I am a big enthusiast of history and personal stories of the past from various perspectives. Why you ask? Because they allow ME to choose where more of the truth and reality of events can be deciphered rather than hearing or reading only one version of those stories and events. This enigma and anomaly of singularity is no better symbolized than by two very different American memorials.
The fact that there are two dissimilar memorials, two divergent storylines about the same events in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota, with Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, I find intriguing, peculiar, and refreshing. The two exemplify humanity’s resilience, national cannibalism and expansionism, and behavioral complexity, while still having some level of equity, even if it takes over a century to acquire and disclose.
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If you go to the National Park Service’s website of Mount Rushmore, you’ll read the header, “American History, Alive in Stone…” The introduction goes on to say:
Majestic figures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, surrounded by the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota, tell the story of the birth, growth, development and preservation of this country. From the history of the first inhabitants to the diversity of America today, Mount Rushmore brings visitors face to face with the rich heritage we all share.
If you click the “Read More” link following, it takes you to a page to assist you with making plans for your trip to visit the memorial and helpful tips. If you’d like to know the history behind the creation of Mount Rushmore, you are going to have to dig further.
Learn About the Park — the NPS
Scrolling down this menu tab following the Plan Your Visit tab, you find a number of subjects related to the memorial. However, out of the eight choices you will only find one about the history (and creation) of Mount Rushmore under the heading of History & Culture. There you will find three more sub-menus, two of which are about the history: 1) People, and 2) Stories.
Under this People header you can read brief backgrounds of the important men of the project who contributed in various methods to the legal proceedings to begin the construction, fund-raising, its blueprints, development, and finishing with particular attention to Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Of more interest are the speeches of these two presidents at Mount Rushmore. Coolidge’s speech beginning the official construction he made on August 10, 1927 and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech dedicating Jefferson’s unveiling on August 30, 1936. I recommend reading both speeches if you can.
Under the Stories header you will find ten (10) sub-menus. Of those ten, you will find maybe 2-4 topics relating to the contextual history of Mount Rushmore. Back to the main menu of Learn About the Park, toward the bottom is the sub-header Education. That tab has Parks as Classrooms which divides into four more sub-sub-menus, two of which might lead one to a contextual history of this National Park: Curriculum Materials and Other Resources. After examining completely both of those topics, including every single offerings of history/social studies curriculums, nowhere is there found any mention at all, not even the support(?) by one or any of the original inhabitants of the Black Hills where the monument was built. Reading the popular majority of information available on Mount Rushmore you will or should come away with a purely Euro-American white-man narrative of people and events. The lopsidedness is unavoidable.
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Gold Discovered in the Black Hills
In the early 1860’s while on missionary duties to several Native American tribes in Montana, Idaho, and Dakota territories, Jesuit Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, reported to American settlers and expansionist he saw Sioux indians carrying gold they said came from the sacred grounds of the Black Hills. Meanwhile, since the mid-1700’s several tribes like the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Pawnee were being pushed out of their native lands westward by American settlers and mercantile, forcefully and by habitat degradation of living resources. Due to the rich buffalo hunting grounds of the northern plains, many refugee tribes settled in and around the Black Hills.
Due to constant skirmishes between American settlers-commerce moving West and Native tribes defending their lands, sovereignty, and way of life, the U.S. Government began studying and considering methods of “obtaining peace” with the “hostile peoples.” In the spring of 1868 a conference was held between the white-man U.S. Government and the Sioux indians in Fort Laramie, Wyoming. This became the Treaty of Fort Laramie. It proposed four primary accords signed by both parties:
- Set aside a 25 million acre tract of land for the Lakota and Dakota encompassing all the land in South Dakota west of the Missouri River, to be known as the Great Sioux Reservation
- Permit the Dakota and Lakota to hunt in areas of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota until the buffalo were gone (yet white-man hunters were already wiping out the bison)
- Provide for an agency, grist mill, and schools to be located on the Great Sioux Reservation
- Provide for land allotments to be made to individual Indians; and provide clothing, blankets, and rations of food to be distributed to all Dakotas and Lakotas living within the bounds of the Great Sioux Reservation
Sadly, however, neither the U.S. Government nor the Sioux indians and the other tribes had gotten wind of rising rumors about discovered gold and its implications. In November 1875, American prospectors found a large deposit in the Deadwood Gulch. This would be the death-pick for the Native American tribes and the start of the Black Hills Gold Rush. By 1872 the constant violation of the Ft. Laramie Treaty by white settlers, miners, and mercantilist — e.g. the Northern Pacific Railroad traversing straight through their buffalo hunting grounds — were so rampant and not stopped by the U.S. Government and President Ulysses Grant that inevitably on the grounds of utter disrespect and continued degradation of sacred Ogala-Hunkpapa Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho lands and living resources (declining buffalo), and broken promises by White Americans, the angered tribes led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse wanted no more forked-tongue talk from the white-men.
As many nationalistic, overly patriotic American politicians and their constituents today would do to protect their own homes, family, and living resources, the Native American Indians did exactly what any human would do in the face of hostile takeovers: standup and fight! And so began the Great Sioux War.
Most Americans today know the popular history stories about General George Custer’s valiant last stand at the battle of Little Big Horn and maybe related surrounding battles, but what most Americans do not really know or understand in-depth are the racist, discriminatory treatment and persistently broken U.S. treaties with Western and Great Plains Indians from the late 18th and entire 19th century. When Mount Rushmore was first imagined, drafted, and construction began in 1927, the story of the Black Hills Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho, along with many other tribes were essentially omitted and written out of authentic American history.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is the deserved symbol and story of a people and a way of life intentionally removed from their lands to foreign lands (reservations) undesirable by their conquerors, and through either militant extermination or oppression, their way of life — ironically not protected under the U.S. Constitution, DoI, or legally by state and federal courts — is only survived today by lucky survivors of ruthless, heartless American expansionism and commerce that defines most of U.S. history into the world empire it is today; the “other” side of the little told story of this nation.
Instead of the more popular patriotic slogans most Euro-Americans enjoy tossing around loosely, here’s another…
“God Forgive White America, Its Greed, Racism, and saturated Blood on its Hands!”
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