A recent trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota has filled yet another page of this writer’s ledger of beautiful places to visit. The rolling landscape of the Black Hills, the stark contrast of the nearby Badlands, and the memorials of the Black Hills area present a vacation experience that will not soon be forgotten.
South Dakota is a sparsely populated state of only 760,000 inhabitants, averaging only 10 inhabitants per square mile. Proud Indian traditions remain of sacred areas, and important events that shaped both the land, and the inhabitants of the area the Lakota Sioux Indians call PAHA SAPA (hills-black). The ponderosa pine, a tree predominant in this region, has long needles that absorb sunlight, giving the black hills the dark appearance from which its name was born.
South Dakota is home to many forward thinking individuals that have provided monuments to honor the accomplishments of some of this nations’ greatest leaders. Mount Rushmore, the Shrine of Democracy was conceived by sculptor Gutzon Borglum to represent 150 years of American history. Important aspects of this countries birth, growth, preservation, and development are represented in the faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. Mount Rushmore is named after a New York Lawyer, Charles E. Rushmore, who traveled the Black Hills in 1885 researching mining claims. After asking his guide the name of an impressive outcrop of rock, the guide responded that the mountain was yet unnamed, but would hereafter be called Mount Rushmore. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names officially changed the naming of this historic site on July 4th, 1930.
Another forward thinking individual that has carved his way into history is Korczak Ziolkowski. Ziolkowski was asked by Chief Henry Standing Bear to create a memorial to Chief Crazy Horse so that the white man would know that the red man has heroes too. The dream of Ziolkowski to honor this Indian hero was started in 1939, and has been continued by his wife and children after his death in 1982. This magnificent statue when completed will depict this Indian chief astride his horse, pointing to the lands where the Indian dead lay buried. The Crazy Horse Memorial is a humanitarian project funded by the interested public.
Yet another significant memorial stands in Rapid City, the eastern edge of the Black Hills. Glenna Goodacre, the sculpture whose works include the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington D.C., created this statue of a bound Indian warrior. Titled “He Is, They Are”, this statue of a 9 foot bound Indian warrior represents what the U.S. government has done in removing Indians from their lifestyles and homelands to the reservation. This testimony to the proud Indian nation invokes strong emotions in visitors of all cultures that walk along the quiet streets of this modern Black Hills metropolis.
Other bronze statues of great American leaders lining the streets of Rapid City include the Presidents of the United States. The City of Presidents project began in 2000 and will include 40 past presidents whose bronze statues are sponsored by local organizations, and highlight the corners of the major intersections of the Rapid City downtown area. These statues will appear on the corners of the Raids City area over a ten-year period and are meant as a display of national patriotism hoping to attract positive attention from both visitors, and residents alike.
The Black Hills area of South Dakota offers numerous memorials that highlight individuals that have played an important part in this nation’s history. Individuals whose actions in political arena’s, battlefields, or participants in the events that have influenced our history are presented as a reminder of both the good, and the bad pages of our nation’s history. Whatever your ethic or cultural background, this beautiful area of south western South Dakota offers much to the vacationer that is searching for a historical perspective, or a beautiful surrounding.
About the Author
Johnny Vanneste is a free-lance writer whose interest includes the beauty of nature, the historical significance of important events, and the ability to share these life-altering perspectives with others.
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