Tour of American Copycat Culture — Stop #4

Mount Rushmore: Four Fathers and Six Grandfathers

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Wiki Commons

Welcome back to our tour of American Copycat culture. On our previous stops, we have seen exact replicas of ancient monuments that were sacred in their culture of origin. Today, we see a defaced monument in its own country of origin.

Up there on the side of the Black Hills of South Dakota are the carved faces of four of America’s most revered leaders: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Their 60-foot faces took 14 years to sculpt, yet this monument remains unfinished. The loose rocks below the faces are just rubble that was never discarded.

The architect of Mount Rushmore had big ideas for the monument. He planned to carve the heads first, then the torsos, and inside each head, he would have a Hall of Records that would house important documents including the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The U.S. Congress quickly shut the Hall of Records idea down, but the room still exists behind Lincoln’s forehead.

This monument is odd in and of itself. The question is: why are four American presidents’ faces carved into the side of this mountain in South Dakota?

Well, South Dakota wanted a tourist trap. Georgia had their Confederate monument in Stone Mountain bearing a 158-by-76-foot carving of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and their horses. South Dakota enlisted the same architect to create something similar for them.

However, this mountain was not theirs to carve.

The Lakota of the Great Sioux Nation calls this mountain, Tȟuŋkášila Šákpe, or “Six Grandfathers.”

1905 photo of the Six Grandfathers, before construction began on the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The Six Grandfathers (Tȟuŋkášila Šákpe) was named by Lakota medicine man Nicolas Black Elk after a vision. “The vision was of the six sacred directions: west, east, north, south, above, and below. The directions were said to represent kindness and love, full of years and wisdom, like human grandfathers.” The granite bluff that towered above the Hills remained carved only by the wind and the rain until 1927 when the architect, Gutzon Borglum, began his assault on the mountain.

The land was seized from the Sioux Nation when General Custer found gold in the region, thus beginning the tragic decimation of the Native American land.

U.S. Congress offered to pay the Sioux Nation back, a grant valued around $1 Billion, but it was too little too late. They refuse the money to this day, because they only wanted their land back.

Gerard Baker, the first Native American superintendent of the monument (2004–2010), erected a teepee at the base of Mount Rushmore as a reminder of the origins of this sacred spot.

Baker used the teepee to communicate the Sioux oral history of the mountains, and connect people to the past.

“It’s not just a teepee here,” Baker said.

“We’re promoting all cultures of America. That’s what this place is. This is Mount Rushmore! It’s America! Everybody’s something different here; we’re all different. And just maybe that gets us talking again as human beings, as Americans.”

Bet you will never look at Mount Rushmore the same again.

Now, for our next stop. I need everybody to stay very close. We will be going through metal detectors and there will be secondary body scans. This place is on high alert since the attack. But then again, this is not the first time this has happened here…

Thanks for reading!

Aside: There is an abandoned Japanese theme park featuring replicas of Clint Eastwood and Mount Rushmore.

Constantly curious fun fact aficionado