Pocahontas.
The World's Largest Indian Maiden greets westbound travelers to her Iowa town.

Pocahontas, the Princess Giant

Field review by the editors.

Pocahontas, Iowa

In the summer of 1950 a taxidermist named Warren Ballard built the World's Largest Tiger Muskie out of cement and chicken wire in his hometown of Nevis, Minnesota. A vacationing state senator from Iowa, Albert Josiah Shaw, was impressed. He thought that his hometown of Pocahontas -- "The Princess City" -- deserved a similar giant civic symbol.

Pocahontas.
"Check out my 21st century teepee," says Pocahontas with her hands.

Shaw tracked down the taxidermist-sculptor, and Ballard was hired to design a 25-foot-tall statue of Pocahontas, the Indian princess namesake of the Iowa town.

And then -- Albert Josiah Shaw had a stroke and died.

But the idea for the statue did not perish. The senator's plan was carried on by two of his sons, Albert Jr. and Frank, who apparently did the work based on Ballard's sketches. In 1954 Pocahontas was set in place by crane -- you can still see the metal loop at the top of her head -- next to Highway 3, the longest state road in Iowa, at what was then the busy eastern entrance to town.

Those who know Pocahontas chiefly from the 1995 Disney cartoon may find her unrecognizable in Iowa. The "World's Largest Indian Maiden" is a minimalist giant, with tiny feet and an oddly proportioned oval head. Her eyes are painted to appear overly large (but in earlier incarnations they've been tiny and wide-set). Looking at the statue, you'd guess that Ballard, who was a gas station owner and muskie farmer as well as a taxidermist, was more familiar sculpting fish than people (Or maybe his design was simplified by the Shaw brothers, who were attorneys, not artists). But Pocahontas was built to last, and aside from the occasional repaintings that have softened her appearance, she has weathered the passage of time remarkably well.

Pocahontas.
Pocahontas's oddly placed dress label is in fact her dedication plaque.

Pocahontas's unusual hands originally gestured toward an oversized teepee that stood behind her and served as the entrance to the Miss Pocahontas Souvenir Shop. It was torn down in the late 1990s, and a new, smaller, and less cartoony teepee was erected in 2014. The souvenir shop was never rebuilt, but you can still buy Pocahontas statue postcards in town.

The construction of the interstates reduced Highway 3 to local traffic, and the Indian maiden today greets travelers who arrive by choice rather than serendipity. When we visited we found two guys shaking apples off of the tree next to her. "We're from California," said one. "My cousin once was the mayor here," said the other.

In recent years Pocahontas has been overshadowed in size, and Sacajawea has been the focus of most Native American celebrity woman statuary. But she remains Iowa's Indian princess, even if the real Pocahontas never traveled any further west than Virginia.

Pocahontas, the Princess Giant

Address:
Elm Ave., Pocahontas, IA
Directions:
On the east edge of town, on the north side of Elm Ave./Hwy 3, about three-quarters of a mile east of the intersection of Hwy 4 and just east of NE 6th St.
Admission:
Free
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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December 17, 2017

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