Reconsider Mount Rushmore The monument of Mount Rushmore, located in the Black Hills of South Dakota and bearing the faces of four of America’s most beloved presidents (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln), is a national treasure that is held in high regard by many Americans. The monument was constructed by architect Gutzon Borglum, renowned for his work in New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. From 1927 until 1941, Borglum and at least 400 other workers used dynamite, hand tools and drill bits to carve the likenesses of the four presidents into the face of the mountain. The project was initially funded by a special Congressional bill that provided $250,000 (half the estimated cost) to pay for the project. The project would cost $1 million total and 85% of the project was funded with federal sources (Smithsonian Magazine, 2012). 400,000 Americans went to visit the monument that year, which was nicknamed Borglum’s “shrine of democracy” (Smithsonian Magazine, 2012). Millions of Americans since then have visited Mount Rushmore and gazed upon their faces.
However, few Americans know the full history of the land that the monument resides on. The Black Hills, upon which the Mount Rushmore monument was carved, was originally held by indigenous peoples for almost 10,000 years. The Arikaras arrived in the Black Hills region in the 1500s A.D. and were followed by other Native American nations such as the Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa and Pawnee. By the 18th century, the Lakota entered the region, driving out the other tribes and claiming the land for themselves. The land became sacred to them and they nicknamed it “Paha Sapa”, Lakota for “hills that are black” (Weiser, 2012). However, the encroachment by whites who desired land and natural resources threatened the Lakota’s ownership of the Black Hills. In 1861, residents from the city known today as Yankton began organizing parties of miners and explorers to investigate reports of gold found in the region. In 1865, they asked Congress for a military reconnaissance party to conduct a geological survey of the region. Nonetheless, Army general William T. Sherman stated in 1867 that the U.S. Army was not in any position to investigate the claims (they knew of the Black Hills significance to the Lakota) and that the Army would not protect any one would tried to ascertain the presence of gold in the region (National Park Service, 2012). By 1868, the pressure to open up the Black Hills to gold exploration had eased, as the U.S. Government and the Lakota nation signed the Fort Laramie Treaty, which promised the Lakota the ownership of some lands west of the Missouri, including the Black Hills region in perpetuity. In exchange, the Lakota agreed to a cessation of hostilities against pioneers and railroad builders. However, the residents of Yankton continued to pressure Congress to send a military expedition into the region and American Indian continued to conduct raids on white settlements near the Black Hills regions (National Park Service, 2012). These two factors led Army General Phillip Sheridan to propose an expedition into the Black Hills to investigate the possibility of setting up an Army fort to control the bands of American Indians committing raids on settlements. Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer was tasked with finding a suitable location for the fort; however, a miner and some geologists were among the members of his party and on July 30th, 1870, they found gold in what is now present-day Custer, South Dakota. By 1875, up to 800 miners were panning for gold in the Black Hills region despite the federal government’s efforts to keep them out. In response, the federal government tried to purchase the Black Hills from the Lakota for $6 million and a substantial annuity. They first offered the deal to Lakota tribal leaders Red Cloud and Sitting Tail when they visited Washington, D.C. and