Madonna of the Trail
Wife and Mother, Cook and Companion
Drover & Sentry, Nurse and Advisor
The idea that culminated in the "Pioneer Mother/Madonna of the Trail"
monument began in 1909 when a group of Missouri women wanted to mark the
"Santa Fe Trail" through their state. In 1912, Rep. A. R. Borland of
Missouri introduced a resolution in Congress which gave a formal name to
the series of trails followed by our forefathers as they traveled West. It
was named "National Old Trails Road."
The route begins in Maryland as Braddock's Road, named for the British
general of that name. It was traveled often by a young George Washington
who was Braddock's aide and surveyor. This road had been cut through the
Allegheny Mountains by British soldiers in 1755 at the start of the French
and Indian War. The road continued westward as the Columbia Pike, the
Great Valley Road, the Wilderness Road (which Daniel Boone cut across the
Cumberland Gap), then the Cumberland Road, known also as the National
Road. Across the Missouri River it was the Santa Fe Trail and the Oregon
Lexington, Missouri, the first settlement west of the river, became a
prosperous boom town supplying the pioneers with wagons, livestock,
clothing and food.
In 1912 the Missouri Chapter of National
Society, of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) became interested in "the good roads
movement." A committee was formed which was influential in securing
appropriations from the state for marking the trail. Mrs. Oliver, State
Regent, appointed a Kansas City member as Chairman. The job of the
committee was to locate and advertise historic trails in the state. As
early as 1911, NSDAR had decided to assist the work by supplying many red,
white, and blue markers which were to be painted on telephone poles and
fence posts over the entire route. The slogan of that day was "Follow the
Flag of the DAR." It was posted around Lexington; but, when the plan to
paint 3,095 mile markers (from Maryland to California) failed, it was back
to the drawing board for a plan to mark the whole trail.
World War I began, and plans were put on hold. Soon after the Armistice,
the NSDAR revived the "Pioneer Mother Movement." Mrs. John Trigg Moss
(Arlene B. Nichols Moss), of St. Louis, was appointed chairwoman of "Old
Trails Road" for the NSDAR. Her idea was to honor the 800,000 pioneer
women who took part in the westward expansion. The group elected to place
a monument in each of the 12 states which the trail passed through.
With the urging of Judge Harry Truman, president of the National Old
Trails Road Association, Congress declared that 12 identical statues at a
cost of $1,000 each would be made. In 1924, Mrs. Moss visualized a statue
similar to one she had seen in Oregon of Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who
guided Lewis and Clark on their search for a water route to the Pacific
Ocean. She took her idea to a stone manufacturer in St. Louis, and he
recommended they contact August Leimbach.
August Leimbach had been born in Germany in 1882 and studied drawing. In
1910 he came to America to visit his brother in St. Louis and stayed,
working throughout the U.S. Back in St. Louis, he accepted the job of
designing the statue. In three days he submitted his design and it was
accepted. Soon he began casting the 12-foot tall, 5-ton statue. He used an
amalgam of crushed granite, stone, marble, cement and lead. The granite,
native to Missouri, produced a pinkish cast which gave the statue a
The "Pioneer Mother" in the sculpture wears a sunbonnet. Clasping a baby
in her arm and with a small boy hanging onto her apron, she is carrying a
rifle. The face of the mother, strong in character, beauty, and gentleness
is the face of a woman who realizes her responsibilities and trusts in
God. She stands upon a base that is six feet high and weighs 12 tons. The
base rests upon a foundation of two feet, making the statue 18 feet tall.
Each of the 12 statues is exactly the same. The East side of the base of
each statue is inscribed "Madonna of the Trail . . . NSDAR Memorial to the
Pioneer Mothers of the Covered Wagon Days." The West side of the base is
inscribed "The National Old Trails Road." The North and South sides
contain local historical data and commemoration.
The first monument was dedicated on July 4, 1928, in Springfield, Ohio.
Within nine months, all 12 "Madonnas" were in place and dedicated. Their
locations, from east to west, is as follows: 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; and
Harry Truman, later our 33rd president, was a powerful force in this NSDAR
project. He dedicated each statue personally in each state along the
trail. In Ohio he acknowledged "the intrepid women," his own grandmothers
included, "who endured the bone-wrenching weariness and difficult travel."
"They were just
as brave or braver than their men because, in many cases, they went with
sad hearts and trembling bodies. They went, however, and endured every
hardship that befalls a pioneer."
On July 27, 1998, at Norfolk, Virginia, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S.
Truman, was commissioned. A 20" x 24" color photograph of the "Madonna of
the Trail" hangs in a place of honor in its Captain's Quarters.
about the National Road
Prairie's History of the National Road
Stories of the
Braddock and His Road
Booklet from 1920s showing route from KC to LA
National Road: Richmond, Indiana