PILGRIMAGE TO CUSTER
by Jackie Jura, 2023
7.CUSTER GOLD BLACK HILLS & RUSHMORE
...cont'd from 6.CUSTER ON BOZEMAN & DEADWOOD
After leaving Deadwood we travelled south through the Black Hills to our ultimate destination -- Mount Rushmore -- but first we had to find a place to stay for the night. A sign pointing straight to "Custer" or turning left to "Custer State Park" was a godcidence -- like Custer playing one of his infamous pranks, ie popping up "here, there and everywhere".
We chose the road to Custer, the town, and after talking to people as to where to stay, they suggested camping at the Sylvan Lake campground in Custer State Park.
It was a short drive to there and we camped for two nights using this as our base from which to visit all the other Black Hills attractions, as the maps below explain:
In Custeriana I'd read a book about the United States 1874 Expedition into the Black Hills which, in its own way, was equivalent to the Lewis & Clark Expedition of 1804. Both started off from the same place on the Missouri river -- the Mandan Village for Lewis & Clark and Fort Abraham Lincoln for Custer and the 7th Cavalry. Both expeditions were Journey's of Discovery wherein flora, fauna and minerals would be observed, documented and collected by scientists, engineers, taxidermists and other experts accompanying the expedition for that purpose. Many specimens were boxed up and carried back to "the States" where some, to this day, are displayed in museums and the Smithsonian Institute. The expedition consisted of 1,200 men of cavalry and artillery, 110 supply wagons each pulled by 6 horses and followed by hundreds of cattle. The expedition, when forced to travel in single file through narrow valleys between mountains, stretched over 2 miles long. The expedition was also mandated to trail blaze a road through the Hills and find a suitable location for a military fort.
It was expected that hostile Indians -- who'd been inflicting depredations on travellers and settlers on the Plains, then running to hide in the Hills -- would be a threat to the expedition. For that reason Custer had not brought his wife Libby with him on this journey, as he had sometimes done on other campaigns during the Civil and Indian wars. Instead, Libby spent that hot, beautiful summer -- July through August -- alone, with the other wives, being eaten alive by mosquitoes at deserted Fort Abraham Lincoln. It must have been one of the biggest regrets of their lives -- hers and Custer's -- that they weren't together to enjoy that trip because, in the end, it was a peaceful, interesting journey with only one small conflict with hostile Indians. It was an interval of happiness and peace sandwiched between Custer's Yellowstone Expediton of 1873 and the Little Big Horn Expedition of 1876 wherein he fought big battles with Sioux and Cheyenne.
Below are excerpts from the book CUSTER'S GOLD that I had in mind (cover scanned above at top of page) as we godcidently came upon Custer places to and fro Mount Rushmore. I scanned two maps, the first being Custer's trail-blazing route to and from the Black Hills and the second showing the location of the mountain Custer climbed [and so did I] and the camp beside the creeks [which I visited] where the gold was found.
"...The white settlers had little interest in the semi-arid land assigned to the Sioux under the Treaty of 1868 and, for a time, the Indians enjoyed their domain in relative peace. However, when rumors spread that the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory were rich in gold, miners and newspapers wanted to organize prospecting parties. At first the government discouraged attempts to trespass upon the Sioux land, but under the pressure of public opinion, the Army in 1874 sent the 7th Cavalry Regiment, commanded by General George A Custer, to explore the Hills. With reports that gold had indeed been found by Custer, all hope of presesrving the Sioux treaty vanished. Miners flocked to the area despite attempts by the government to keep them out; by 1876, the Black Hills had been officially removed from Sioux control....
The New Eldorado
"...On a summit in Wyoming, the highest point of land that Custer had ever stood upon, he watched Colonel Ludlow working with hammer and chisel. When the Colonel stepped back to inspect his work, he had created a monument. The inscription read:
A mountain called Inyan Kara was the place. On the morning of July 23, 1874, Custer brought his scientific team and two companies of cavalry to the base of the mountain, four miles from camp. Leaving the cavalry escort to wait there, he climbed with Ludlow, Donaldson, and a few others to an altitude of 6, 500 feet...
The First Color
"...The excitement started when miners Horatio N Ross and William McKay began to run across the right kind of potentially gold-bearing quartz. From the moment they had entered the Hills they had prospected diligently, rumbling their wagon up one valley and down another, probing the creek beds. Tradition was on their side and the quartz looked mighty good.... Ross and McKay were experienced miners and trusted frontiersmen. Ross had once been in charge of a high-producing gold mine at Gregory Point, Colorado. McKay, an early settler near Fort Randall, was a member of the Dakota territorial legislature. As the men of the regiment watched these two searching, crouching at streamside with their shovels and pans, the gold fever grew....
After a difficult march on July 29, the expedition spent July 30 rolling through a rich land, half wood and half glade. Riding ahead, Custer found it first. Professor Donaldson made his one and only comment about Custer's vanity: 'After much entreaty, his modesty as far gave way as reluctantly to consent to the request of the topographical engineer that the name be Custer Park'.... About noon, the column stopped to rest approximately ten miles from Harney's Peak, the highest point in the Hills. One of the miners, probably Ross, took his pan and went to the creek to perform the ritual that was now familiar to every man in the command. When he had washed a couple of panfuls of earth, he found a few glittering grains -- pinpoints of gold. The word did not spread rapidly. The miner wrapped the golden flecks in a bit of paper, and that night by the glow of a lantern in Custer's tent, some of the officers and scientists studied it hopefully. It was only, 'color', the kind of gold you could wash out of any western stream with a bit of luck. Barrows said the news of the find created less excitement than the discovery of Floral Valley -- perhaps because the men were still skeptical....
Gold at the Grass Roots
"...The command stayed in camp the next day. The miners went out early to improve on yesterday's panning and Custer set out to climb Harney's Peak. The enlisted men organized a baseball game. All three projects were successful. Ross and McKay found a bar that yielded five to seven cents per pan. It would pay out if water were a bit more plentiful but it was not exactly the big strike they wanted. They kept on looking, certain now they had found what the correspondents called 'The New El Dorado'. Custer and an escort commanded by Lieutenant Varnum reached the foot of Harney's Peak after a rough ride through heavily timbered ravines. They climbed the old granite crag to what Colonel Ludlow thought was an altitude of 9,700 feet (it was really 7,200) and sighted two other high peaks which they named for General Terry and General Custer. The return to camp 'was a struggle against almost every possible obstacle -- rocks, creeks, marshes, willow and aspen thickets, pine timber, dead and fallen trees, steep hillsides and precipitous ravines'. It was after midnight when they reached camp after some stalwart guidance by Lieutenant Varnum, and the worried officers in camp had built signal fires to lead them in....
"...The next day, August 1, the camp was moved three miles for better grazing.... Here the miners found excellent colors in the loose soil along the creek, so they sank a hole in the most promising bar. When they had dug down six feet the water seepage impeded their work, and they quit before reaching bedrock. They estimated that the earth would pan out as high as ten cents. Ten cents a pan in loose diggings could mean more than a dollar a pan where the going was more difficult. If conditions were right a miner might shovel 1,500 pans of earth into a sluice in a day, bringing home $150 at 10-cents a pan. But Ross said he doubted if the gold at this place (they were calling it Custer Gulch now) would yield more than $50 or $75 a day. Everyone was prospecting, using shovels, picks, tent pins, pothooks, bowie knives, mess pans, plates, and tin cups....
~ end quoting Custer's Gold by Jackson ~
In the morning, after waking up in Custer Park, we had breakfast at the lodge and walked around the beautiful man-made (from a dam) Sylvan Lake. That's when we discovered, upon reading the storyboard, that we were at the base of Harney Peak -- the mountain Custer had climbed in 1874. Well, in less time than it takes to write these words (as Custer used to say) we were on the trail climbing to the summit -- a hike of 3-1/2 miles up and 3-1/2 miles down. This was right up my alley because walking is my main form of exercise and something I do every day using Nordic Walking poles -- which is like cross-country skiing without skis or snow. It uses upper and lower body -- the four-wheel-drive of walking -- and is good for posture, cardio and core.
Harney Peak had played a vital role in sculptor Gutzon Borglum choosing Rushmore as the mountain on which to carve "American history marching across the skyline". The high-powered Dakotans who, in 1924, had come up with the idea of carving a Black Hills mountain as a tourist attraction, and who had convinced Borglum to be the sculptor, climbed with Borglum to the peak of Harney so he could see the surrounding mountains. From that vantage point Borglum chose Mount Rushmore and over the next fourteen years -- from 1927 to 1941 -- the dream became reality.
"The Harney Peak Fire Lookout, Dam and Pumphouse were built by the CCC in 1939
and are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Harney Peak elevation is 2207 meters (7242 feet).
The Peak is the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains
and west of the Pyrenees Mountains of Europe."
In that photo of me sitting on the stone wall, at the top of Harney Peak, I think (am not sure) that those mountains to my immediate right are the back of Mount Rushmore. That stainless steel flask beside me, with Mount Rushmore carved on its front (which I bought in Hill City on the way down from Deadwood) slides perfectly into my pocket and is the water-bottle I take on hikes. I love pulling it out and seeing the reaction on people's faces -- absolutely everyone thinks it's whisky.
After coming down from Custer Mountain we headed to Custer Town. Along the way we came upon a beautiful green park-like setting in the midst of which was an old fort. We kind of slammed on the brakes, not to miss it, as there didn't seem to be a sign -- but there was defintiely a turn-off leading there.
I got out of the car at the first historic marker while Bob proceeded to the fort, after which I walked along the path reading all the storyboards.
"...Cultural conflicts erupted across the western Plains during the 1860s. Expanding railroads and frontier posts located in traditional hunting grounds impacted the various tribes in the northern plains. Restrictions on westward settlement disturbed the government. Without a compromise, war was certain to occur. A treaty commission began talks in April 1868 at Fort Laramie, Wyoming... This agreement temporarily halted frontier clashes...."
"...An economic crash in 1873 affected the entire nation. The government, pressured to boost the economy, needed to explore new land. Open land for settlement and rich resources would create markets and new jobs. George A Custer and his expedition entered the Black Hills in 1874. The government ordered his group to map the region and locate a future site for a military post. An underlying goal was to confirm the presence of gold... Article 2 of the Fort Laramie Treaty allowed government officers and agents onto reservation lands. With this in mind, the government planned its exploration of the Black Hills. Custer's Expedition was the largest military force of its time, consisting of more than 1,000 men (including over 50 Indian scouts), 1,900 horses and mules, 300 beef cattle and 110 supply wagons...."
The Black Hills Would Never be the Same
"...The expedition found gold in French Creek near this location. Even though the findings were meager, national news inflated the alleged riches in the Black Hills. The nation's interest in the area ignited a fevered pitch beyond belief. In essence, the media fueled a thrilled panic which became one of the most famed gold rushes in American history..."
"...Spurred by rumours of gold many prospector groups attempted to enter the Black Hills in the 1870s. Without regard to the Ft Laramie Treaty, they planned to enter the region and exploit the untapped wealth. A group of 28 people headed west from Sioux City, Iowa and eluded the cavalry across the Dakota Territory. Following the wagon trail of the Custer Expedition, they made a permanent camp in this area in December 1874. Named after its leader, John Gordon, their structure became known as the Gordon Stockade.
"...Between 1874-1876 thousands of citizens illegally entered the Black Hills in search of gold. Every gold panner, newspaper article and frontier story told of great wealth and encouraged the onslaught of the region. The military made vain efforts to control the tide of illegal gold seekers. Before long 10,000 to 12,000 people flooded the region building towns and mining camps. To quell the rush something had to be done. The government planned another expedition, the Newton-Jenney Expedition in 1875. The party had orders to determine a price-tag on the region's wealth. In 1876 the Manypenny Commission offered the Sioux an agreement that allowed compensation in the form of food, land and houses. It also decreased the size of the Great Sioux Reservation by removing the Black Hills. The treaty was not negotiated but rather offered as a last resort to tribal leaders facing many changes on the Great Plains. The Commission failed to obtain the required number of signatures to make the agreement legal. However, Congress still passed an act putting forth the agreement in 1877..."
Custer's Permanent camp on French Creek, 1874
"...The air was clear and fragrant, the grass and wood abundant, and the water clear and very cold...."
I definitely and eerily got the feeling that this was the place where Custer's expedition had camped after finding gold in the creek nearby. While all the men were panning for gold, Custer and a few officers spent the day climbing Harney Peak, from where we'd just come -- another Custer godcidence.
Recently I came across a great article giving the history of that old fort, about which I hadn't realized at the time:
The Gordon Stockade, by Brian Gevik, published 2016 in SDPB
(all images courtesty: 1881 Courthouse Museum, Custer)
Between the City of Custer and Custer State Park, right next to the "Permanent Camp" of General Custer and the 1874 Black Hills Expedition is a wooden palisade known as The Gordon Stockade. For the visitors to this area of the Black Hills, it is a rare opportunity to see an exact replica of one of the most historic sites in the history of this region. Originally built in December 1874, the same year of the Black Hills Expedition, the Stockade kept the first "gold seekers" relatively safe from attack from Indians who frequently came into this area. The builders of the fort consisted of 26 men, one woman and one boy. They drove six wagons and 15 yoke of oxen from Sioux City, Iowa. They left the Iowa town on October 6th, 1874 arriving at the location of the Permanent Camp on December 21st, in spite of the order by Army General Sheridan forbidding any white gold seekers from entering the Black Hills.
The U.S. Army patrolled the Black Hills perimeter and did their best to stop individuals and groups from entering, but with little success. The history of the Gordon Stockade continued to be interesting. The fort had to be abandoned when the miners were forced out by the Army. The Gordon Party took refuge at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, and awaited their opportunity to return to the Black Hills. But the fort provided shelter for many others. Once the miners were "kicked out" the military unit guarding this area, moved in and used the log enclosure as their temporary home.
In 1876, after the "Little Big Horn" massacre of General Custer and his 7th Cavalry, a battle was fought at the "Slim Buttes", 150 miles north of the Gordon Stockade. This battle, between the Army and Indian warriors led by the Lakota Chief American Horse, and fierce warriors including Crazy Horse resulted in a defeat for the Indians. But after that battle, which resulted in a defeat for the Native Americans, the soldiers nearly starved as they made their way back into the Black Hills, having to resort to butchering their horses in order to survive. Led by General George Crook, the cavalry occupied the Gordon Stockade for two months, recovering from the trauma following the Battle at Slim Buttes. Through the years, the stockade was used by a wide variety of people until it fell into disrepair. In 2004, the old stockade was torn down and at a cost of a little over $800,000, it was replaced by the present-day structure. Today, tourists and others stop by the Gordon Stockade, getting a feeling for how those who migrated to this territory 140 years ago, actually lived and protected themselves from hostile Indians. Soldiers, later utilized the "old fort" using it as a headquarters, first to keep miners from coming to the Black Hills, and later to protect the new town of Custer which grew up just west of the stockade.
~ end quoting Gordon Stockade by Gevik ~
After the interesting interlude at the old fort we continued along the road to Custer. Soon we had a close encounter with 'the reason for the season' -- the legendary king species of the Plains -- a buffalo.
"...When fresh meat was needed, Custer and his officers made a game of the buffalo hunt by choosing sides. At the end of a day's hunt, the side having the smallest number of dead buffalo were to provide the victors with a banquet.... Before the advent of the rifle, the Indian preferred the bow and arrow. In some instances they would stampede buffalo herds over a cliff.... While chasing a buffalo, Custer's horse 'Custis Lee' veered as the buffalo turned suddenly. His cocked revolver was accidently fired into the brain of the horse. Thrown head over heels, and still retaining his revolver, Custer leaped to his feet to prepare for a fight or a footrace. The surprised buffalo looked him in the eye for a few moments, then galloped away..." [from The Custer Album by Frost]
Upon arrival in Custer, there to greet us was our buffalo buddy. This time I wasn't wary of getting out of the car to pet him -- although one doesn't really pet a buffalo -- they are irresistably huggable and get hugged. That historic building behind buffalo's stomping ground is the original Dakota Territory Courthouse built in 1881 and now home to the Custer Museum. We walked around downtown Custer popping into stores and touristy places then went for dinner at a rustic-saloon-type restaurant we drove to. I wonder if anyone can guess what I ordered?
The park Ranger at our campsite had recommended that we must see the fireworks dispaly at the Crazy Horse Memorial which was happening that night and so we headed there.
From the highway I snapped a pic of the massive work in progress. The Crazy Horse statue was started by a sculptor who had worked for awhile with Borglum on Mount Rushmore.
"...Now that he had command of the largest budget in Rushmore's history, Borglum in the spring of 1939 set out to hire the largest crew in its history... Borglum acquired a highly skilled sculptural assistant, thirty-year-old Korczak Ziolkowski.... Although he was almost entirely self-educated and self-taught, Ziolkowski's training had been good enough and his talent great enough that later in the summer of 1939 his bust of Paderewski [pianist & composer] would win a gold medal at the New York World's Fair... Following service in World War II, Ziolkowski returned to the Black Hills to stay. He came at the request of a group of Sioux Indians led by Chief Standing Bear, who had asked him to carve on a Black Hills mountain a monument honoring the country's original occupants. For this purpose, Ziolkowski personally bought, some ten miles south-west of Rushmore, a mountain whose top is a solid granite ridge. There, he began carving a statue of the Sioux war chief Crazy Horse, seated on a pony, and since his death in 1982 the work has been continued by his wife and children. This work is not being done in bas-relief as at Stone Mountain, nor as half-round figures on a cliff-face as at Rushmore. Rather it is the conversion of an entire mountain ridge into a single statue in-the-round. Because of this, and its gigantic size it is the most ambitious sculptural enterprise yet undertaken by man...."
I took the above description of the Crazy Horse Memorial from a book I'd blessedly read before the 2016 trip to Mount Rushmore. It gave me even greater appreciation of what I was seeing when staring in awe and wonderment at the accomplishment of Borglum and his miners-turned-carvers from Keystone, the old mining town from Custer's gold rush days. Below I've excerpted passages I had in mind that reveal particular aspects of the carving that enhance the meaning of the photos I snapped.
"...High on a pine-clad mountain in South Dakota's Black Hills are carved the faces of four presidents of the United States -- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt -- each chosen for such commemoration because of his unique contribution to and the building and shaping of his country. Created as a monument not only to those men but also to the aspirations and ideals of the nation they did so much to mold, the four faces together constitute the world's most gigantic piece of sculpture. Eight hundred million (800,000,000) pounds of stone were removed in its carving, and so huge are the faces that from brow to chin each is as tall as the entire Great Sphinx of Egypt. Ordinary men of the same proportions would stand shoulder-even with a 40-story building and could wade the Mississippi River without dampening their knees. Yet, so skillfully are the faces carved that to an observer viewing them from across the canyon they do not appear massive or course or even heavy. On the contrary, they look as graceful and lifelike as the finest busts sculpted in a studio. Carved upon a cliff that has changed but little since mankind first appeared on earth...the faces will still be there, looking much as they do now, long after man has gone. All things considered, Mount Rushmore National Memorial is not only America's greatest and most enduring monument, it is all of mankind's as well..."
"...As the debate continued to grow, so also did Doane Robinson's dream. By early spring of 1924 he was envisioning: 'Custer and his gold-discovering cavalcade winding its way through the Needles, with Red Cloud and a band of Sioux scouts, resentful and suspicious, spying on it through rifts in the pinnacles of the opposite wall, while above, a great mountain buck, wary but unafraid, inspects the pageant with curiosity'.... On August 20, 1924, Robinson wrote to Borglum [who was sculpting Stone Mountain in Georgia], saying, '...In the vicinity of Harney Peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota are opportunities for heroic sculpture of unusual character. Would it be possible for you to design and supervise a massive sculpture there?...'. Borglum being absent at the time, Robinson's letter was received by Borglum's assistant who read it, delightedly scribbled, 'Here it is, Borglum! Let's go!' across it and forwarded it to the sculptor at his home in Connecticut. Without knowing it, Robinson had approached exaclty the right man at exactly the right time.... Finally, on September 22, 1924, Borglum wired Robinson, 'AM LEAVING TONIGHT ON NORTHWESTERN TRAIN NUMBER 503 BOOKED FOR RAPID CITY'....
"...To such a time and national mood, the spirit of Gutzon Borglum was perfectly matched. Americans believed they were the world's best people, and made no secret of it. Borglum believed he was the world's best sculptor, and made no secret of that. Americans believed in the superiority of American art. Unlike many American artists of that time, moreover, Borglum was an ardent patriot... He wrote, 'Art in America should be American, drawn from American sources, memorializing American achievement... We have not begun to realize that the things we desired honestly -- liberty of conscience, freedom from European government and from the stain of slavery were things to be proud of; that they are ours and that these things alone make us immortal; make us the envy of the world. If we have art of any kind it should write them in bold lines across the page of our history'. Borglum also believed that artistic records of the American people 'should be built into, cut into, the crust of this earth so that those records would have to melt or by wind be worn to dust before the record could, as Lincoln said, 'perish from the earth''. In keeping with the mood of his times, Borglum thought American art should be massive. He spoke of 'Colossal art -- human and soul-stirring -- in a scale with the people whose life it expresses. Volume, great mass, has a greater emotional effect upon the observer than quality of form. Quality of form affects the mind; volume shocks the nerve or soul centers and is emotional in its effect. The heavy pipes in an organ will, rightly played, make everthing else on earth seem unimportant. Our age will some day be called the Colossal Age. Yet there is not a monument in this country as big as a snuff box. My big mission in life is to get people to look at art in a big way and to get away from this petty stuff'...."
"...Your seat and its rigging were designed by Borglum himself... Also fastened to the arches on your seat is your safety belt: a broad leather strap that passes across your lower back and another that buckles across your front. This harness is perfectly safe. Once buckled in there is no way you can fall out of it; you know this in your head but not in your gut. The same with your cable -- 3/8ths of an inch in diameter, made of mild steel, capable of holding a 3-ton load -- which your head knows but not your gut, not yet anyhow. When you look up at that cable after first having taken a dizzying look into the canyon below, it seems a slender thread to hang a life on. Especially if that life is your own. These are things you must get used to if you are to work on the Rushmore cliff, and chances are that you will. Others, however, will not..."
"...There was the day when the A-frame collapsed, and had it done so five minutes earlier the resulting tragedy probably would have ended the Rushmore project forever... The weight of the cable, together with that of the tramway bucket and the small 'haulage cable' that pulled the bucket back and forth, created a force of more than 4-tons constantly tugging at the top of the A-frame, where the cable was attached... Extending forward from the bases of the frame to the edge of the cliff was a wooden loading platform some 15-feet square... This platform, with its smooth surface and breathtaking view, was the crew's favorite lunching place on nice days. And it was just after lunch on such a day, with a loaded bucket on its way up from below, that the A-frame guy cable suddenly snapped. Instantly, the pull of the tramway cable snatched the A-frame off the mountain. As one crew man remembered: 'We'd just finished eating -- hadn't been off that platform 3-minutes -- when the A-frame came loose and down she went. It took the platform with it; just wiped it right off the mountain, and the whole business went sailing down into the canyon. Three minutes earlier and all of us would have been wiped off with it'... These and the few other near disasters turned out all right and produced no injuries and probably were blessings in disguise. They demonstrated dramatically the kinds of things that could happen, and caused steps to be taken to see that they did not happen. Besides, although Borglum took reckless chances on the mountain himself, he was a stickler about safety for the men and refused to allow them to do as he did. As a result, the Rushmore job was to produce a safety record far better than anyone could have expected from such an operation...."
"...At the mountain  meanwhile, work was going forward better, perhaps, than ever before. There were several reasons. One was that the workmen had received an increase in pay. Now, for example, carvers were receiving $1.25 per hour; assistant carvers, $1.00; senior drillers, 75-cents; and junior drillers, 65-cents. For an era when John L Lewis was fighting for a wage of 25-cents per hour for mine workers and when the average steel mill worker earned less than $400 per year, this was excellent pay indeed, and the crew's morale was correspondingly high.... And yet another reason was the fast-growing sculptural ability of Lincoln Borglum. Gutzon was absent when the 1937 carving season began but Lincoln was there to serve in his place. Lincoln had inherited from his father much sculptural talent, had grown up in the sculptural world, and now had behind him four years of solid Rushmore experience as pointer and then as chief pointer....
"...On May 1, 1937, when work began, the Lincoln head consisted only of a roughed-out forehead and eye sockets and an irregular granite ridge of nose. Nonetheless, Borglum intended to have the head ready for dedication before summer's end... This presented Lincoln and the crew with a tremendous challenge. They met it, however, when Borglum finally returned to the mountain in late July the Lincoln head was ready for Borglum to give it, with his artist's touch, the refinement and character that even the most precise measurements and engineering could not give... Constantly sketching in a notebook whose tooled leather covers were worn by time and use, Borglum studied the Lincoln head in the angled light of dawn, the brightness of midday, the shadows of evening. He studied it from viewpoints in the canyon, Mount Doane, and the tramway cage. He viewed it from his studio window and, as ideas and inspirations came to him, he telephoned instructions from there to Lincoln Borglum on the mountain or even directly to carvers on the Lincoln head. Time and again he went to the mountain himself and with paint and brush marked the details to be shaped; or, he took up drills and other tools and by his own carving demonstrated to the carvers how he wanted a particular task to be done.
Much of this time and study he devoted to Lincoln's eyes and to the special method by which he was to give them, as well as those of Rushmore's other figures, a lifelike quality rarely seen in sculpture. Since the time man first began to carve figures in his own image he almost always has been defeated by the eyes. Smooth-carved, as many Greek masters carved them, they are blank and blind as the sides of billiard balls. And those in which the iris is represented by an engraved circle and the pupil by a round pit are dead eyes also, for still they lack the highlights of eyes that live. At Rushmore Gutzon Borglum met and mastered that challenge. He mastered it with a technique made possible by the size of the figures and the distance from which they were to be viewed, but that still would have been impossible had he not had the imagination to develop it and the skill to carry it out. His first step was to carve in the center of the eye a ring, a 'pupil', several feet across and deep enough always to be shadowed. Next, the stone center of the ring was carefully reduced and shaped to become a stubby, slightly rectangular, horizontal shaft measuring a foot-and-a-half or so on its vertical sides and slightly less across, and projecting from the back of the rounded hole outward to a point slightly beyond the surface of the eye, itself.
Those stubby granite shafts are the key to the quality of the Rushmore figures' eyes. From a distance their white tips are not seen as rectangles of stone but as points of light -- as highlights in the dark pupils that surround them -- and give the eyes, and therefore the heads, the expression and character of life. This process sounds simple. It was not. Far from it. It took daring to even attempt it, and it took great skill to execute it successfully. Projectng unsupported, the stone 'highlight' shafts were vulnerable to breakage in carving, and if broken would have been difficult, if not impossible, to replace. The 'pupils' in the eyes of each figure had to be precisely placed and uniformly angled, and the same was true of the 'highlight' shafts within them. Any miscalculation, any miscarving, and the figure would wind up cockeyed. As it happened, the work was done artfully, precisely, and with no breakage. And thus, by his imagination and skill Borglum gave to the eyes of these gigantic figures the expression and sparkle of life...
"...Borglum had brought the Roosevelt face to the point where by early summer of 1941 it was ready for dedication -- and in the process had scored another sculptural coup: the carving of Roosevelt's spectacles. They consist only of a carved nosepiece and a small ridge, suggestive of a frame, striped lightly across each of Roosevelt's upper cheeks. All the rest, in Borglum's words, 'is imagination'. But it is enough. To the monument viewer the spectacles are there, and they are complete..."
"...Rushmore got a bonus in the summer of 1933: the opening of Iron Mountain road. The road was not a part of the memorial, but it turned out to seem as if it were. Running northwestward from a point near Borglum's ranch on the Game Lodge Road to the Rushmore road just west of Keystone, this new road had been intended by the highway department only to provide a more direct linkage between the Game Lodge and Rushmore areas. Its purpose was not scenery but convenience. Senator Norbeck, to the highway department's distress, thought it ought to be the other way around. He loved this wild section of the Hills, knew the spectacular scenery to be found there, and wanted a road that would expose it to public view. And he got it... With strong backing from others with like mind, the senator first maneuvered himself into a position where he could pretty well dictate where the road was to run. Then, or so they story is told, accompanied by a state highway engineer, Norbeck walked over his proposed route, driving stakes to mark key points along the way. To the engineer's dismay, instead of marking a route around the base of Iron Mountain, Norbeck went right up over its crest. There was no sense in going over the crest, protested the engineer. It would cost too much. It would be a slow road to drive. It would be dangerous. Besides, the senator was putting those darned stakes in places where a road would be impossible to build. 'I know it's impossible', Norbeck is reported to have said, grinning, 'but put it there anyhow!'...
Over a period of years and the continued protests of the engineers, the impossible road had been built. Where there was no room for a two-way road it was built at two one-way roads sometimes running as much as a quarter-mile apart. In places on the north side of the mountain where the slope was too steep for a road to climb, the ascent was accomplished by building spiral pine-log ramps called 'pigtail bridges'. But Norbeck's pride and joy was the road's 3 tunnels. He had had an enormous amount of trouble in getting them dug, for the reason that all were entirely unnecessary. His files reveal many letters in which the state's engineers imply (politely, of course) that he had been out of his mind even to ask for them. Norbeck had responded by declaring that when it came to scenery, engineers 'don't know a park from a ranch', and he continued to insist that the tunnels be built.... When the road was opened it proved to be so beautiful that its problems were forgotten, and everyone agreed it was worth all that had gone into it. Especially Norbeck's tunnels! Each was so aligned that motorists entering it would see, framed like a picture in the tunnel's far end, the carvings on Mount Rushmore...."
~ end quoting The Carving of Mount Rushmore by Smith ~
In the morning, as we were packing the saddlebags and loading the horsepower, getting ready to see Mount Rushmore, the park Ranger told us to make sure to take the scenic route on the Needles and Iron Mountain roads and gave us directions. We wouldn't have wanted to miss that for the world.
As we came to the places I'd read about in the Mount Rushmore book I was thankful for the art appreciation it had given. In the photos we took I recognize their significane and recall the anecdotes.
Above, in the cut-and-paste pic of us in front of the best photo we took of the faces on Mount Rushmore, I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, trying to fill the gap left by Borglum on the mountain. It just looks that way.
Our next destination was Keystone, at the foot of Mount Rushmore, the town where the men who worked on the mountain had lived with their families for over 14 years. These days, just mention of the word "keystone" makes my very blood curdle, to borrow a phrase from Custer when witnessing the mutilated bodies of his brothers-in-arms after Indians had massacred them. In my opinion, the killing of the Keystone Pipeline, which would have delivered Alaskan gas and Canadian oil to "the lower 48", for "energy independence", was a massacre of America. See DRILL SARAH BABY DRILL & TAR BABY OBAMA TARS OILSANDS & ORWELLIAN MEDIA MASSACRED SARAH
Leaving Keystone -- home of the Rushmore carvers -- it was appropriate there be another sample of their talent -- and a massive Harley Davidson motorcycle -- carved out of wood -- could be seen from the highway. This reminded me of my elder son who in 2013 had ridden his Harley to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and on the way had toured the Custer battlefield at Little Big Horn. He brought me back, in his saddlebag, a Mount Rushmore bottle of wine.
You can see the bottle, with puppet Orwell holding down the cork, on display atop the Lincoln shelf on the bookcase above photos of our family trip to Mount Rushmore in the late 1980s. My two sons are sitting on Lincoln's lap in the photo beside the pewter plaque of the Gettysburg Address and then a pic of the boys sitting in front of Mount Rushmore. This past summer, while visiting my son, I snapped the above photo of him standing beside his Harley and it reminded me of the wooden motorcycle in Keystone -- so I placed the two side by side in the pic above.
Next to the wonderment inspired by the statues on the mountain is, to me, the wonderment of photography that with the click of a button captures it. I love the photos I took of Mount Rushmore and this one, above -- alongside the mountain before it was carved -- is my favourite.
...to be cont'd at Custer statues in Rapid City
1.JOURNEY TO CUSTER'S LITTLE BIG HORN
2.CUSTER ALT-HISTORY BIG HORN VICTORY
3.LAST WORD ON CUSTER FROM FRONT
4.CUSTER MASSACRE AT GATES OF HELL
5.HOMAGE TO CUSTER AT LAST STAND
6.CUSTER ON BOZEMAN & DEADWOOD
7.CUSTER GOLD BLACK HILLS & RUSHMORE
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~