Volksmarch Up Crazy Horse Memorial Leads to Insights

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The model for the Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer, South Dakota. Henry Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Chief who invited sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to carve a memorial honoring all North American Indians: Walter Simon

By Walter Simon –

CUSTER, S.D. – Fortuitous Mojo granted us the luck of landing in Custer, South Dakota, where we planned a stop-over on the way to Yellowstone. We had no idea until yesterday that today, Sunday, would be one of only two times a year the public are allowed to scale the mountain up to the monumental sculpture portrait of Crazy Horse, under construction.

Sunday was the day for the Volksmarch, German for “Folk’s March,” while my Germanic name means “King General of the Black Forest.”

Google it, troll. We camped with the Red Warriors. We got the dateline. Did you?

I had first heard of the monument through a PBS video I had shown many times to my art appreciation students at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, the American Visions series, staring the late Robert Hughes of the NYTimes. The episode told the story of Manifest Destiny, the white man’s mythically divine ‘right’ to both coasts and just about everything in between.

Crazy Horse points towards mount Rushmore, where four dead presidents are enshrined in solemn union. Their expressions invoke feelings of patriotism and acceptance that the violence of the past was not in vain, that the union had and would prevail.

Crazy Horse’s gesture accompanies a statement, “My lands are where my dead are buried.”

Powerful stuff, and the other thousand or so people who took the arduous trek on foot all seemed to be in tune with at least the romance of the spectacular landscape with what will become the largest sculpture in the world, eventually.

I engaged several people on the trail, including many Lakota. The father of a young Lakota woman taught me a few words in his language. I am intrigued, and I wonder why I haven’t bothered to learn the language of the land I occupy?

I am learning a lot from this journey, and hopefully when I return to the gulf coast I will see that community with fresh spirit. I have seen the vision, and there is a true spirit of compassion and generosity at the heart of Native culture.

I will abstain from saying more than I understand, and though I understand a bit more than what I am saying, the notion of a spiritual connection to all things has been with me since my youth. Upon reflection, I have learned that I grew up in a region of the country that was strongly abolitionist. I was taught about native American culture in primary school, but just as I could only learn of the African-American experience by being a part of it as a public school teacher, the internet cannot replace the direct experience of being in this place, listening to local voices, natives, midwesterners, travelers, the birds, the wind, the drums in my ear which I thought were real, but turned out to be my heart as I raced towards my destination, whatever is before me.

I also met a Lakota woman on the trail that I spoke to at some length named Laurie Walking Eagle, whose name means “she who wants an education.” She asked me if I would be interested in working as an art teacher on the reservation. The idea connected wonderfully with the possibility of getting into an artist-in-residence program with the national parks.

I got to tell y’all back in Mobile, the air is clean, sweet, and quiet here. The scenery is gorgeous everywhere, and so far every where I have been on this trip, the people have been friendly, kind, and involved in society. The Standing Rock Sioux might win the battle and stop the pipeline problem, but we have already lost that war in Mobile.

A pipeline would be set through the Missouri river, but a totally private profit pipeline already pierces through Big Creek Lake, the life-giving water supply for the entire city of Mobile, thanks to the city council and the petrochemical industry. While many stood up against this in voice of protest, I wonder why are some communities able to repel such invasions and others not?

But now I was just told by a couple of self-described “feminists” who gave me a ride back to camp that there is about to be a conflict over uranium mining right here near Crazy Horse. What would he have us do to defend ourselves? Who will gain from these “jobs” and profit shares?

The Canadian tar sands being stored in tank farms next to Africatown, Alabama are driven in by train cars and sent overseas for who knows what, but no benefit comes to the local community.

Let me ask another question for the Alabama boys. Is there any limit to what can be done in the name of profit? I may have to interview the chair of the university business department to find out if they still require a course in ethics for that most vile of “educations.” But I should digress, and I will, because distance from the drama of the far away gulf coast is slowly but surely draining away my frustrations into the earth, which is much bigger than many realize.

You can pick up and move. You can go West. You can change your life. You can leave it all behind and just go. When you come back you will be in another season of Life, the circle continues.

More Photos


Volksmarch particpants walk right up under Crazy Horse’s chin. The general public is not allowed this close: Walter Simon


The striking eye of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski’s Crazy Horse: Walter Simon


A closeup frontal view of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski’s Crazy Horse: Walter Simon

© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.