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Chief Crazy Horse, valiant Native American fighter against the invasion of the white man, may have died 120 years ago, but his stony visage still glares out across the South Dakota landscape in the American Mid-West. After the defiant chief's death in 1877, a Sioux medicine- man, Black Elk, claimed that his leader had made a prediction: "I will return to you in stone." And so he has: his giant effigy dominates the Black Hills, in the heart of Sioux ancestral territory and only 17 miles from Mount Rushmore's famous giant mountainside sculptures of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.

Crazy Horse's huge features have been slowly appearing out of the surrounding granite rock for nearly half a century now. Connecticut sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began work on his masterpiece in 1948, following an appeal from Chief Henry Standing Bear, who had watched work progress on the Mount Rushmore memorial. "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes too," wrote Standing Bear. Ziolkowski, who had also worked on the Mount Rushmore memorial, took up the challenge. Five Sioux veterans of the battle of Little Big Horn were there to watch the first dynamite charge explode; since then, around eight million tons of stone have been blasted and jackhammered out of the mountain.

Forty-nine years later, the sculpted face - far from finished - stands 87 feet high. Still to come is the chief's body, plus the outsize stallion on which he's sitting. As yet all this is only shown by paintmarks on the mountainside, but when and if the project reaches fruition, Crazy Horse's outstretched arm will be longer than a football field, his pointing finger the size of a bus, his horse's nostril big enough to hold a five- storey house. The whole thing will be twice the height of the Statue of Liberty and could take another 50 years to complete - though the sculpt- ors plan officially to dedicate the monu- ment to the chief's memory next summer.

The originator of it all won't be there to see the ceremony: Ziolkowski died in 1982, aged 74, and is buried in a tomb of his own making at the bottom of the mountain. Since his death, his widow Ruth, now 71, and most of his 10 children have carried on the work. "Korczak used to say, `I will give the few remaining Indians a little pride'," explains Mrs Ziolkowski.

Kevin Moloney, the photographer who took these pictures of the monument and its working model (above), believes that the perpetuation of the project by Ziolkowski's children is "as much in honour of their father as anybody else. I think it's at the point now where it doesn't matter if they don't finish it - the Mount Rushmore statues are also incomplete, as they were originally thinking of including the Presidents' upper bodies. So Crazy Horse's head alone would be enough."

Finished or unfinished, reaction to the monument has been mixed among Native Americans. Some believe that the statue, however well-intentioned, is simply another violation of the traditionally sacred hills. John Lame Deer, a Sioux medicine man who visited the monument in the early 1970s, wrote that the feather in the chief's hair reminded him of a valve sticking out of a tyre, and his arm looked as if it was pointing the way to the men's room. Faced with such criticism, Mrs Ziolkowski retorts: "It was the Indians who chose Crazy Horse. It was the Indians who asked Korczak to carve the mountain."

Totem to Indian pride? Or bad-taste monstrosity? Whatever, there's one fact nobody likes to mention much. Crazy Horse never let himself be photographed, so no one knows what he actually looked like. In other words, the giant head rearing up in the Dakota hills could belong to anybody.

! Further information: Tourism Center, Badlands National Park, PO Box 6, Interior, South Dakota 57750, USA (tel: 001 605 433 5361, fax: 001 605 433 5404).