San Antonio Chapter

Ontario, California

Madonna of the Trail

Twelve Madonna of the Trail statues were placed across the United States in 1928 and 1929. The statues were a joint effort between the National Old Trails Association and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Their purpose was to commemorate the routes taken westward by early pioneers. The National Old Trails Road Association was organized in 1912 with Judge (and future U.S. President) Harry S. Truman as its leader. The DAR raised money for the statues and was active in choosing the sites. Usually, the local citizens of the area chosen for the statue donated the site and paid for the installation.

The routes commemorated included the National Pike Road, Boone's Lick Road, Washington or Braddock Road, Cumberland Road, and the Santa Fe Trail. Together, they comprised what was known as the National Old Trails Road. The trail covered 3,000 miles stretching from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles. It crossed the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 9,000 feet. The eastern part of the trail was surveyed by George Washington and authorized as a national highway by Thomas Jefferson. The route passes through twelve states and one statue was placed in each of these states. The twelve statues are located in Bethesda, Maryland; Wheeling, West Virginia; Washington County, Pennsylvania; Springfield, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; Vandalia, Illinois; Lexington, Missouri; Council Grove, Kansas; Lamar, Colorado; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Springerville, Arizona; and Upland, California.

The Madonna statues were designed and sculpted by August Leimbach based on a design idea suggested by Arlene B. Nichols Moss, chairman of the DAR National Old Roads Trail Committee. The Madonna of the Trail is portrayed as a pioneer woman clasping her baby and carrying a gun with her young son clinging to her skirts.

August Leimbach in his own words describes the statue. "The idea I had when I modeled the design was waiting for the father at the blockhouse in the wild west, for the father did not come home as he had promised. She, believing him to be in danger, put her little child in a blanket, grasped the gun, and with the boy ran out in the field to look for the father. The gun is sketched from the gun of Daniel Boone, with his carvings on the shaft. On the ground is prairie grass and cactus brushes, also arrowheads, and on one side in the shadows, there is visible in the original, a rattle snake partly covered by grass."

The figure and base of the statue are made of Algonite stone (a poured mass) of which Missouri granite is used as the main aggregate, thus giving the monument a warm pink shade with the base all the same. The sides of the base commemorate the Old Trails Road and credit the DAR with placing the monuments. The other two sides of each monument usually include local information as well. Each statue weighs five tons. Including the base and foundation, the statues stand eighteen feet tall. The Madonna in Bethesda originally faced east and the Upland Madonna faces south. The rest face west.

The Upland Madonna

The Upland Madonna is located at the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and Euclid Avenue in the center parkway on the north side of the intersection with a backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains.

This Madonna was dedicated on February 1, 1929. A parade and pageant were held. The event was advertised on fifty Pacific Electric Cars and 3,000 posters. A plane flew over to drop flowers on the parade. In spite of rain, 6,000 people attended the event. A memory box was placed in the cornerstone to be opened on February 1, 1979. It contained letters and memorabilia from local organizations. On the 50th anniversary in 1979, the capsule was opened and refilled with similar materials.

The statue was unveiled by Mrs. Caroline Emily Cook. She was also honored in the parade. Mrs. Cook arrived in California in 1850 on the first wagon train to cross this trail into California.

The Madonna site in Upland was chosen from many offered in California. Mrs. Triggs of the national DAR committee felt that Upland was the most beautiful setting of those offered in California.

Four historic trails cross the intersection of Euclid Avenue and Foothill Boulevard in Upland where the Madonna is located. They are the Anza Trail, the Mojave Indian Trail, the old Emigrant Trail, and the Colorado Road, a cross–country route which was used by the Butterfield Stage from 1858 to 1861.

The following inscriptions are on the base of the Upland Madonna:

North side: "The National Old Roads Trail"

South side: "Madonna of the Trail, an NSDAR. Memorial to the Pioneer Mothers of the Covered Wagon Days"

East side: "This trail trod by the Padres in Spanish Days, became under Mexican rule the road connecting San Bernardino and Los Angeles, later the American Post Road"

West side: "Over this trail November, 1826, Jedediah Smith, seeking a river flowing westward, led a band of sixteen trappers, the first Americans to enter California overland"

Over the years the Madonna has suffered several mishaps and has been honored several times. They include the following:

  • Wind storms in 1957 and 1972 damaged the statue. At one time the statue tipped, and the Madonna’s bonnet had to be repaired.
  • 1979 – The 50th anniversary was celebrated.
  • 1987 – The Madonna was rededicated in honor of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.
  • 1988 – Flagpole dedication at the Madonna site
  • February 28, 1991 – The Madonna was damaged in a 5.2 magnitude earthquake centered in Upland. She needed repairs totaling $37,000. Funds were raised by the DAR and the local community.
  • September 18, 1992 – The repairs of the Madonna were completed, and a celebration was held.
  • 2004 – The 75th anniversary of the Madonna was celebrated.

The Madonna is currently maintained by funds raised by the San Antonio Chapter NSDAR. Cleaning and minor surface repairs are necessary every few years. The chapter holds fundraisers to support the Madonna.

Please contact the chapter Madonna chairman, Jean Bartholomew, for more information.