Gutzon Borglum, painter and sculptor, was born in Idaho on March 25, 1867, the son of Danish immigrants James and Ida (Michelson) Borglum. He first studied art in California under William Keith and Virgil Williams. There the large stagecoach painting Runnin' Out the Storm, currently in the San Antonio Museum of Art, was completed. In 1890 Borglum went abroad to study for two years in Paris at the Académie Julien and the École des Beaux Arts and also under individual masters, the most important of whom was Auguste Rodin. Borglum exhibited in the Old Salon in 1891 and 1892 as a painter and in 1891 in the New Salon as a sculptor with Death of the Chief, for which he was awarded membership in the Société des Beaux-Artes.
After a year of work in Spain he returned to California, in 1893, and from there went to England in 1896. In England he painted portraits and murals, illustrated books, and produced sculpture. Apache Pursued, executed at this time, is owned in replica by the Witte Museum in San Antonio. Sculpture became Borglum's prime artistic medium; examples of his work include the head of Lincoln (1908) at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., a seated bronze sculpture of Lincoln (1911) in Newark, New Jersey, two equestrian statues of Philip H. Sheridan (1907, 1924), and the Wars of America group (1926). The most famous and monumental of his works are the sculptures at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota, of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. These were dedicated on August 10, 1927, and completed, after Borglum's death, by his son Lincoln.
In 1925 the sculptor moved to Texas to work on the monument to trail drivers commissioned by the Trail Drivers Association. He completed the model in 1925, but due to lack of funds it was not cast until 1940, and then was only a fourth its originally planned size. It stands in front of the Texas Pioneer and Trail Drivers Memorial Hall next to the Witte Museum in San Antonio. Borglum lived at the historic Menger Hotel, which in the 1920s was the residence of a number of artists. He subsequently planned the redevelopment of the Corpus Christi waterfront; the plan failed, although a model for a statue of Christ intended for it was later modified by his son and erected on a mountaintop in South Dakota. While living and working in Texas, Borglum took an interest in local beautification. He promoted change and modernity, although he was berated by academicians.
Borglum was married to Mrs. Elizabeth Putnam in 1889; the marriage ended in divorce in 1908. On November 6, 1941, Borglum died in Chicago, Illinois, survived by his wife, Mary (Montgomery), and his two children. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.