Home > Profiles

U.S.A.’s Mount Rushmore Before the Presidents

The carvings were made on a mountain that was sacred to the Lakota

Mount Rushmore National Memorial was completed on October 31, 1941. It was built on sacred Indigenous Land and is surrounded by controversy. The 20-metre-tall carvings pay tribute to four presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

Before it became Mount Rushmore, the Lakota called it Tunkasila Sakpe Paha, or Six Grandfathers Mountain. It was a place of ceremony where locals gathered food and plants. Donovin Sprague, head of the history department at Sheridan College in Wyoming and a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said, “It’s the centre of the universe of our people.”

The government gave the Lakota exclusive use of the land until gold was discovered in the 1870s. Years late, an attorney from New York named Charles Rushmore opened a tin mine in the area, and the mountain was renamed after him. Lakota tribes sued the U.S.A. for theft, and while it’s a popular tourist destination there are some who believe the carvings should be removed.

There are popular rock climbing spots in the area, but access to Rushmore is closed. The rock where the presidents are carved had tall cracks and chimneys – see a photo of it below.

Before the presidents were carved
Before the presidents were carved

Rushmore History