Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Badlands Of South Dakota

Whenever I read a historical romance which is set in the Old West I'm always fascinated by the historical tidbits of information the author includes in the story setting and her characters. A long time ago after visiting a very special place in America, I decided I wanted to write a historical romance revolving around that special place. I started the book but never finished it. Maybe someday I'll return to that story before the memories of the Badlands fade from my mind. If you ever have the chance to visit the Black Hills of South Dakota you'll understand why I believe the area would make a fantastic setting for a historical romance. I feel fortunate I was able to visit Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument as well as many off-the-road tourist attractions in the area.

There's nothing like having to stop for a herd of buffalo, thundering across the road in front of your car to imagine Indians on horseback chasing the majestic animals. Until the trip to Custer State Park I had only viewed buffalo up close in zoos. Seeing them in the wild, twenty feet from your car window gives you a sense of the awe these animals inspired in Indians and buffalo hunters.

The drive to Mount Rushmore was a little harrowing for us—we had to pull off the road when a sudden hail storm hit. Afterward the sun came out and we followed the rainbow up to the monument.

During a prospecting expedition in 1885, Mount Rushmore was named after Charles E. Rushmore, a New York lawyer. Originally the mountain was known to the Lakota Sioux as Six Grandfathers. As Six Grandfathers, the mountain was part of the route that Lakota leader Black Elk took in a spiritual journey that culminated at Harney Peak. From 1876 to 1877, the United States asserted control over the area, a claim that is disputed on the basis of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Among white American settlers, the peak was known as Cougar Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, Slaughterhouse Mountain, and Keystone Cliffs.

South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills of South Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum decided the likenesses of four presidents would be carved into the mountain. Borglum's choice of presidents is not without controversy. Some allege he chose Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt because the four men ruled during the time of the acquisition of Native American lands. Gutzon Borglum was a white supremacist and active member of the Ku Klux Klan. After securing federal funding, construction on the memorial began in 1927, and the presidents' faces were completed between 1934 and 1939.

Not everyone approved of the decision to carve four American presidents on a mountain that held spiritual significance for the Lakota tribe. In response, a memorial to Crazy Horse is being carved in the Black Hills 17 miles away from Mount Rushmore. I was lucky enough to see this monument up close. Once completed the Crazy Horse Memorial will be the largest outdoor sculpture in the world. Work began in 1948 by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. Though the sculptor died in 1982, his wife and family continue the work with the Crazy Horse memorial Foundation.

Crazy Horse was born on the Republican River around 1845 and was killed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska in 1877, barely living thirty-three years. Below is a photo claimed to be of Crazy Horse but historians argue that the few photos floating around of the great warrior are not him because Crazy Horse refused to allow his photograph to be taken.

Anyone else care to share a favorite place that's found its way into a book, poem, song, or short story you've written?

Marin Thomas
Harlequin American Romance
Roughneck Cowboy Feb 2011
Rodeo Daddy April 2011
The Bull Rider's Secret July 2011


  1. MARIN--The photos are fantastic. We made this tour, or loop, whatever, through all these places years ago. I was awed by the entire region, and especially the Crazy Horse monument. Now, that is...crazy! I wonder if it will ever be finished. What an incredible feat.
    Mount Rushmore was stunning. I couldn't stop staring at it in wonder. I loved the rows of flags that lined the wide walkway. As we walked up there, a couple walking down looked familiar. They were from our town and he and my husband worked at the university.
    Thanks for the reminder of this beautiful area. Celia

  2. Marin, great post and lovely photos. Whenever I see a photo of Mount Rushmore, I think of two movies: "North By Northwest" with Cary Grant, and "National Treasure 2." Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Great post, Marin. My husband and I visited the area a few years ago and had similar experiences--even the hail storm. Love the pics you provided. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Celia, Caroline & Sandra
    Thanks for stopping by. I wonder though If I'd love the Badlands as much during the winter :-) I definitely recommend seeing the area during the summer months.

  5. Hi Marin,

    I would love to see Mount Rushmore! I saw a film on the History Channel about them carving it, and they were just up there chiseling away swing on ropes--Lord I would have been scared silly. What a neat thing though, and I'm glad they're doing the monument to Crazy Horse, now, too. This was a great post--I would love to go see that part of the country.

  6. Marin,
    I've always wanted to see this area. Thanks for posting about it. It's a beautiful place. I don't blame you for wanting to write about it. I hope you finish that book. I know it would be a wonderful story.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.