Madonnas of the Trail
A recurring piece of public statuary stands in twelve locations from Maryland to California, tracing a historic travel route from covered wagon days. The statue is the Madonna of the Trail, an 18-foot-tall tribute to the pioneer mothers who traveled west with their crazy husbands.
The Madonna of the Trail is a pinkish, stony-faced pioneer Mom, in long dress and bonnet, strutting westward clutching a rifle with one hand, an infant with the other, with another little cruncher grasping Mom's skirt.
The Madonnas of the Trail were a project of the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution. They were erected in 1928-29, strung along the National Old Trails Road -- the trail of the Conestoga wagons -- now mostly US 40. The sites were chosen with the help of the president of the National Old Trails Road Association, a then-little-known Missouri Justice of the Peace named Harry S Truman. He attended each dedication.
Artist August Leimbach created the design in only three days, according to his grandson, and was paid $1,000 for each statue. Ten years later he was banished to Germany by the Americans, and later thrown in prison by the Russians.
The poured algonite stone sculptures -- a mixture of crushed marble, Missouri granite, stone, cement and lead ore -- are identical. The historical info on the base of each varies from locale to locale.
Nearly all of the five-ton pioneer moms face west, although subsequent contsruction projects have repositioned some statues in other directions.
To properly honor the pioneer spirit, one should retrace the entire trail, and photograph all twelve cookie cutter statues. Or, with less honor, take twelve photos of one and say you saw 'em all...
- Bethesda, Maryland
- Beallsville, Pennsylvania
- Wheeling, West Virginia
- Springfield, Ohio
- Richmond, Indiana
- Vandalia, Illinois
- Lexington, Missouri
- Council Grove, Kansas
- Lamar, Colorado
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Springerville, Arizona
- Upland, California