Heads of State

In the summer of 1970 I took my first vacation. Ever. I had a new yellow Fiat 124 Spider convertible that I packed with a tent, a duffel of gear and a cooler, and headed west from Detroit. It was maybe the second or third day out; cold, constant rain and dark. I saw the sign that said Mount Rushmore and decided to pass on setting up camp in the rain. I pulled the car up an incline on the verge of a side road to make reclining easier and quickly fell asleep.

Mount Rushmore from the plaza that is about where I parked in 1970

I awoke to a crystal clear sunrise and one of the more spectacular sights I had ever seen. The sun was behind me. In front of me, close enough to fill the windshield of the little car were Mr. Borglum’s sculptures. The stone was afire with the rising sun. I spent the next hour or so walking around, looking up and trying to grasp the magnitude of the accomplishment. But the best thing was, I had it all to myself. I don’t recall that I saw anyone else for most of the morning I was there.

I returned to Rushmore in 2018 – and to a totally different experience. Now, the closest I could drive to the mountain was a multi-level car park. The distance from there to about where I thought I spent the night in 1970 was several hundred yards and was occupied by a large plaza, food stands and curio shops.

I appreciate that the popularity of Rushmore, as well as all our National Parks and Monuments, has required these kinds of changes, but I doubt I will ever return to this one.

Still, that time alone, with those Heads of State, fifty years ago will always be with me.

The Reality

While 3 million honor Rushmore each year, It has a completely different symbolism to native Americans. The Black Hills are a sacred place to the Shoshone, Salish, Kootenai Crow, Mandan, Arikara, and the Lakota tribes for centuries. The Lakota refer to it as “The Heart of Everything That Is.” The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie gave ownership of the Black Hills to the Lakota Sioux, “set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians.” This lasted until gold was discovered and by 1877 the U.S. government had confiscated the treaty land and forced the Sioux out. A 1980 Supreme Court case awarded the Sioux compensation for taking the Black Hills. The Sioux have not taken the settlement as doing so would relinquish their claims on the land, and the tribe wants the land back. The settlement is held in escrow by the Bureau of Indian Affairs earning compound interest. The account is currently in excess of $1.3 billion. Consider that to Native Americans, the effigies carved into their sacred land represent those who took the land from them.

Just a few miles southwest of Rushmore is the Crazy Horse memorial. More on that later,

Should your curiosity be aroused by this short commentary, you can find more at these websites. Keep in mind that not all Americans hold Rushmore in high esteem.

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