Mr. Rushmore's Mountain

By Dan O'Donnell

July 8, 2020

Charles Rushmore was the very picture of a city slicker. An attorney in New York, he rarely left the comforts of the city at the height of its industrial revolution. His was a comfortable life, far from the wild west of his day, until a case brought him to the Black Hills in South Dakota.

The discovery of tin there had brought prospectors by the thousands to the region hoping to make their fortune just as the gold and silver rushes of the past few decades had created booms in states farther to the west. Even people with comfortable lives in New York City were interested, including one of Rushmore's clients, James Wilson.

The promise of a fortune in tin drew Wilson to the Black Hills and he needed an attorney to check the titles for various properties he wanted to mine, so he brought Rushmore with him. The city slicker was suddenly thrust into the wild west, but he was far from out of place. He found that he loved life in the hills; the wide open spaces he could never find in New York, the freedom they gave him, and, most importantly, the camaraderie with the prospectors he met.

He was a city slicker, but he bonded with them almost instantly and they loved him as much as he loved them. He relied on them to guide him through the various properties he and his client were surveying, and they loved hearing stories about life in the big city.

One day, he was riding through the hills with a local guide named William Challis. As they approached one particular picturesque peak, Rushmore asked what it was called.

"Never really had a name," Challis replied, "but it has one now--we'll call the thing 'Rushmore.'"

The two men laughed and returned to camp with the joke that the city slicker now had a mountain named after him. Eventually, Rushmore's business in the Black Hills ended and he returned to New York, but he loved his time in the wilderness so much that he made it a point to return every year to hunt, explore, and reconnect with the locals he had met there.

Each year, those locals would joke with Rushmore about his own personal mountain and took to calling it "Mount Rushmore" in honor of their favorite city slicker. The name stuck.

Years later, historian Doane Robinson wanted to get more city slickers to the Black Hills to fall in love with its natural beauty just as Rushmore had. Inspiration struck: What if he created a massive tourist attraction on Rushmore's mountain? Not just any tourist attraction--the greatest that the world had ever seen. An attraction that would show the world what America was capable of.

He met with sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who loved his idea: Four of America's greatest presidents carved into the side of Mount Rushmore. George Washington because he was the father of the country, Thomas Jefferson because with his Louisiana Purchase, America was expanded west, Abraham Lincoln because of his fight to preserve the union, and Theodore Roosevelt because of his commitment to the conservation of nature.

Construction would begin as soon as funding could be secured, but funding was a major problem. Congress loved the idea, but wondered where the money for such a huge project would come from. The suggestion was made to solicit funds from the public. If money came in, then the monument's construction could move forward.

One of the very first checks that came in was from an elderly lawyer--a city slicker from New York named Charles Rushmore--who gave a massive sum of $5,000 to jump-start the monument that bears his name.

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