If people anywhere in the world or the United States happen to think of South Dakota, the location that comes to mind is the mountain with the Presidents’ faces carved into it. Most folks just know it as “the faces”. It’s officially named, “The Mount Rushmore National Memorial”.
I can safely say that Mount Rushmore is one of the major man made icons in the U.S. I can think of The Statue of Liberty, The Golden Gate Bridge, and The Empire State Building to name only a few. Like many of the landmarks, Mount Rushmore’s sculpting began in the early 20th Century.
The mountain site is still under dispute under the Treaty of Fort Laramie signed in 1868. Some groups claim that waiving of the treaty was agreed to, under duress. The peak has been previously known as Cougar Mountain, Slaughterhouse Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain and by the Lakota name, Six Grandfathers.
The present name was impulsively given by members of a prospecting expedition. A New York lawyer, Charles Rushmore, was verifying claims during the Black Hills gold rush. Rushmore asked if the mountain had a name. He was told the mountain had no name, so why not name it after the lawyer?
The faces project began after Congressional and Presidential negotiations in 1927. The sculpture was originally intended to promote tourism to the Black Hills region. Soon Federal funding and supervision by the National Park Service took place until the funding ran out and construction halted on October 31, 1941.
Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum directed the work of 400 laborers in the carvings of the 60-foot tall memorial. In order to represent the first chapter of American history, the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, in that order, were carved. The monument cost was $989,992.32, which is amazing because of the scope of such an undertaking. It is also important to note that there were no fatalities of workers during the sculpting process.
It cannot be forgotten that the sculpture is not well regarded among the Native American community. The U.S. military seized the Black Hills territory from the Lakota people. Following the Great Sioux War of 1876, the ensuing Treaty of Fort Laramie relinquished the Black Hills to the Lakota tribes in perpetuity.
Throughout the ages, the Black Hills and particularly “Six Grandfathers” (Mt. Rushmore) has been regarded as sacred land. The Black Hills have been the destination for religious pilgramages by Lakota people for many generations.
Fueling the controversy beyond religious concerns is the allegation that the four represented Presidents, chosen by Gutzon Borglum, were advocates of the Manifest Destiny ideal that European ancestry whites were chosen by God to settle the North American continent. One fact, frequently overlooked by mainstream historians, is that Borglum was an active member of the Ku Klux Klan. Thus, one can see the insulting implications of the presence of the monument on the site. Especially, one needs not wonder for long, its placement within the most sacred portion of the Black Hills.
Earlier this year, a United Nations special investigation was made for the first time, about the fate of native peoples of the United States. Director of the investigation, James Anaya, recommended that the United States return some land to the tribal peoples. The investigators included the South Dakota Black Hills in that list of recommendations.
It remains to be seen if the U.S. will ultimately live up to its promise to grant the Black Hills to the Lakota People in perpetuity. The ensuing controversy can only get hotter.
The Blue Jay of Happiness wonders if any kids are going to go trick or treating together tonight, dressed up as the four Presidents of Mount Rushmore.