Mount Rushmore Was Built on Sacred Sioux Ground
by Cristian Cruz, age 12
In the Black Hills of South Dakota, there is a curious looking mountain.
Standing just over a mile high (5,725 feet), Mount Rushmore has four faces of American presidents carved into it: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
The idea for the project came from local historian and publicist Doane Robinson, who thought a magnificent monument would attract tourists to the beautiful Black Hills. He convinced sculptor Gutzon Borglum to design the sculpture.
The Black Hills are a sacred ground to the Sioux. Less than a century before construction on Mount Rushmore, the United States granted the Sioux people exclusive use of the land in the Sioux Treaty of 1868 “for as long as rivers run and grass and trees bear leaves.” Not six years later, the promise was broken. In 1874, when gold was found in the hills at French Creek, prospectors rushed into the region. Soon after, the Sioux went to war to protect their land. The Sioux won at the Battle Of Little Bighorn in 1876. The Sioux armies fought valiantly against U.S. General George Custer in the battle of Little Bighorn, but eventually lost their territory in 1877.
Fifty years later, Borglum, started work on Mount Rushmore in 1927. His work was constantly interrupted by bad weather, insufficient funds and furious disagreements with the National Park Service.
Over 400 workers used dynamite, hammers and chisels to carve Mount Rushmore. It was dangerous work. Workers hung from swinging platforms. Miraculously none of them died. Washington's head was formally unveiled in 1930, Jefferson's in 1936, Lincoln's in 1937 and Roosevelt's in 1939. Borglum had the intention to create the presidents to be displayed at waist level. As the project was never completed, some have joked that it was a great idea the he started with the heads. The monument cost almost $1 million to create. After Borglum died in 1941, his son, Lincoln, worked on the monument until money for the project ran out.
Borglum, whose full name was John Gutzon De La Mothe Borglum, was born in 1867 near Bear Creek, Idaho. He went to a Roman Catholic boarding school in Xavier, Kansas. At his school he astonished his Jesuit teachers with his impressive drawing skills. Later he studied art in Paris, where he met the famous sculptor Auguste Rodin. In 1915, after he came back to the U.S, he was invited to carve a huge head of General Robert E. Lee at Stone Montain near Atlanta, Georgia. He wanted to turn the project into an extravaganza, with a parade of confederate infantry and cavalry carved out of stone but the idea failed and so did the project.
Mount Rushmore is a beautiful monument with a checkered history. Although the heads were designed to be seen from below, the best views are above from helicopter trips and from a distance. Within a few miles of the monument is a shrine to the Sioux leader, Crazyhorse. Visitors can go to both during a day trip, and remember the layered past of the region.
100 Great Wonders of the World; Science Kids; National Archives