Subscribe to the IHARE Blog

The Five Faces of Mount Rushmore

Whose Face Were You Expecting for the Fifth?

As with “The Three Faces of Eve,” Mount Rushmore has multiple personalities. It is like a Rorschach which tells different stories to different people according to John Taliaferro, author of “Great White Fathers: The True Story of Gutzon Borglum and His Obsessive Quest to Create the Mt. Rushmore National Monument.” It’s not exactly a palimpsest with hidden physical layers. It’s not exactly the story of the blind people and the elephant where no one can see the whole. But in way it is all of the above. It has multiple meanings simultaneously but one has to make the effort to see and understand them.


Probably the least familiar face of Mount Rushmore is that of Luigi Del Bianco, the chief carver of Mount Rushmore. His contribution to the creation of Mount Rushmore was long overlooked by the National Park Service (NPS). The Del Bianco family waged a tireless and ceaseless quest to have the family patriarch recognized in what at times must have seemed like a hopeless task. At last, the effort proved successful and Luigi Del Bianco now is officially recognized.

I became aware of this little known contributor to the carving because by chance I live in same village as he did, Port Chester, NY. In fact, it is the same village as his grandson Lou Del Bianco, the author of the book about his grandfather, lives. The grandson also was the driving force behind the creation of a village statue in his honor. I was there at the dedication.

Lou does reenactments of his grandfather. One fact that sticks in my mind, is how difficult it was for Luigi to get Italian food in South Dakota back in the 1930s! One should stop and pause for a moment and consider what it meant to this Italian immigrant to be working on this monument to America’s greatest presidents. He was doing so in the time of Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, and Columbus Day becoming a national holiday. In a different way, this story of Italian pride in being part of the American story is being repeated now in the journey of another people with the recent actions on Juneteenth, statues, monuments, and memorials to Middle Passage Africans, and the inclusion of their history as American history.


According to Stetson Kastengren, PhD student at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign and member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, (Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech showed why our battle over history is so fraught, Washington Post, July 5, 2020), historian Doane Robinson, who had written on South Dakota history, came up with the idea for the monument in 1923. Robinson envisioned a memorial directing tourism to a Midwestern state. He wrote to U.S. Sen. Peter Norbeck of South Dakota that the handiwork of one sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, would “‘sell’ the Black Hills and [Custer State] Park as nothing else could.”

He [Borglum] explained to an audience in Rapid City, S.D., in 1925 that the monument would honor the “empire builders” by celebrating the “founder” and “savior” of America — George Washington and Abraham Lincoln respectively — and Thomas Jefferson, “the first great expansionist” who had secured the Louisiana Purchase. The fourth president who would be featured, Borglum’s friend Roosevelt, had “thrust himself upon the western plains” as a grieving younger man mourning the deaths of his wife and mother, and had expanded the American empire via the Panama Canal. The sculptor proclaimed, “If you carve … these empire-builders the whole world will speak of South Dakota.”

Borglum brought his own baggage to the creation of Mount Rushmore. His connections with the Confederate monument in Georgia’s Stone Mountain and the Ku Klux Klan make his role in the creation of the national monument problematic. So whereas Del Bianco was overlooked in the NPS telling of the story, Borglum’s biography was minimized to ignore the more distasteful elements of his life. But here is where the NPS is missing an exceptional opportunity to tell the story of America. Just as the Italian immigrant celebrating the history of his new country is part of the Rushmore story, so too are the Confederates who sought to destroy that country and the KKK which sought to destroy the ideals of that country. Here is where the NPS could make the visit to Mount Rushmore much more than a drive by tour with photo-ops and a tourist shop. It could tell the full story of the Mount which would be much more compelling.


The four Presidents are the most familiar part of the Mount Rushmore experience. Even people who have never been there are likely to have seen the image at some point. Yes, it is a heroic portrayal of these four white men and the country they led. The “shrine to democracy” expresses leadership during four phases of American development: birth of the nation, westward expansion, preservation of the Union and emancipation, and industrial revolution. This is the traditional story, one which the NPS is skilled at telling.

Naturally today, there is a Woke version about these four men as well. I addressed that in a previous blog (Woke American Exceptionalism Is Still American Exceptionalism, July 23, 2020).


To the Lakota, Cheyenne, Omaha, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Kiowa-Apache, the land is sacred.

The Great Sioux Nation consider the Black Hills a place of refuge that provides food, water, shade and sites to perform sacred rites. The hills belonged to the Sioux under the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty that stated the territory consisting of what is today western South Dakota was “set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation” of the Sioux Nation. (Kastengren)

IN the last few decades there has been various machinations in Congress and by the Sioux over land and money without there being much change.

As a result, some people want to turn the clock back and restore the land to the time before white people.

“Mount Rushmore is a symbol of white supremacy, of structural racism, that’s still alive and well in society today. It’s an injustice to actively steal Indigenous people’s land, then carve the white faces of the conquerors who committed genocide,” said Nick Tilsen, Oglala Lakota, who wants to see the monument removed and the Black Hills returned to the Lakota.

Julian Bear Runner, the president of the Oglála Sioux, said that Mount Rushmore should be removed in response to the recent controversy.

Unless the Sioux hire ISIS and/or the Taliban, this is not likely to happen. There needs to be a more constructive resolution in the real world.


According to South Dakota Republican Governor and non-Vice-Presidential candidate in 2020 Kristi Noem, she was told straight-faced in 2018 by the current President that his dream was to become the fifth face (“Mount Trumpmore? It’s the president’s ‘dream,’ Rep. Kristi Noem says,” Sioux Falls Argus Leader, April 24, 2018).

“I shook his hand, and I said, ‘Mr. President, you should come to South Dakota sometime. We have Mount Rushmore.’ And he goes, ‘Do you know it’s my dream to have my face on Mount Rushmore?’. “I started laughing. He wasn’t laughing, so he was totally serious.”

Apparently she even gave him a miniature Rushmore with a fifth face on it! There is a certainly irony in this dream or nightmare. He actually had the opportunity to be a Mount Rushmore caliber president (Mount Rushmore Opportunity for a Little Little Boy: Does He Know It? June 5 2020). When one considers the coronavirus, economic collapse, George Floyd, and China, he has had abundant chances to display leadership on a heroic scale. If he had the mental necessities, cognitive skills, courage, and strength of character to rise to the occasion, he would qualify as a Mount Rushmore quality president. But how can a child in the body of an adult with the emotional maturity of a three-year old (per Mary Trump) ever be worthy of a 60 foot carving?


In the current issue of World Wildlife Magazine, Cindy and Harry Eisenberg, members of the WWF Northern Great Plains Advisory Committee, were asked about their interest in protecting the Northern Great Plains. Cindy responded:

“We fell in love with South Dakota when we visited Mount Rushmore.”

Harry spoke about a ceremony with local tribal leaders in 2005 when 16 bison were released on the plains of northern Montana, the first bison on the land in over a century.

The Northern Great Plains Indians were the subject of two blogs on the cancelled conference this year of the Organization of American Historians:

The Organization of American Historians (OAH) Conference: What Would Have Been Presented? April 22, 2020

Organization of American Historians Conference: II April 26, 2020.

There is both conservation and academic interest in land to say nothing of the event at Little Bighorn.

In short, there is a lot of American history connected to this site. That one mount with the four faces has ties to multiple facets of the story of who we are as a people as well as who we want to be as our journey continues. For the NPS, there is the challenge to go beyond the traditional to embrace all aspects of this one site. A land can be sacred to more than more people and for more than one reason. The reality is, for Americans, the land belongs to all us including Sioux, Italians, Presidents, conservationists, scholars and a host of others. The practical question for us a people is whether we are ready to tell that story in the fullest to build a better tomorrow or if we are to remain trapped in past.

Organization of American Historians Conference: II

This blog is a continuation of posts on the cancelled conference of the Organization of American Historians. For the first post go to The Organization of American Historians (OAH) Conference: What Would Have Been Presented?

This blog focuses on the sessions related to American Indians as did the first one. There seem to have been quite a few sessions dedicated to this topic. It may also be that as I reviewed the online abstracts and schedule, I was drawn to these sessions. The sessions covered in the first blog tended to be about Plains Indians and not Woodlands Indians who live in New York where I live.

Urban Indian Country: Segregation and Disaster in Twentieth-Century Rapid City

In 1972 a flood tore through Rapid City, South Dakota, killing 238 people. Many whose lives and homes were destroyed lived in a predominately Native American neighborhood known as “Osh Kosh Camp.” This paper asks: Why did those people live in that neighborhood at that time? I argue that white Americans racialized certain spaces under the conceptual framework of Indian Country as part of the process of American conquest on the northern plains, creating continuities between policies of removal, the institution of the reservation system and twentieth-century urban segregation. The American project of racializing western spaces erased Indians from histories of Rapid City. The importance of a tourism industry rooted in white conquest narratives to the region’s economy played an important role in keeping Indians out of urban spaces. Despite this, Indians continued to live and work in the city, particularly after the imposition of the federal policies of termination and relocation. In Rapid City restrictive housing laws and rampant discrimination forced Native Americans in Rapid City to live in poor neighborhoods cut off from city services, including one neighborhood along Rapid Creek’s floodplain. After the flood, activists retook the concept of Indian Country as a tool of protest. My paper claims that environment and race must be understood together in the twentieth-century American West.

Presented By Stephen Hausmann, University of St. Thomas

For me, the key word in this abstract is “erased.” “Who will tell the story” is the line from the musical Hamilton and that is indeed a question for many historical societies, museums, and scholars. Here we have a local event. There is no inherent reason why someone not from Rapid City should or would know about the meaning of this flood in 1972. But as an example of microhistory, it is an excellent example of using a local event to tell a larger story. It makes me wonder how many other such local events are being ignored or forgotten especially with statewide testing in the communities throughout the country.

P.S. The University of St. Thomas is in Minnesota and not the Caribbean.

The Catholic Sioux Congress of 1910 and Indigenous Mobility in the Northern Plains

In the summer of 1910, over four thousand Indians from across the northern Plains converged on the Standing Rock Reservation for the annual Catholic Sioux Congress. The congress brought together delegates from reservations throughout the region and a number of Catholic officials, including the papal delegate to the United States. It was the largest gathering of its kind. Yet Indigenous peoples would continue attending not only Catholic convocations but also large Episcopal and Congregational meetings in the upper Missouri River valley through the mid twentieth century. As scholars have shown, Indigenous peoples used these meetings for their own purposes, melding Christian and Lakota religious practices and carrying on Indigenous traditions of gift giving. This paper situates the religious convocations from the early twentieth century within the longer history of Indigenous diplomacy and communication in the upper Missouri River valley. By traveling throughout the river valley to attend the convocations, delegates visited homelands, communicated with friends and relatives on neighboring reservations, and crossed reservation borders. While Catholic officials believed that these meetings would supplant Indigenous ceremonies, Indigenous peoples used them to maintain older Indigenous networks along the Missouri River.

Presented By Christopher Steinke, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Here is another fascinating facet of the relationship between the Europeans and the American Indians – religion. Recently I have been doing a lot of reading about modern Angola in the 16th and 17th centuries when the Portuguese arrived there. I am doing so because in 1685 nine Angolans were brought to the Town if Rye where I live. It is not exactly “erased” history but it is not well-known or taught here. The odds are these people were Catholic. The King of the Kongo (in modern Angola) became Catholic in 1491 and eventually there were Catholic schools, priests, a bishop, and direct contacts with the Vatican. The Kongo was an independent country. Yet to tell the story of Kongo and next door Ndongo without including their Catholicism is not to tell the whole story. The same applies to the American Indians.

Great Lakes Indians, Monarchical Rituals, and the Making of the U.S. Government

During negotiations for an 1826 treaty between the United States and several Great Lakes peoples, Lewis Cass noticed an Ojibwa speaker wore around his neck a medal imprinted with the British King’s face. Cass, Michigan’s federally appointed territorial governor and superintendent of Indian affairs, asked the Indian to affirm that he wore the British medal “not as an authority, or power, but as an ornament” before the American would smoke the calumet (sacred peace pipe) with him. In response, according to the memoirs of another American official, the Ojibwa “took [the medal] from around his neck and laid it on our table, saying, he put no value on it. The pipe was then smoked, and an American medal given him to take the place of the English one.” The American medal was nearly identical. It featured the face of President John Quincy Adams. A half century after Americans declared independence from the British monarchy, U.S. political culture remained monarchical in a key respect. American officials sought to dislodge Great Lakes Indians from the British sphere of influence not by presenting the Republic as a fundamentally different polity from the mother country, but instead by co-opting British modes of diplomacy. In this context the president was a rival to the British King, and, for that very reason, an analogue. Both British and American officials in Indian country used such methods as gifts, oratory, marriage alliances, and trade to encourage native peoples to feel a sense of kinship with a powerful yet benevolent “Great Father” to the East. My paper will explain how this phenomenon came to be and delve into some of its specific manifestations.

Presented By Zachary Isaac Conn, Yale University

Here in New York, we celebrate Evacuation Day, November 25, 1783. It is the day the British evacuated New York City after seven years of occupation. When the Lower Manhattan Historical Association (LMHA) successfully sought to rename part of the Bowling Green Plaza as “Evacuation Plaza” there was some resistance. People thought it had to with evacuating for Superstorm Sandy or due to a disease. I mention this because Evacuation Day didn’t mean the end of British influence in the United States…especially as the new country expanded westward beyond even the areas William Johnson, British Indian Superintendent, had dealt with until his death in 1774. The British influence continued. It would be interesting to a have a session comparing how the different superintendents of Indian Affairs operated.

Memory and Erasure in Native Histories

Early Native-Colonial Conflicts in Native American Literary Tradition

The relations between English colonists and native inhabitants of New England in the 17th century were rife with tension. While both sides generally tried to avoid open conflicts, out of self-preservation if nothing else, the cultural differences were overwhelming, and the colonial expansion was a constant source of conflicts. On two occasions tensions rose into all-out war. The Pequot War and King Philip’s War had in many ways shaped early New England history and had a profound effect on New England colonies’ economy, politics and, perhaps most importantly, world view. Colonial-era writers and preachers examined in meticulous detail both the history of the wars and their implications for native-colonial relations and colonial world view. Colonial intellectuals, such as Cotton Mather and William Hubbard, were the first to explore those conflicts, but not the last—both wars still draw attention from historians and are still analyzed, reexamined and reevaluated. The question of how the colonists perceived the conflicts was answered numerous times (sometimes in contradictory ways). The native point of view of early native-colonial conflicts, however, remains underexplored. Reconstructing the native perceptions of the conflicts based largely on European-written sources is an important aspect in a number of studies, the place that those early confrontations have in the collective memory of native peoples is less known. Native Americans created throughout the 18th and 19th centuries a number of texts almost unknown to the general public, and even to anthropologists and historians. While a key part of Native American culture is, of course, its oral history tradition, it is worth noting that there exists as well a literary tradition, one created by the authors who have successfully navigated the dominant Euro-American culture while firmly maintaining their Native American identity. This paper examines the perception, the role, and the place of the Pequot War and King Philip’s War in 18th- and 19th-century Native American literary tradition.

Presented By Gleb Aleksandrov, International Center of Anthropology, National Research University Higher School of Economics

Here again there is the issue of “erasure” and “who will tell the story.” My impression from these sessions is there is a much greater effort now to tell the stories in American history that have been erased, forgotten, or overlooked. Something similar also has been happening at the local level where there is more to the story of the community than the colonial mansion and family that once may have dominated there.