A baby on her hip and a rifle in her hand. These were the mothers of the pioneer days. At least that is what the sculpture of Missouri Madonna of the Trail depicts.
Still, this monument in Lexington, Mo., struck me as one that transcends time. It represents every generation of mothers — those who work hard, explore the unknowns, value family and will do anything to protect it all.
There are 12 monuments to the Madonna of the Trail across the country. Missouri is home to one of them. It was commissioned to show the spirit of our country’s pioneer women in the late 1920s by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Lexington was a town settled in 1820 by Virginia and Kentucky pioneers, according to the inscription on the base of the monument.
Making of a Madonna
Arline Moss was the National Old Trails Committee chair in 1922 and decided to honor the pioneer mother. Her son, John Jr., was an artist and architect. They enlisted the help of a sculptor to complete the work. Together, they created the design for the statues that span from California to Maryland.
Each monument is made of algonite stone, and Missouri granite is the main aggregate giving the Madonna a warm pink shade. She stands 10 feet high on an 8-foot base and weighs 5 tons, according to the Missouri 2021 committee, which is completing a restoration for the state’s bicentennial celebration.
The sculptor August Leimbach said his work depicts a pioneer woman whose husband did not come home. Believing he was in danger, she put her child on her hip, grasped the gun, and with the boy clinging to her dress, ran out to the field to look for him. That’s one interpretation. The beauty in art is it is up to those who view it to find meaning.
For me, this woman is like any modern-day farm mother. Her upright stature shows she faces the unknowns head on from the early years of weather, bandits and wild animals, to today’s markets, health and the government. They both stand with resolve.
Her face is weathered but determined. As a pioneer woman, she worked with her hands to create a home and a crop. Now, farm moms work on the farm and off-farm jobs where they are innovators in science and technology, all while running kids to sports, piano and livestock shows. Despite being tired, they work because they care for their family.
She has a firm grip and a steady hand on the next generation. Farm moms hold their kids tight; some may say too close. I disagree. Whether the hem of a mom’s skirt or bottom of her blue jeans, all moms are holding on to the future generations to guide and direct.
Only by being close can kids truly see the risks it takes to face the unknowns, how family is the one thing that truly matters and that protecting one’s livelihood is worth the sacrifices.
That is my take on the Madonna of the Trail. After seeing her, I know she represents the modern Madonna of Agriculture, too.
Happy Mother’s Day.