Essay: Madonna of the Trail

Dedication: “N.S.D.A.R. Memorial to the Pioneer Mothers of the Covered Wagon Days
Dedication: “N.S.D.A.R. Memorial to the Pioneer Mothers of the Covered Wagon Days

Dedication: “N.S.D.A.R. Memorial to the Pioneer Mothers of the Covered Wagon Days

We have been taking photos of the various Madonnas of the Trail, one in each of the states we have been passing through. Today we got the last one in Lamar, Colorado! What are these Madonnas and why have we been taking photos of them?

The dedication on the front of each of the almost identical monuments really explains it best. These monuments are set up but the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution and are dedicated to the “Pioneer Mothers of the Covered Wagon Days.”

Usually when we talk about the pioneers, we think about the men, since in those days men were supposed to be the heads of the households and women were supposed to obey their husbands. The pioneer women have often been overlooked, and were definitely under-appreciated in the 1920s when the Daughters of the American Revolution erected these statues. But he pioneer women, who probably were often dragged into their husband’s idea of adventure, were in many ways the real miracles of the trek West.

Well, here the nine statues we have seen on this trip, for the nine states we have traveled through; the remaining ones (New Mexico, Arizona and California) fall outside of the I-70 adventure:

Bethesda, Maryland
Bethesda, Maryland

Bethesda, Maryland
Bealsville, Pennsylvania
Bealsville, Pennsylvania

Bealsville, Pennsylvania
Wheeling, West Virginia
Wheeling, West Virginia

Wheeling, West Virginia
Springfield, Ohio
Springfield, Ohio

Springfield, Ohio
Richmond, Indiana
Richmond, Indiana

Richmond, Indiana
Vandalia, Illinois
Vandalia, Illinois

Vandalia, Illinois
Lexington, Missouri
Lexington, Missouri

Lexington, Missouri
Council Grove, Kansas
Council Grove, Kansas

Council Grove, Kansas
Lamar, Colorado
Lamar, Colorado

Lamar, Colorado

I have to admit, these statues are not pretty. In fact, Nicoline and I have gotten to call them disrespectfully them ugly bitches...

Eric, September 14, 2012

Nicoline Smits wrote on September 14, 2012 at 22:47:08:

It is disrespectful, but it's done tongue-in-cheek, and besides, pioneer life was hard on women. It struck me when we visited the John Brown Memorial Park that Florella Brown Adair was quite a handsome woman when she married Samuel Adair, but she looked like a worn-out old hag by the time of the Osawatomie Massacre. No doubt worries about their safety and that of her half-brother and his sons contributed to that, but she led a difficult life. The information panel in the sod cabin at the Prairie Museum in Colby confirmed that the pioneer life was hardly a picnic: "Loneliness and the stark landscape proved a struggle for many who were used to living in towns and among trees." And that's quite apart from the financial struggle, or the struggle to raise a crop. Perhaps there is a reason for the ugliness of the statues, albeit perhaps unconscious. Socialist realism, indeed.

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Ellen wrote on September 20, 2012 at 10:01:01:

Thanks for the info on these statues. I walk by the one in Bethesda often, and have wondered about it!

You mentioned John Brown. We visited John Brown's farm in Lake Placid this summer - there is an interesting interpretative walk and film about the abolition movement and his attempts to establish a safe community for free blacks in the Adirondacks. He couldn't have picked a less hospitable environment for farming :)

As I drove out 70 to visit my kids last weekend, I turned off on Rt. 30 to see the Flight 93 memorial in Stoystown, PA. On your way home, you may find it an interesting stop.

Be well and travel safe.

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Nicoline Smits wrote on September 20, 2012 at 18:47:28:

We've been to the Flight 93 memorial before. It was very moving. I understand they're building the official memorial now, so I think we'll wait until they finish that. We'll have to put John Brown's New York place on our bucket list for now :-)

PS Hope your kids are doing well. From what I see on FB, it seems so!

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