Near the railroad tracks on Main Street (US. Hwy 287) in Lamar, Colorado, fifty miles north of where I live, is a statue of a woman who represents the pioneering spirit of every woman who went west during the years of the United States’ westward expansion.
She is the Madonna of the Trail.
The Lamar Madonna of the Trail is one of twelve identical statues along the National Old Trails Road, which is, generally speaking, U.S. Hwy 40. These statues have historical inscriptions specific to each statue’s location. The National Old Trails Road was the route pioneers of the covered wagons era often traversed in their journey toward the promise of a new life in an untamed land.
This is the road trip I want to take.
The Madonna of the Trail project began in 1911 when the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) established the National Old Roads Committee. The goal of this committee was to memorialize the Old Roads Trail and have it renamed the National Memorial Highway. By 1912, plans were underway to further commemorate another important aspect of this road, which was to acknowledge the role that women played in westward expansion. The concept of these statues evolved with the plan to erect one statue in each of the twelve states connected by the National Old Roads Trail.
World War I put a temporary hold on the “Pioneer Mother Movement”, but the committee chairwoman, Arlene B. Nichols Moss of St. Louis, persevered. Her vision of the madonna was inspired by the Sacagawea statue in Oregon. Standing firmly alongside Mrs. Moss in her determination to see her statue project to fruition was the president of the National Old Trails Road Association—a not-so-well-known Missouri justice of the peace named Harry Truman. He believed strongly in this project, and he helped get it through Congress at a cost of $1,000 for each statue.
1927 arrived with an approved design by the artist and sculptor August Leimbach. The statues were made using poured algonite stone, which is a mixture of substances. The primary ingredient is Missouri granite.
Originally, all the statues faced generally west, but many years later, a few were repositioned to accommodate specific site’s situations. The west and east sides of each statue’s base carry the same inscriptions, and the north and south sides bear local information.
Each statue is eighteen feet tall and weighs about five tons. The base is ten feet high and the madonna statue is eight feet tall. The stone is a warm pinkish-brown. The mother wears the ubiquitous pioneer woman’s long dress, bonnet, and sturdy lace-up boots. She holds a rifle in one hand, an infant in her other arm, and her little boy clutches her skirts.
The mother’s face is set in a determined and focused expression as if she can see her future and that of her children’s somewhere ahead in that far and distant land upon which she has set her hopes and dreams. There is a look in her eyes that says nothing will keep her from reaching her new home—wherever that home may be.
President Truman personally dedicated each statue (1928-1929). At the Ohio dedication ceremony, he acknowledged ‘the intrepid women’, which included his grandmothers ‘who endured the bone-wrenching weariness and difficult travel’. He went on to say, “They [the women] 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.”
The website, Pioneer Monuments in the American West, Madonna of the Trail, has detailed information about each statue.
What road trip is on your bucket list?
Until next time,
writing through history one romance upon a time
Note: The first image (front view) of the Madonna of the Trail statue is the one in Albuquerque, New Mexico, because my image was too shadowed. The image is in public domain: By W. Guy Finley – originally posted to Flickr as Albuquerque Madonna, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3954051