south dakota: crazy horse memorial & chapel in the hills

At the Crazy Horse Memorial, I watched the orientation film about Crazy Horse.The mission of the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation is to protect and preserve the culture, tradition, and living heritage of all North American Indians.

In 1876, Crazy Horse led a band of Lakota warriors against Custer’s 7th U.S. Cavalry battalion in the Battle of Little Bighorn, or Custer’s Last Stand. In 1877, under a flag of truce, Crazy Horse went to Fort Robinson.  A soldier plunged a bayonet into him after a misunderstanding, and he shortly died, around midnight on September 5, 1877.


Crazy Horse Memorial


Crazy Horse Memorial

Chief Henry Standing Bear invited sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski (1908-1982) to the Black Hills to carve Crazy Horse. After much consideration, Korczak accepted. Ziolkowski was born in Boston of Polish descent. He endured a difficult upbringing and became a self-taught and renowned sculptor, gaining recognition at the 1939 World’s Fair, which attracted the attention of Chief Standing Bear.

Ruth Ross (1926-2014) followed Korczak, they were married and had ten children who took part in the dream of Crazy Horse as they were growing up. Dedicated management and staff, including some Ziolkowski children and grandchildren, carry on the project today.

I took a bus tour for $4 to go up closer to the Memorial to take pictures.


Crazy Horse Memorial

No pictures were ever taken of Crazy Horse, the famous Oglala Lakota leader, so the image is based on descriptions and it is meant to convey his spirit.


Crazy Horse Memorial

The mountain is 6,532 feet above sea level and is the 27th highest mountain in South Dakota.  It is made of pegmatite granite.


Crazy Horse Memorial


Crazy Horse Memorial


Crazy Horse Memorial


Crazy Horse Memorial


Crazy Horse Memorial


me at Crazy Horse Memorial

Ziolkowski insisted that no federal or state monies be used to fund the project even though two times $10 million was offered.  The nine-story high face of Crazy Horse was completed in 1998.  The horse’s head, which measures 219 feet (or 22 stories) is the focus of current work.

My friend Ed called while I was on the bus tour and I asked him if he could call back in an hour.  I hadn’t talked with him in ages, so I looked forward to catching up.

After the tour, I went into the Indian Museum of North America on site.

The Legend of the Drum (From the Long House People) tells that the drum pictured below was made for two good friends of all Indian people: Korczak and Ruth Ziolkowski.  The cover of the drum is made of deer skin and on this skin is a painted star, the Morning Star. In the center of this star is a painting of Thunderhead Mountain as it will look when Korczak Ziolkowksi, or Brave Wolf, finishes carving it into a statue of Crazy Horse.

Above and beyond the sculpture of Chief Crazy Horse is a spirit looking down on the monument with approval.  This is the spirit of Chief Crazy Horse.


drum for Korczak and Ruth Ziolkowski

In the museum, I saw various Native American costumes, tipis, and paintings.

The Shawl Dancer is emblematic of the shawl dance, also called butterfly dance or fancy dance, which emerged in the 20th century.  The dance’s spins and dips show off the colorful work of the shawl and fringe draped over the dancer’s shoulders. The shawl dance is a regular feature of pow wow competitions.


Shawl Dancer, by Patty Eckman, American, 2010

As I walked around the complex, I saw the 1/34 scale model by Korczak of the Crazy Horse Memorial. The edge of the memorial itself peeks out from behind the model.


1/34 scale model of Crazy Horse

On the way out, I was awed by the magnificent Fighting Stallions, which are 9’6″, by Korczak.


Fighting Stallions


Fighting Stallions

I said my goodbyes to Crazy Horse, and was on my way to Chapel in the Hills.



On the way to the Chapel in the Hills, I passed the Silver Dollar Saloon and Hill City, population 948. A red airplane flew nowhere fast on a pole in front of Firehouse Winery and Brewery.  I passed Dakota Stone’s Rock Shop and Miner Brewing Co.  I called my Dad to wish him a happy birthday.  While I was talking, Ed called back but I couldn’t pick up, so I missed talking to him this time around.

I finally arrived at the Chapel in the Hills and went first into the Log Cabin Museum.

The Chapel in the Hills is an exact replica of the famous Borgund Stavkirke in Norway.  Completed in 1969, the Chapel is the result of the efforts of many people, chief among them being Rev. Harry Gregerson and Mr. Arndt Dahl.  The Chapel was built as the home for Rev. Gregerson’s “Lutheran Vespers” radio ministry, through generous support from Mr. Dahl.

A major addition to the Chapel grounds was the relocation of a log cabin that now houses a collection of Scandinavian antiques. The log cabin was built in Palmer Gulch in 1877 by Edward Nielsen, born in Norway in 1843.  He came to the Black Hills to prospect for gold in 1876.  In 1925, he died and was buried in Hill City. The cabin was purchased at an auction, dismantled and moved in 1987. It was reconstructed by volunteers.

The museum is dedicated to those of Scandinavian descent who brought a part of their heritage with them to America. By using their skills with wood, they designed the tools and furniture for use in their homes. No one home would have had all of the pieces found inside, but they would have been found in a settlement of Norwegian, Swedish or Danish immigrants.


Log cabin

Stavkirke is an exact replica of the famous 12th century Borgund Church in Norway.  Wood carvings, Christian symbols, and Norse dragon heads adorn the building, which features peg construction.









The “leper’s window” in the interior of the chapel is God’s welcome to all people. St. Andrew’s crosses remind us of the violence of our world. The intricate carving around the north entrance depicts the struggle between good and evil in the battle between a serpent and dragon.  The dragon is winning, a symbol of God’s triumph over the struggles in our lives.

The freestanding bell tower located behind the Chapel contains the original bell from American Lutheran Church, Presho, South Dakota.  The bell has summoned worshipers to the Chapel since 1969.


Bell tower

I strolled through the Prayer Walk into the forest, what they call “God’s outdoor cathedral.” The gift to the Chapel of several limestone statues depicting the Life of Christ provided the opportunity to fulfill the dream of constructing a prayer or meditation walk on the Chapel grounds.  Dedicated in 2010, this secluded path winds its way up behind the Chapel. The statues and benches located along the pathway, combined with selected Bible passages, provide a place of quiet contemplation.

At the same time the Chapel was being built, a stabbur was constructed on the grounds to serve as the visitor center and gift shop.  With its characteristic larger second story and grass roof, a stabbur is a general storehouse found on many Norwegian farms. The Chapel stabbur was modeled after one from the Middle Ages in Rauland, in the Telemark District of Norway.  In was constructed in Norway and then reassembled here on site.  The original lower porch area was enclosed in the 1990s to allow more room for the gift shop.





The Viking runestones are runestones that mention Scandinavians who participated in Viking expeditions.

The stone pictured below to the left was raised to honor the forefathers of immigrants who sailed the western sea. They made their homes in a new land.

The stone to the right was raised to honor warriors for loyal service, who fought and died for the homeland.


Viking runestones

Back in Rapid City, I had dinner at La Costa Mexican Restaurant: a chile relleno and tamale with refried beans and a Corona. The waitress didn’t speak English.


chile relleno and tamale with refried beans and a Corona


silos in Rapid City

At 9:38 p.m., I went to Rapid City Regional Airport to pick up Mike.  He would join me on the rest of my trip though Denver, Colorado, from where he would fly home.

*Drove 147.4 miles; Steps 10,457, or 4.43 miles*

*Friday, September 20, 2019*