I: The Presidents)

Most everyone is aware of the Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Unless you are blind or have lived under a rock, you have seen many images of this American symbol.  I have seen it in person, and it IS impressive.

As a patriotic American and USAF veteran, I am proud of this sculpture and what it is intended to portray. The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, chose his subjects for specific reasons:  George Washington represents the founding of the nation; Thomas Jefferson, its expansion; Abraham Lincoln, its preservation; and Theodore Roosevelt, its development and emergence onto the world stage in the 20th century.

The two images above are the most common presentations depicted in media, and when one walks through the entrance to the memorial.  Directly, front-on.  But now I'm going to throw a few different perspectives at you.

It is difficult to fully appreciate the scale of the carvings without a reference of known size.  Even the trees in the previous image seem like they could be saplings... but they aren't.

Maintenance workers atop the carvings.

The true scale.
As one approaches the memorial, winding through the scenic Black Hills, the first image you may see is this one, a photo I snapped in 1990:

From SD Rt 244

 After you park your vehicle, you'll see the "Avenue of Flags" as you enter the memorial:

Avenue of Flags (From NPS website)

Here is a photo I took of a model inside the interpretive center.  It is one version of what Borglum intended the sculpture to look like, but as I understand, after he passed away and his son took over, they ran low on money.

Sculptor's model

Here is one angle you don't see often... SD Rt 244 winds around behind the memorial. I think that this image is more difficult to capture now, because the trees have grown taller. Here is Mr. Washington in a profile that I snapped from that road:

Heading 'round behind the mountain....
There is also a road opposite Mt. Rushmore, called "Iron Mountain Road" (US Rt 16 & 16A) It is a scenic drive, is narrow in places and has many twists and turns.  It also has a tunnel which perfectly frames the sculpture from one direction, and is best viewed earlier in the day. (Later in the day, the carvings are in shadow as the sun goes down.)

Iron Mountain Road tunnel view. (From NPS website)

Another view from Iron Mountain Road,
visitor's center visible at base of mountain.
(From NPS website)
This project was undertaken during the Great Depression and was ultimately funded by Congress.  It cost under $1 million and was completed with no fatalities, despite the hazardous and precarious working conditions. It is impressive to contemplate and view.

Now for the Dark Side...

Like many achievements of the United States of America, there is a shameful side to this magnificent American icon.  It is not obvious; the casual observer, as I once was, will never know it and go away with good feelings about our nation and its history. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging the good things the USA has accomplished, but I feel it is important to not be ignorant of the shadows in our past and skeletons in our closet.

First of all, The Black Hills were promised to the Lakota Sioux by the Treaty of Laramie in 1868. It was supposed to be forever their land.  They consider the land sacred, and for it to be scarred in this manner is abhorrent.

The Name "Mount Rushmore" was applied by a party leading a man named "Charles Rushmore" on a gold prospecting expedition in 1877. (I only just learned the following detail myself: Apparently one of the locals in the party was David Swanzey who was the husband of Carrie Ingalls, the sister of Laura Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie fame.)  Regardless of name, they were prospecting illegally.

These incursions by settlers and prospectors led to the Sioux & Cheyenne war of 1876/77 and the U.S. Government to reclaim the land.  (A notable battle of this war was The Battle of the Little Bighorn, aka "Custer's Last Stand.")

Legally, this land belonged to the Sioux. This was upheld by a Supreme Court ruling in 1980 in which the land was assessed at 1877 value, plus 5% annual interest. In exchange for over $100 million, the claim was supposed to be settled.  The Sioux have refused the settlement and simply want their land back, even though the money held by the U.S Treasury reportedly has now grown to over $500 million.

Gutzon Borglum's previous project was the carving of Stone Mountain in Georgia, which he left during a dispute with the project organizers. This is a memorial depicting Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Generals Robert E. Lee, and "Stonewall" Jackson.  This alone is not a bad thing... many good men on both sides of the Civil War fought and died for what they believed in.  But Borglum is known to have been an influential member of the Ku Klux Klan. Not exactly the poster child of freedom, democracy, and equality.

Furthermore, the U.S. Presidents he chose to depict all had overt policies and views which were hostile to Native Americans. Many of their statements are documented advocating removal or extermination of the native populations from the lands sought by white settlers for expansion.

I look at this memorial, and I remember.  I remember the greatness of the USA and the leaders who formed it in all its imperfection, but also left us the promise of a greater tomorrow.  I also remember the costs to get to this time.  The price in blood, sorrow, lives, and irreplaceable cultures.

It is truly a memorial for all to contemplate both the good and the bad.


National Park Service site: Mount Rushmore
A source for interesting reading:  Mount Rushmore Revisited
Wikipedia article about Mount Rushmore