Madonna of the Trail

Dec. 9, 2006 – Part historical monument, part roadside Americana, the Madonna of the Trail is a series of 12 identical monuments dedicated to the spirit of pioneer women in the United States. They were placed in each of twelve states from Maryland to California along the historic National Memorial Highway. Erected in 1928 and 1929 under commission by the Daughters of the American Revolution, the statues were funded through the efforts of Harry S. Truman.

They depict a pioneer woman in a sunbonnet carrying a baby and holding the barrel of a rifle with the other hand while a small boy clutches at her skirts. Most are placed with a westward-facing gaze.

Truman, at the time, was a judge and not yet president. At a dedication, he is quoted as saying, “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.”

“Sad hearts and trembling bodies…” Undoubtedly that was the case for most women, being reluctant pioneers at the behest of their men or families. But what of those who voluntarily sought out the adventure and freedom promised by the Wild West? The literature is scant. Isabella Bird’s 1873 memoir, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains stands virtually alone in its genre. Now a new book has appeared to help fill the subject: Melinda and the Wild West by Linda Weaver Clarke. Melinda fled the stifling society of Boston to seek adventure in southern Idaho. The book is available from American Book Publishers at Publisher Direct Bookstore: or at bookstores everywhere.

Whether a reluctant or a true pioneer, the history of our westward migration has benefited greatly from the strength, vision and character of the untold thousands of Madonnas of the trail.

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