Forest Fire Leadership: Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse Memorial, the mountain
(Credit: Wallace family, 1981)

About 35 years ago my parents packed up and headed for the hills – the hills of South Dakota to be exact. The trip seemed to take forever and as majestic as the Badlands and Mount Rushmore were, one thing left in my mind: I have not seen an Indian chief riding on this other mountain a few kilometers from the route du mont. Rushmore. Since then, I have been fascinated by the Crazy Horse memorial.

Crazy Horse granite sculpture
(Credit: Wallace family, 1981)

In fact, we stopped that day at the memorial where I was able to stand behind a small sculpture and view what Chef Henry Standing Bear, on behalf of his fellow chefs, and Korczak Ziolkowski, the self-taught sculptor Polish-American, considered when the project was proposed in 1939.

[Click here to see a pictorial timeline of the project.]

Fast forward to the early 2000s when my husband and I returned to the area. As fascinated as I was by the Crazy Horse memorial, we didn't stop at the memorial this trip. I could see from a distance that little had changed. One face was clearly visible, but that was it, no horse, no outstretched arm. The deduction tells me that I will probably not be alive to see the completion of the project. Chief Henry Standing Bear either (responsible for the chiefs), who died in 1953, nor Kozczak who died in 1982; or did they do it? I believe that each man has completed his part of the project.

Chef Henry Standing Bear and his fellow chefs had a dream and entrusted the task to Korczak. Did they know more about Korczak that he hadn't won first prize at the New York World's Fair? The chief's letter of inquiry appears to have tried his luck on Korczak. Like the passing of the Olympic flame, Korczak took the first step of the project, perhaps the most important.

"Tell me, sir, how can I ask you to believe that I can carve this mountain if I don't believe in myself first? Of course I'm selfish! I believe I can do it! I know I can do it! All my life I wanted to do something much bigger than I could ever be. "

Korczak has created something so much bigger than it could ever be; he knew he would never accomplish the mission alone. In fact, he and his wife, Ruth, would write three books as a card to complete. They created a living legacy. Korczak did what any good leader should do: he provided a vision, an example and a path to follow, with or without him. He has completed his part of the mission.

Watch CBS This morning video of 2016.

(CBS This Morning, October 22, 2016)

There are so many ways I can go with this blog, but I'm going to end it here and lead you into the challenges.

Forest Fire Leadership Challenge – Dig a little deeper

  • Do a little research on the Crazy Horse Memorial.
    • Visit to the Crazy Horse memorial site.
    • Why was the memorial proposed?
    • What is the Crazy Horse project? Why is the mountain the smallest part of the project?
    • How can a man with a jackhammer sculpt a mountain?
  • From the video, did Korczak demonstrate command presence?
  • What has Korczak accomplished?
  • What were the "costs" of Korczak's passion?
  • What have been the benefits of Korczak's engagement?
  • Do you provide what your team needs to continue in the event of a departure?
  • What legacy would you like to leave?
  • Consider organizing / attending a staff hike from the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Pam McDonald is a writer and editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and a member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

2020 Forest Fire Leadership Campaign - Command Presence: Do You Know Who You Are?