What Is the Madonna of the Trail?

B. Turner

The Madonna of the Trail is a series of tall statues in the United States (US) dedicated to the lives of early pioneer women. There are a total of 12 of these statues, and each features an identical design. The Madonna of the Trail statues were created during 1928 and 1929 thanks to the work of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a US women's organization. The 12 statutes are located in 12 different states along the National Old Trails Road, which stretches from Maryland to California. Pioneer settlers once used this trail during westward journeys, and it now serves as the federal highway known as Route 40.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

In 1909 the Daughters of the American Revolution petitioned the state of Missouri to sponsor some form of markers or signs along the portion of the Old Trails Road that runs through that state. Their petition was granted, and by 1912, the US Congress had deemed the entire length of the Old Trails Road a National Memorial Highway. It wasn't until 1924, however, that the various groups involved came of with the idea of the Madonna of the Trail statues.

Arlene Moss, a chairwomen for the Daughters of the American Revolution, proposed these statues as a tribute to American pioneer women. She envisioned that the statues would be modeled after a sculpture of Sacajawea that she had seen in Portland, Oregon. The group hired artist August Leimbach to design the statues, which shared little in common with the Sacajawea statue.

The Madonna of the Trail figures feature a stern-faced pioneer women holding a baby in one arm and a rifle in the other. She wears a long dress and bonnet typical of the pioneer period, and a small child clings to her skirts. The statues themselves are nearly 10 feet (3.05 m) tall and weigh more than 5 tons (5.08 tonnes). Each statue sits on a base that is nearly 6 feet (1.83 m) tall, which rests on a riser measuring 2 feet (0.61 m) in height.

All 12 of the Madonna of the Trail statues feature the same design and dimensions. They are made from algonite, which is a blend of crushed marble, granite, lead, and cement. The granite used in these statues all came from a quarry in Missouri, giving all Madonna of the Trail statues the distinct pink coloring that is common with this granite. With the exception of the statues in Maryland and Ohio, all the Madonna of the Trail sculptures face west, just as the early pioneer women did on their journeys.

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