Before the faces of four U.S. presidents were carved into Mount Rushmore, this mountain was called The Six Grandfathers by the Lakota Sioux. For generations, it drew many Great Plains tribes as a sacred place. In 1868, the U.S. government gave Lakota tribes exclusive use of the Black Hills.
But when gold was discovered nine years later, the government seized the land. In 1922, Lakota tribes sued the U.S. government for illegally taking their land, launching a 60-year legal battle. In the meanwhile, the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were sculpted into the rock. Constructed from 1927-41, it features the faces of four U.S. presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Why did sculptor Gutzon Borglum choose these men? He felt they presided over the country during its most important moments.
The human effort required to create this monument matched the gargantuan size of it. More than 400 women and men worked a variety of jobs from drillers to housekeepers during the 14 years it took to build it. Ninety percent of the mountain was carved using dynamite, but it was the people hanging off steel cables and chiseling at the rock amid freezing cold and sweltering heat who made Mount Rushmore what it is today. Before they started work, workers had to climb 700 steps to the top of the mountain. Imagine the shape you’d be in if you had to do that to get to your desk.
In 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Lakota were entitled to more than $105 million in compensation, including interest, for their land being stolen. To date, the Lakota have declined the money, advocating for the return of the Black Hills.
While there is no park entrance fee for Mount Rushmore, there is a fee per car to park (but parking is free to active duty military). It’s $10 per car. For a special evening, attend the memorial’s evening program in the outdoor amphitheater. Listen to a park ranger speak before watching the film Freedom: America’s Lasting Legacy. Then see the lighting of the memorial.
Learn more at nps.gov/moru.