by Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner

The following article was printed in Rapid City Journal August 10, 1991:

"Indian Tribe in Granite is Next Plan of Gutzon Borglum, Sculptor of Mount Rushmore" heralded an Associated Press story in 1938.

Borglum had a dream, "dear to his heart," once he finished Mount Rushmore. He wanted to create an enormous memorial to the Sioux Indians in the Pine Ridge foothills near Chadron, Neb. Using granite boulders from the Mount Rushmore memorial "hauled down here is pieces of 30, 60, and 80 tons," Borglum proposed to sculpt the Lakota tribal scene on a hill "where the sun strikes it best the most hours of the day."

"We'll make a whole tribe of Indians. We'll make them 14 to 16 feet tall and reproduce them as our forefathers first saw and knew them - wild and carefree," Borglum proposed.

Sioux leaders had often asked him to carve a monument of a lone Indian near the "great white faces" on the Mount Rushmore memorial, but out of his respect for the Lakota, Borglum wanted to do something far grander.

"I played with Indians as a boy, he explained. "I was brought up on the tales of those old chiefs."

The Lakota were a people of great "integrity," Borglum believed, "intellectual, with high moral standards, and honorable in all their agreements."

Unfortunately, that integrity was not shared by the white nation, Borglum asserted, and our "treatment of the Native American...stands against the American civilization as our greatest injustice towards any native people.

"We've robbed the Sioux of their hunting grounds and now fail to provide for them," he declared.

"In our western progress we entered into treaty relations with them, accepted them as sovereigns of their territory, and secured to them by solemn agreement their lands and hunting grounds, including their rivers for transportation and their forests for timber - but only to our advantage. There lies against the American people, perhaps, no more flagrant crime than their failure to fulfill the obligations entered into with a majority of the native tribes that occupied what is now known as the United States."

That "crime" extended to the taking of he Black Hills, a Borglum acknowledged in an important 1940 speech at the foot of Mount Rushmore:

"We are standing on territory once belonging to the Sioux Indians - that great warlike race, like the Romans, who ruled everything from Wyoming to Chicago. I wish we had treated them better, in a more noble manner. We are standing on their very land, for which we never paid a cent - just stole it from them and lied about it. Well, these are the things we probably will do something about some day," Borglum said.

He hoped his Indian monument would serve as a vehicle for righting some of these wrongs. Giving "visible form and artistic beauty" to the "heroic events which centered here, the memorial would inspire school children and tourists from all over the world" to "visit the region and read the literature" of "the true stories of the American frontier."

"To make the Old West live for the present and for all future generations - this is our objective," Borglum said.

This Indian monument, Borglum believed, would inspire a history different from the typical cowboy and Indian story, for the United States' violation of treaty violation of treaty obligations to the Indians was the basis for western settlement.

The endless delays in executing the memorials frustrated Borglum. "I'm not so young as I was, and I don't like to take on new fights and planning [sic] new battles."

Unfortunately, Borglum didn't live to see his dreams fulfilled. There is no Lakota village on the Pine Ridge Hills attracting visitors to learn about the true history of the West. And the Black Hills treaty violation, which we "just stole and lied about," still has not been settled in an honorable manner.

Gutzon Borglum was by no means alone in his frank acknowledgements of the illegal means by which the Black Hills had been taken from the Lakota. South Dakota Governor Sigurd Anderson 16 years later explained the history to an audience in this way:

"A new treaty was made turning the Black Hills and out to the Cheyenne River to the white man. That treaty was signed by only a small part of the number required by the Treaty of Ft. Laramie in 1868. But it did result in the Indians giving up a lot of high-class land the rights of which are still in dispute...Many Indians, the better advised, well knew that the treaty made in 1876 was not a legal one and theirs [sic] was agitation from both the white man and the Indian to review that treaty and sign a new one."

The final words of the report made by the treaty commission appointed by President Grant to negotiate with the Sioux Indians for the session of the Black Hills expressed outrage helplessness about the illegal taking of the Hills:

"Our country must forever bear the disgrace and suffer the retribution of its wrong-doing. Our children's children will tell the sad story in hushed tones, and wonder how their fathers dared so to trample on justice and trifle with God."

Borglum was more hopeful than the commissioners that someday something would be done to rectify the wrong-doing. Could there be a more fitting time than now, on the fiftieth anniversary of Gutzon Borglum's Mouth Rushmore, to create the justice he envisioned?

Mount Rushmore, Wasichu Graffiti

First Nations

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