Last week, I was in the Black Hills of South Dakota. This place has a dark history that seems to sum up the general treatment of Native Americans by our forefathers. When the Native Americans were initially pushed off their land, a government treaty granted them land in the Black Hills. When gold was discovered and the government wanted the Black Hills back, they took it, breaking the agreement in the treaty, and forcing the people to move again.
The following is paraphrased from this North Dakota official website:
Henry Whipple was the man in charge of obtaining consent from the Sioux to relinquish the land, and got very few signatures consenting. However, he was powerless to stop the U.S. Senate, who had final approval. Upon hearing of the annexation of the Black Hills, Henry Whipple, said, “I know of no other instance in history where a great nation has so shamefully violated its oath.”
To me, it seems like a controversial place to carve the faces of our four greatest presidents into the mountainside. I had the distinct feeling that this was a pretty cocky move, and lacked any sensitivity. But there it is. And it is impressive.
Starting to move past these mixed feelings, I could appreciate it for the remarkable feat it was. Although I felt ashamed of parts of our history, Mount Rushmore actually made me feel pride in our country. The men that we celebrate were visionaries. They were principle-centered men who, through focus and execution, were able to make monumental changes, and shape the world for the better. They were by no means perfect, but their guidance has lifted our collective morality and moved us in the right direction.
The fact that we celebrate them says something for us too. We recognize the contribution they’ve made, and value it. Even if we don’t always succeed in living up to their model, we know it is something to strive for. Or, at least, we know its what we want from our leaders.
The monument is worth the trip. If you ever thought you wanted to see it, you won’t be disappointed. The sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, wanted it to be massive so that people 10,000 years from now may find it and see the faces of these men. There is a movie detailing its creation and the visitor’s center is excellent at reminding you why these four were chosen:
George Washington – The only person who can really be called the Father of our nation. His moral and formal authority were what held our army together. They believed in his character, and he led an extremely disorganized, untrained band of militia men to victory over the most powerful nation in the world.
Thomas Jefferson – Author of the Declaration of Independence, and the 3rd President. He gave voice to the pent up feeling of Americans, whose rights were being violated. He is also responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, cheaply buying the midwest from Napoleon, and doubling the size of our country.
Abraham Lincoln – The man who held our country together during the Civil War, which helped to move forward the realization of Jefferson’s words: “All men are created equal….” by abolishing slavery.
Theodore Roosevelt – His legacy of conservation has always made him a favorite for me. He was also the force behind building the Panama Canal, and negotiating peace between Russia and Japan.
I have to admit that in the Badlands I only got the drive-thru National Park experience that I generally despise. I got there and stopped about 1 mile in from the entrance, took pictures of the sunset and left.
Somehow I still came away with an awesome experience. Bighorn sheep were scaling dirt cliffs, grazing by the road and gazing into the sunset. The view was stunning. Even if it was a quick visit, I still saw the Badlands. Now I can always come back and see more of it…
Anyway, I had been delayed too long by weather and car trouble. I was alone in South Dakota and anxious to get to Minneapolis and see a friendly face. That afternoon, some family and friends may recall how they began to get more frequent phone calls. Or their first phone call of the trip lol. Of course that had nothing to do with Nate’s departure…