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Harry Truman and the Springerville Madonna

Springerville’s “Madonna of the Trail,” one of 12 similar statues across the country, watches over Main Street in the small town with her rifle and children in tow.

Springerville’s “Madonna of the Trail,” one of 12 similar statues across the country, watches over Main Street in the small town with her rifle and children in tow.

“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.”
- Congressman Harry S. Truman at the
Madonna of the Trail dedication ceremony
July 4, 1928, Springfield, Ohio

The Springerville “Madonna of the Trail” looms 18 feet high across from the Post Office on Main Street, also known as Highway 60. She has 11 identical sisters, each in a different state: Bethesda, Md.; Beallsville, Pa.; Springfield, Ohio; Wheeling, W.Va.; Vandalia, Ill.; Richmond, Ind.; Lexington, Miss.; Council Grove, Kan.; Lamar, Colo.; Albuquerque, N.M. and Upland, Calif.

The statues were a project of the National Old Trails Road Association, established by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in 1911 with Harry S. Truman as president.

When asked to sketch a pioneer woman, German-born sculptor August Leimbach said, “When I was a school boy in the old country, the pioneer days in America made a deep impression on me.” He thought of the brave, strong settlers he met when he immigrated to the St. Louis area in 1910 and created a sturdy, big-boned woman, a reluctant pioneer tough enough to survive on the frontier.

Leimbach’s vision was a pioneer mother whose husband had not come home when he promised. Believing he was in danger, she put her little child in a blanket, grabbed the rifle and her boy, and ran out to look for the father.

The five-ton figure stands 10 feet tall on top of an eight-foot base and foundation, all made of poured algonite aggregate. Granite, the main ingredient, gives the statue a warm, pink glow.

Dozens of towns wanted a Madonna statue of their own, and the competition was fierce. Congressman Truman wrote to his wife, Bess: “Arizona put up its claim and I want to tell you it was some job to decide. L. S. Williams from Williams, Arizona, made the best plea I ever listened to, but Williams was like Independence – they never had done anything for the National Old Trails organization. Springerville, which happens to be the residence of J. W. Becker, national vice president, has never missed an opportunity to boost the road and pay his dues to the organization…Kingman had a little old maid there who was a member of the committee and who was supposed to have an unprejudiced mind but who put forward an argument for Kingman every time a point was made for another town. The man from Williams named her incompetent. She was. She lost her town every opportunity to win.”

Congressman Harry S. Truman attended the dedication ceremony in Springerville on Sept. 29, 1928. Local residents are still very proud of the statue, especially members of DAR. They are still aware of how J.W. Becker made sure Springerville was one of 12 American towns to be the home of a Madonna of the Trail.

- Jim Turner, Arizona historian. Photo by author.

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