Arkansas State Society, National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution Madonna of the Trail: Sculptures marking the "National Old Trails Road" honoring pioneer women


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Madonna of the Trail

Wife and Mother, Cook and Companion
Drover & Sentry, Nurse and Advisor

By Annabelle Amick

Madonna of the Trail - Lexington, Mo.     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 Trail.

     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 life-like look.

     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 Upland, California.

     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." He said,

"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.

Other pages about the National Road

Connor Prairie's History of the National Road

Stories of the National Road

General Braddock and His Road

Booklet from 1920s showing route from KC to LA

The Old National Road: Richmond, Indiana




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spacer.gif (93 bytes)Last update: Friday, February 02, 2007