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Mount Rushmore: Hidden Passages and Missing Faces

Written by Angus Keenan

These days, I don’t think that it’s a hyperbole to say that America’s greatest export is its culture. In fact, it’s a strange phenomenon of this modern age, just how much knowledge we Brits have about our Yankee counterparts, across the pond. A flow of knowledge that, for the most part, only goes one way. Take politics for example, you’ll often hear Brits sharing an opinion on Donald Trump, but you’d be hard put to find an American that knows much more than the name of the British Prime Minister, let alone their politics.

The reason for this disconnect is, in a word: Hollywood. In a few more words it’s down to America’s ability to make entertainment profitable. In a great many more words, you would say that there are a plethora of factors that have caused this. For starters, the reason that California became the hub of American film was not due to a surplus of talent, or excellent shooting locations, but because California was the furthest you could get from New York. Which made it difficult for the New York based Edison Motion Pictures Company to prove that the burgeoning studios were using their cameras and film, thereby avoiding payment of the huge royalty fees that came along with the use of said cameras and film. This money that would have otherwise bankrupted the studios was spent on improving the quality of the film productions so they very quickly became better than any other studio in the world. That made demand for American media which exponentially grew their profits.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HDR_Mount_Rushmore.jpg

It’s also no coincidence that a nation, defined by its military budget, also sets the standard for technological innovation. Tie into that equation, a cultural proclivity for grandiose projects and you have a perfect storm for an engineering based YouTube channel. What could be more grandiose a project than putting the faces of some of your most fundamental leaders on the side of a huge granite mountain. While we here in the UK have heard a lot about Mount Rushmore, we don’t know a whole lot about exactly why, and how, and also why it was built. I mean, we can understand that thinking but… Just why? And also why South Dakota of all places?

In fact, if I were to try and think of one thing that would make sense to an American and make zero sense to a British person, it would be to carve the faces of your leaders into a mountain. Like, I can’t be certain but I’m pretty sure the artist selected for the Prime minister portraits wasn’t selected for his painting ability or anything, they just looked for the one that could paint the fastest, so they didn’t have to stand there so long, anyway, I’m getting off track, let’s talk about Mount Rushmore.

Why?

I mean it’s not like I have a problem with it or anything and it looks really cool and all, just why though? Like thinking about it objectively, it makes no sense.

Alright, Moving On.

Before we talk about how the faces got there, we should first cover how the mountain itself got there. Very simple, the earth put it there and the stuff that happened after that is where it gets interesting. The first known inhabitants of the area were the Lakota tribe, hence the name of the state: Dakota. The Lakota tribe as an entity is known, through legend, to have had their beginnings on the shores of Lake Superior. Though their language, known as Siouan, is said to have predated them and is thought to be from a tribe that lived on the shores of the Southern Mississippi river.

https://picryl.com/ru/media/mount-rushmore-before-carving-e44cd7

It’s important to qualify the difference, as the language was spoken by a few other tribes that lived in that part of America. For their part the Lakota were mostly a hunter-gatherer society, who supplemented what they could hunt with crops of corn that they grew. After feuding with another tribe in the area, they were pushed out to the Great Planes in the mid- to late- 17th century. The Great Planes being the Dakota region of the United States. It’s around this time that the first known people began living on and around Mount Rushmore, though it is likely there were others that just weren’t documented.

The name Mount Rushmore is also fairly contemporary. At the time, it was known by a few names. To the Lakota people, those were ‘The Six Grandfathers’ and ‘Cougar Mountain’ but to early American settlers, the mountain was called ‘Sugarloaf Mountain’, ‘Slaughterhouse Mountain’ and ‘The Keystone Cliffs’. Speaking of colonialism, the first Europeans to arrive in the area that is now South Dakota, were a couple of French explorers, who promptly claimed that land in the name of France in 1743. Understandably, the natives didn’t appreciate this kind of claim when they kind of already lived there. The battles that were fought between the indigenous people and the colonial powers and then later the American Government is a topic for another post.

Treaty Council at Ft. Laramie, Dakota in 1868 https://flic.kr/p/dEhtZ

As it pertains to today’s post, an agreement that was signed in 1868, called the treaty of Fort Laramie, brokered a peace between the United States and the Lakota and several other tribes. This agreement created an area of land that would be the absolute property of those tribes, encompassing the areas of what is now South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. The agreement also stipulated that white settlers would be restricted from entering the area and would be prosecuted if caught. This would in essence be a separate state from the US, that was ruled by the tribes and their laws. Which meant that breaking the agreement was against the law and there was absolutely no way the government was going to ignore its own signed treaty… None… Whatsoever… Absolutely zero reasons… Unless they found gold.

I would like to avoid the mistake that others have made when retelling this event. It’s not as though the U.S government had a state owned gold mining company that just rolled in and took everything. And despite my jokes they couldn’t just tear up the treaty. However, what they could do was use the very loose language of the treaty to allow for some wiggle room for their responsibilities. Such as the policing of the border, because it was their job to prevent any outsiders from unlawfully entering the land. In fairness they did do this but considering the size and technological capability of the US army, even in those days, they did a less than stellar job, even before the discovery of gold.

It’s also not as though the government weren’t looking for a reason to evict the indigenous tribes, considering how they sent 2 separate expeditions to verify the presence of gold, which very quickly became national news, and what was at first a trickle of intruders became a deluge of miners and prospectors. When first discovered, a conglomerate of mining companies offered to purchase the land and the mineral rights. An offer that was promptly refused, with the added unanimous response that nothing short of annihilation would remove them from their ancestral lands. Then there was the government’s poultry offer of $25,000 for all the land, which comes out very roughly to $665,000 today. Which, even before you consider the cultural value of that land, is an insultingly low offer.

Every offer the tribes received was refused, insisting that no amount of money would be sufficient for their land. Once the diplomatic method had failed, the tribes began hunting any mining groups that crossed onto their land, which in turn, opened the door to the US military rolling in once again and forcibly evicting the tribes, for good this time.

An American Monument

In all of the land that was taken, there was also a small ridge that, at the time, was known as Six Grandfathers. The land was almost exclusively the property of the local tribes, up until the time that it was annexed by the US and once those flood gates were open, prospectors from across the US moved all over the land, thoroughly mapping it and prospecting for gold as they went. A wealthy investor by the name of Charles E. Rushmore began visiting the area regularly to hunt and prospect.

As innocuous as most of the other marble ridges in that part of the world, it was a long time after the annexation of the great Sioux reservation that this ridge was renamed after that investor. In 1930, it was officially recognised by the US board of geographic names as Mount rushmore. With most peaks getting a name as well, this one stood out in several ways. First was that the mountain had a southward face that gave it near constant sunlight during the day, especially in the Summer months. Second was that the land around it was contrived in such a way that it was highly visible from nearly every angle. Which made it a landmark that could be easily spotted from a long distance. Of course, this was back when landmark literally meant marks on the land that one could use to orientate themselves. Outside of that however it was a corner of the world that remained all but forgotten.

As the decades slipped by, and the US went from a burgeoning state embroiled in civil wars and land disputes, the mountain remained as unchanging as ever. It simply watched as the US became an international manufacturing powerhouse and began developing its own personality as the protector of freedom, as it became the center of revolutions of every kind, be it technical, financial, industrial and cultural. While everything and more changed all around it, the mountain remained unchanging as ever, uninterested by all that was going on around it. It was in fact these changes that would take an interest in the mountain.

By the time the 1920’s came around America was unrecognizable and keen to make an expression of its position. In 1923, a historian, Jonah Robinson, who was the head of the South Dakota historical board, conceived of an idea to make a grand memorial to the individuals that had helped to shape the modern United States, pitching it as a means of increasing the tourism in the area. To him this memorial would be for the individuals that stood out for their impact upon the history of the United States. It would be a representation of the grand strides that the nation had made to bring them to where they were now. And the granite mountains of the black hills would be the perfect place to do it.

Robinson was able to convince sculptor Gutzon Borglum to take a trip to the Black hills and look at his chosen location. At first, this was going to be at a location made up of granite pillars, called the needles, however, after visiting, Borglum concluded that the Needles were too thin and unstable to be capable of taking any kind of heavy construction. As Borglum was transported around the Black Hills he saw a mountain, with a south orientated face and topography that suited being viewed from nearly 180 degrees. This was of course Mount Rushmore. He brought this idea back to Robinson who was initially resistant but after visiting agreed that it would be the perfect location.

With this, Robinson and Borglum began pitching the idea to various investors, Robinson brought it to the State Senator who in turn brought it to congress. In the meantime, Borglum began to find private investors with his so-called, rich friends. Which begs the question, who was it that they were actually going to put on the mountain? To us now, we hear Mount Rushmore and instinctively think of those 4 faces, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, but they were not the originally planned subjects. Being a historian, Robinson knew the history of that land and he knew the history of the nation better than any politician. When he said he wanted to make a memorial of the individuals that had shaped the modern United States, he didn’t mean presidents.

Originally he planned for a far more inclusive proposition, a monument to those who had shaped the nation physically as much as they had culturally. His initial proposition was for the monument to be to people like Lewis and Clark, Sacageawea, Buffalo Bill Cody and leaders of the Lakota tribe like Red Cloud and Crazy Horse. However, the powers that be, namely Borglum and congress, felt the monument would have a broader appeal if it focused on presidents rather than explorers and tribal leaders. It was decided that the likeness of the aforementioned presidents would make a suitably grand installation.

At some point during this process, Borglum became infatuated by the idea of this great monument. Perhaps he saw that it was indeed going to become one of the most recognisable monuments in the world. What’s more likely though is that he would come to see it as his magnum opus and a means of carving his name into the history books. Very soon his vision began to eclipse that of Robinson’s and more than that, he began to eclipse Robinson himself.

It was Borglum’s idea to change the subjects of the monument and in fairness, without this, it’s uncertain as to whether the project would have been able to get past the funding phase. For his part he was able to play on the patriotism of private investors while pitching a monument to politicians is a lot easier to do when said monument is of politicians. Indeed Calvin Cooldrige was rather pleased with the idea of having a monument that depicted two republicans and one democrat. Cooldrige was a republican.

To hear Borglum put it, the selected presidents represented key facets that lead to the modern United states, Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln, representing the nation’s birth, growth, preservation and development respectively. Which clearly went down well because the total funding that would go to the project was around $1,000,000 which equates to about $19,800,000 today. Though half of this would come from private investment and generally only came in dribs and drabs through the process, Borglum wanted to get started as soon as possible. So, once there was enough funding to pay for the start of construction and all the planning permission had been acquired, the construction went ahead.

Designing An American Monument

But before any kind of chisel could be put to rock, the pen had to be put to paper. And Borglum was absolutely going to be the one to do it. So perhaps it would be a good idea to examine the bombastic personality and aspirations of Gutzon Borglum. In doing so, we can start to get a pretty good explanation as to the bizarre nature of the project itself. Borglum was a highly accomplished Sculptor with Danish lineage. He had worked on several other large art projects in his time but Rushmore was by far his largest and greatest. Though he was originally reluctant to come on board, he became infatuated with the idea of designing this monument.

https://picryl.com/media/gutzon-borglum-bust-profile

What we see today is truly only the surface, for one thing, the enormous faces on the mountain were meant to be enormous heads with torsos attached. You can even see the shape of George Washington’s lapels and tie. Due to budget and funding issues however, this was not to be. But we will find out about that later, for now we should talk about Borglum’s vision. In Borglum’s mind, this was going to become his Magnum Opus, the work with which history would remember his name. His vision was less of a monument and more of a museum carved into a mountain with a president shaped billboard on the outside.

https://flic.kr/p/xJkqvQ

Within the mountain was going to be what Borglum called: ‘The Hall Of Records’ which would be dedicated to the ways that America had impacted upon the world. There would be area’s dedicated to other great Americans and another part that would showcase some of America’s most precious public documents, namely the declaration of independence. Then there would be sections, explaining the purpose of the monument and relating the process of creation and if there was perhaps a corner in the hall of records dedicated to little old Borglum himself, well that would just be a bonus, wouldn’t it?

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hall_of_Records_-_Behind_Mt._Rushmore.JPG

On the outside there would be a complex around the mountain, though it’s unclear as to what the purpose of this complex would be outside of housing tourists. Borglum also envisioned an 800 step staircase, carved from marble that took tourists from the designers studio into the hall of records. But as you have probably already surmised dear viewer, these theme park-esk features of the monument don’t exist, because they were never built, but oh contraire dear viewer, they do indeed exist. As anyone who has visited the monument can likely tell you, there is a chamber within the mountain, but we can get into that part, in a moment.

But it’s now that we start to get an idea of just why such a project actually occurred, we can start to see why the president’s in the mountain is a thing that exists. It had little to do with the process of building a monument and more about building an American themed fortress. Though this was not the original idea, this was what it became and it’s a statement just how much projects like these have changed over the years. What today would be an undertaking mired in controversy, conservation concerns and construction companies competing for contracts (take your time with that one Simon haha) was back then a very simple matter.

This is the part that is most indicative of the kind of cultural change that has occurred in America since the 1920’s and 30’s. For one thing, the general population were yet, either unaware or unaccepting of the plight of the indigenous peoples of America. For another thing, the position of the United States was one of manufacturing might, huge, grandiose projects that emphasized a projected power over nature, were very much a part of the United States at the time. That’s not to say that it is not still there but it is far less pronounced. America was beginning, and in many aspects already was, standing toe-to-toe with the other international superpowers of the day. But where the old superpowers had their tradition, history and the odd empire kicking about, America had its size, productive capacity and a far greater sense of individualism.

I am hesitant to say that America was more patriotic than nations like France and the UK. In fact, I would wager that the feeling of patriotism in those nations is about equal to what you might find in the US, both then and now. What is different though, is the expression of that patriotism, to our modern eyes this kind of monument seems, well… bizarre. That’s not to say that we Brits haven’t done our fair share of monumentaizing our leaders, from Royals to Military Leaders and even the odd Prime Minister. What is different though is that, you know, we never put them on the side of a mountain, at least as far as I know. 

Again that’s not to say that it’s a negative thing, this brand of patriotism was born, in part, from a celebration of America’s departure from the traditional European structures of governance, a departure that could have ended in failure but didn’t. After many decades of hard fought and hard won battles, questionable though some of them were, America was finally beginning to see this independence pay dividends. So it’s not surprising that a nation who was only recently finding out just how much they were capable of would express that in such a way. All of a sudden, bigger was not only possible but was better, and so why wouldn’t you make that a fundamental part of your culture? Today, America still has that sentiment but it is more nuanced, and is stated more as a nostalgic recollection, than a celebration of capability. So, yeah, well done America! Now let’s talk about how they built it.

Construction

As you might expect, the removal of a face-shaped amount of rock from the side of a granite mountain is no mean feat, no less 4 face-shaped amounts of rock. And once the designing process was completed, all that was left to do was build the thing. In the space of only a few months, this hard to access backwater became a bustling thoroughfare of artisans, miners and mountain climbers. In the discussion surrounding the project, the vast majority were at least in agreement that the addition of the two most famous presidents of the United States were a foregone conclusion, this being Washington and Lincoln. Borglum states that his choice for Thomas Jefferson, was for his work in nearly doubling the size of the US during his time, with the Louisiana purchase. And Teddy Roosevelt who was added for his work in establishing the US national park service.

https://flic.kr/p/Ed837S

The designs, as previously mentioned, called for the presidential figures to be depicted from head to waist. The monument that we have today is 60 foot or 18 meters high, from crown to chin. However, if built as originally designed, these colossal figures would theoretically have been around 240 foot or 73 meters in height. This was, of course, wildly ambitious, but Borglum, and everyone else for that matter, must have been feeling pretty ambitious because this first design was approved. And, so it was that, on the 4th of October 1927, only 4 years after Robinson had initially pitched the idea, construction began. Over the course of the project, a total of 300 workers took part in the construction.

The area very quickly became a busy work site. First to go up was a staircase that would allow workers to get to and from the top of the mountain. Then, after a while a cable car system was built to facilitate the moving of heavy machinery to the peak. Once this was made a hydraulic pulley system was set up on the peak that would allow the workers to lower themselves onto the mountain face. As previously discussed at length, this kind of project had never been attempted before, by anyone. So there was a lot of technology that had to be either invented or adapted to suit their needs. First was the rigging, making sure that the workers were secure while working on the mountain. To solve this, Borglum and his team adapted a type of harness, called a Boson seat, which was originally designed for the Navy, so as to allow access to a ship’s rigging.

Then there was the small matter of how you operate heavy machinery on the side of a mountain, without falling off. I don’t know if you’ve ever used a jackhammer but I wouldn’t advise doing it, dangling several hundred feet off the ground. Then there was the use of pneumatic drills, which as you can probably already tell, requires a pneumatic compressor. And, it’s not particularly easy to mount a pneumatic compressor on the side of a mountain. So they had to bring in some of the most powerful pneumatic compressors in the world and then place them at the base of the cliff, the added distance required the extra power. However, in the early stages of the construction or rather, destruction, these drills were secondary to the true star of the show, dynamite, lots and lots of dynamite.

The work started with George Washington, first they set about removing the largest parts of the rockface, forming it into the overall shape of a face. They did this mostly by using dynamite, they would drill holes into the rockface, place the dynomite in and then detonate it. This of course would have been a fairly skilled job, knowing how the rock would react, how much dynamite to use and where, as you might imagine people would be rather upset if George’s nose was off center. From the very first day though, there was a real sense of pride in what these workmen were doing. As you can imagine, to be involved in this project would have been a big honor. Borglum was ambitious but even more then that he was inspiring, he knew how to motivate and he focused on the patriotic grandeur of the project to motivate his workers and he did get the best out of them. Of course, this charisma was somewhat tempered by his bullying demeanor the rest of the time.

https://flic.kr/p/Ed837G

Overall though the work was taken on with a gusto that allowed work to progress quickly… Until it didn’t. Remember Borglum’s so-called rich friends? Well they were more of his non-existent rich friends. Or rather they existed but they weren’t his friends, they were just some regular old, run-of-the-mill, rich private investors. So when the work started in October of 1927, it was on a cumulative $10,000 that Borglum had gathered from these private investors. Which lasted a grand total of 1 and a half months of work before they ran out, everyone on site just packed up and went home.

Then in June of 1929, a full year and a half later, congress finally came through on the funding, committing a full $500,000 to the scheme. The financial history buffs among you will have already heard some alarm bells ringing at that date. The Great Depression would kick off only 2 months later, in August. And, as it turns out, huge government funded vanity projects aren’t a good outlook when millions of people are all of a sudden standing in line for the soup kitchen. However, in a rather fortuitous turn of events, the funding for the project would be approved just before the extent of the crash was known and congress agreed to honor the agreement.

From there the funding ran out about a year and a half later and Borglum was back to going around propositioning investors. Meanwhile, George Washington’s face was looking pretty good. However, what was less good was the area allocated to Thomas Jefferson’s face. It wasn’t good in that the rock was too unstable. So Thomas Jefferson, who was originally intended to be built on the right of George Washington, his right, our left, ended up getting moved to the left of George Washington, his left our right. Which suited old George just fine, I’m sure.

As the monument began to take shape and the years began to forge onward, sporadic funding caused a stopping and starting of the flow of work. In spite of this, it wasn’t long after the moving of Thomas Jeferson’s face that we begin to see the sculptors moving in. Their job was to take the general shape of the rock and turn it into faces. In essence they were to add the fine detail that made them look human and they were to do it on a scale, many hundreds of times larger than anything they had done before. This was positive in some ways, because they could swap their chisel for jackhammers and the aforementioned pneumatic drills, but it was negative in others, in that they had to work in some pretty appalling conditions as a result.

There were quite a few ill health effects suffered by the workers, though they weren’t experienced on site. These ill effects were suffered in later life for the most part, the most prominent condition was Silicosis, which comes about as a result of breathing in the granite dust, it will not cause immediate issues but over time, it will result in pulmonary fibrosis. Masks were provided for the teams of artisans but the heat from the wall being in near constant sunlight made it nearly impossible for them to breath with the masks on, so many did without.

Their method of working was to drill small holes into the rockface, at equal distances apart and at the depth that they wished to remove, which would weaken the rock. Once this was done, they used jackhammers to break off the chunks of weakened rock, leaving the general features of the face behind, although I imagine they looked like they had pretty bad acne. Once an area had been cleared other artisans would then go in with finer tools to complete the fine detailing of the faces.

George Washington was the first to be completed in 1934, a whole 7 years after construction had started. It was revealed on independence day, by allowing a huge american flag, that was covering the effigy, to fall to the ground because America will always be America I guess. After that it was a matter of just ticking off the presidents one by one. The next to be completed was Thomas Jefferson, in 1936, then Abraham Licoln in 1937 and finally Teddy Roosevelt on July 2nd, 1939 and Construction for the visitors center had begun by the time they were working on Lincoln.

As I had said, Borglum was nothing if not ambitious, these ceremonies, revealing the completion of the faces were merely just a means of garnering interest from investors. He was still dead set on the grand proposition that was the Hall of Records. However by the time the 40’s rolled around government funding had well and truly dried up, this was in part due to the fact that Borglum’s plans had been shifting from day one. There was originally meant to be an 80 by 100 foot commemoration of the Louisiana purchase where Lincoln is and the plans for the presidents to be constructed from head to torso were still in full swing. By the time Roosevelt was completed the work had already begun on Washington’s jacket.

As for the Hall of Records itself? Well that was also on its way, emphasis on the word ‘was’ though. For one thing by 1941, the funding from the government was entirely gone, with any spare funds now going towards the war effort, that being the assistance of the UK and the production of the liberty ships. Then there was the small matter of Borglum dying unexpectedly in that same year. Which, as the sole fundraiser for the project, kind of halted it in its tracks. They had carved 70 feet into the mountain for the Hall of Records, they had started on the torso of George Washington and the Visitors center still needed a few final touches to be considered complete. However, as nobody was going to be giving any more money and as it had already been decided that all tourism to the site would be free, there was literally no reason for anyone to go into work… So they didn’t.

Today, you can still see the rubble at the foot of the mountain, from the work being done. At that time, there wasn’t even the funds to get that cleared away. The work just stopped and never started again. However, in spite of the fact that a project such as this had never been attempted before and the fact that many of the construction practices were being made up, on the fly, the project never had a worker fatality and only 2 accidents occurred across the entire project.

Life as a Monument

After the death of Borglum and the beginning of the second world war, the recently finished monument garnered some attention from the public, receiving an attendance of 390,000 visitors in the first year. In the war years, especially between 43 and 45, the numbers took a dip but after that they mostly rose from then until now, with a few dips at times of financial turmoil.  A record attendance was set in 2010, with 2.3 million attendees in one year. Culturally it has come to represent 20th century America and as we have discussed, that was a very different place than modern America and the modern world for that matter.

In recent years, it has been suggested that there should be various different additions to the mountain face. These have ranged from tribal leaders like Red Cloud and Crazy Horse to politicians like Ronald Regan and Barack Obama. These have been mostly rejected, due to the vast majority of the stable rock being taken up by the original inhabitants of the mountain. There is also the issue of funding and the uproar that would come from changing an American monument.

However, that is not to say that changes have not been made to the mountain in the years after Borglum’s death. Many decades after he died, his family have been trying to complete the design that he originally established many decades ago. Most of this was to no avail, however, in 1998, funding from the national park service and the Borglum family was enough to put the finishing touches onto the 70 foot passage that was supposed to be the entrance to the Hall of Records. At the end of the passage, the floor was dug out and a titanium vault was placed in. Within the vault was a teakwood box that contained 16 enamel panels. Inscribed upon these panels was a variety of important American texts, including the constitution and Lincolns emancipation proclamation, as well as a recounting of the life stories of the 4 presidents and also 1 architect, can you guess who it was?

On the outside the park service paid for a revamp of the visitors center, modernizing the area and adding various different structures. The Lincoln-Borglum museum and the presidential trail were both added as well as the infrastructure around the site being entirely modernized. As the decades have worn on, the monument has appeared in countless pop culture references, the most notable of which being the chase scene across the heads in the 1956 classic North by Northwest. Various people have also become synonymous with the structure such as the 5th face of Mount Rushmore, aka Benjamin Black Elk, a descendent of the medicine man Black Elk. He has also earned the title of the most photographed person in the world, posing for literally thousands of photos everyday, for nearly 20 years during the 1950’s and 60’s, doing all of this, dressed in his traditional native attire.

https://flic.kr/p/HFhSo9

In more modern news, the mountain was dragged into a controversy. Remember that agreement signed by the Lakota chiefs way back in 1851? Well, for all intents and purposes, that land was still theirs, they had a document, signed by the US government, giving them sole ownership of that land. They never broke any of the terms, they never accepted any offers to sell the land and ambiguous though the language was, it was inarguable that the land did legally belong to them. In 2007, they brought this grievance up with the United Nations and the US courts. Going so far as to establish a new country, known as the Republic of Lakota, right there in the US.

This nation would take up an area of roughly 200,000 square kilometers and would contain parts of Nebraska, Wyoming, North Dakota and of course, South Dakota. Unfortunately in order to be considered a nation, you need to have other nations’ agreement that you are indeed, a nation and if your nation removes a big chunk of another nation and if that nation just so happens to be the most powerful nation in the world, you’ll struggle to get other nations to side with you. That’s because the United States doesn’t take kindly to other nations taking their land, ironic, I know. And if the US doesn’t like you, that almost entirely removes any possibility of other nation’s liking you, because people don’t like disagreeing with the United States, it generally ends badly for them.

Which is a long way of saying that the United Nations refused their request for nationhood. Of course this contract has been embroiled in court battles for many years, the US still has no legal right to that land and yet they own it, so the US justice system has done its utmost, in the intervening years, to claim it back. This takes the form of multiple court battles that all go the exact same way. The US government versus the Lakota and other tribes. The tribes will invariably win the court case, the US government will offer a settlement that gets larger and larger every time this goes to court, and every time, the tribal leaders refuse the money. In 1980, they were offered $105 million for the land, made up of a land valuation of $17.1 million as well as 5% interest that had accumulated from when the land was first valued in 1887 and 1980. The offer still exists and as of October 2011, has a compound interest value of over a billion dollars, which the Lakota tribe are still refusing, insisting they want only the return of their ancestral lands.

This mountain, like most other relics of the past, is beginning to look a little bit dated. Voices that were once silenced are now being heard and the trend is to one of inclusivity and equality. When a monument is constructed during a time where the uncomfortable parts of history are skated over you will inevitably lead to issues in the future. Today we look back and see, yes a monument but also a reminder that the world used to be a very different place for a great many people. Those that are responsible are dead and gone, they cannot know how their legend has changed. Not a single person in this world, alive or dead, seeks evil. Every single person wants to do good in this world, it is a trait that we all share, even the people that you might consider evil, share the pursuit for goodness. The difference is what you perceive as goodness. Today, looking back at history, people like Thomas Jefferson and Colonel Custer are looked back at as people who sought good and achieved evil.

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In their time they were good men and history makes fools of us all. But humans die and they cannot know how their legends change. Monuments do not die though, and must watch their legend change. Mount Rushmore, is especially conspicuous in this regard though, owing to its solid granite construction it is slated to last around 7 million years before the faces become unrecognizable, meaning it will very likely outlast us. The history that this monument signifies is very different today, then it did when it was first built. In 7 million years it will likely represent something different and in that way it might be rather arrogant to believe that any opinions we have on a structure or a person are true, when we already know that our current opinion on many things will be outdated in a year. So perhaps a good way to go about it is not to make this monument a symbol of positive connotations nor make it a symbol of negative connotations, just make it a monument, see it as some faces on a rock, nothing more, nothing less.

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