MADONNA OF THE TRAIL
The Autograph of a Nation
Written Across the Face of a Continent
The idea of marking a
highway was begun in Missouri about 1909 by a group of women who formed a committee to
locate the Old Santa Fe Trail in Missouri. This committee was influential in securing an
appropriation from the State of Missouri to mark the trail with suitable boulders or
This idea further
developed into plans for a highway to be designated as the National Old Trails Road, by
Act of Congress, and the work of marking was carried on in conjunction with the National
Old Trails Road Association.
In 1911, the National
Society Daughters of the American Revolution established a national committee known as the
National Old Trails Road Committee whose work was, primarily, to definitely establish the
Old Trails Road as a great National Memorial Highway.
In 1912, the National
Old Trails Road Association came into being and stated in its bylaws that, "the
object of the Association shall be to assist the Daughters of the American Revolution in
marking Old Trails and to promote the construction of an Ocean-to-Ocean Highway of modern
type worthy of its memorial character." The Association, under the presidency
of Harry S. Truman, guaranteed the expense of the erection of the monuments.
In 1924, the plan was
changed from a proposed small cast iron marker on the Trails to that of erecting 12 large
markers. In 1927, the Daughters of the American Revolution Continental Congress
accepted the design -- The Madonna of the Trail.
The Madonna of the
Trail is a pioneer woman clasping her baby with her young son clinging to her skirts.
The face of the mother, strong in character, beauty, and gentleness, is the face of
a mother who realizes her responsibilities and trust in God. It has a feeling of
solidarity -- a monument which will stand through the ages.
The figure of the
mother is of heroic proportions -- 10 feet high with a weight of 5 tons. The base
upon which the figure stands is 6 feet high and weights 12 tons. This, in turn,
rests upon a foundation that is placed on the ground, standing 2 feet above the level
which makes the monument 18 feet above the ground.
The figure and the
base are made of algonite stone (a poured mass) of which the Missouri granite is used as
the main aggregate, thus giving the monument a warm, pink shade which is the color of the
Missouri native granite. It was thought and expected that this stone had admirable aging
qualities and, with time, would improve in color and solidarity.
On the two sides of
the base are to be found words of historical data or local commemoration. These
inscriptions are of the Revolutionary period or the early history in respective
localities. These monuments were erected in each of the 12 states through which the
National Old Trails Road passes. The design of the monument was that of sculptor
August Leimbach of St. Louis and was offered by Mrs. John Trigg Moss, Chairman of the DAR
At Bethesda, Maryland,
during the week of April 19, 1929, the twelfth of the monuments erected by state societies
of the Daughters of the American Revolution were dedicated to mark the Ocean-to-Ocean
Highway in honor of the pioneer mothers of covered wagon days. It is located beside
the Bethesda Post Office and commemorates the spot where the pioneers spent the first
night out of Georgetown on their way to the west. Bethesda is the eastern terminus of the
Cumberland Road, the first portion of the National Old Trails Road leading to the Santa Fe
Trail. Pioneers from the Tidewater country traveled west in Conestoga Wagons, a type of
covered wagon which originated in Conestoga, Pennsylvania about 1725. They were
large wagons, drawn by four to six horses and were capable of carrying up to eight tons.
The bottom of the wagon curved upward at both ends, and the upper part was usually
painted red and the lower part blue. The white canvas roof was high and rounded,
while the wheels were made with broad rims to prevent bogging down in mud. The
Conestoga was first used by farmers and later carried most of the freight and passengers
that went westward over the Alleghenies from the time of the Revolutionary War until about
1850. The Conestoga wagon was sometimes called the "camel of the
The Madonna in
Bethesda was dedicated nine and one-half months after the first one at Springfield, Ohio.
There was a week of activities in which the birth of our Nation was celebrated with the
154th anniversary of the battle of Lexington of the Revolutionary War. On April 19,
1929, former Postmaster General Harry S. New accepted the monument for the people of
Bethesda. Mrs. Robert A. Welsh, Maryland's State Regent, accepted guardianship of the
statue and ground for the Bethesda Chapter, DAR, known as the Colonel Tench Tilghman
Chapter. The plot was donated by Mr. Walter R. Tuckerman, first President of the
Chamber of Commerce, and his wife Edith. If this land should cease to be used for
the purpose of the site of a patriotic memorial to the Pioneer Mothers of the Covered
Wagon Days, it is to revert to the granters, Walter R. and Edith Tuckerman.
Mrs. William H.
Talbott, who unveiled the monument, was past chairman of the Old Trails Committee and past
regent of her chapter. Judge Harry S. Truman made the address and the Honorable
William Tyler Page led the "American's Creed."
The statue faces east,
with the post office on the north. The inscription on the south:
MARCHED THE ARMY OF
ON ITS WAY TO FORT DUQUESNE.
The inscription on the
THE FIRST MILITARY ROAD
BEGINNING AT ROCK CREEK
AND POTOMAC RIVER,
LEADING OUR PIONEERS
ACROSS THIS CONTINENT
TO THE PACIFIC.
And, so, we Daughters
pay tribute to pioneer mothers as preserved in twelve like monuments in twelve states of
our union. One can wish for no greater inspiration than to pause at the monument of
a Madonna of the Trail and think of the mothers of the past whose pleasures and hardships,
victories and privations we will never know. We may well cherish and perpetuate the
many sterling qualities they hand down to us.
In the words of Mrs.
Moss, "There's a long, long, trail awinding into the land of dreams" of an only
highway from Colonial East through sands of the West, to the Spanish Southwest.
and Dedication Dates:
Springfield (4 July 1928)
Virginia, Wheeling (7 July 1928)
Council Grove (7 September 1928)
Lexington (17 September 1928)
Lamar (24 September 1928)
Albuquerque (27 September 1928)
Springerville (29 September 1928)
Vandalia (26 October 1928)
Richmond (28 October 1928)
Washington County (8 December 1928)
Upland (1 February 1929)
Bethesda (week of 19 April 1929)