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Madonna of the Trail defies statue-toppling culture

Salena Zito on

BEALLSVILLE, Pennsylvania -- If you are driving too fast, you'll miss her. It often happens at the pitch of the rolling Appalachian Mountain, where she has stood for nearly 100 years: the statue of a sturdy frontier woman holding a rifle in one arm and an infant in another, with another child clinging to her long skirt.

She is Madonna of the Trail. Constructed in 1927, the warm color of the algonite stone provides a telling portrayal of temperateness one imagines a woman protecting her treasure, and about to face uncertainty, would possess.

Her beauty does not lie in her features, as she is rather plain. Instead, it lies in the strength she emotes as a symbol of the American frontier woman, one of hundreds of thousands who often left behind a more quiet life with their husbands in exchange for what they hoped was economic opportunity.

Her expression shows that she knows such an exchange will come at a price.

She is one of 12 identical statues placed across the country in 1928-29 along two migration routes, the National Road and the Santa Fe Trail. People can view her towering, 10-foot likeness not only here in Pennsylvania but also in Maryland, West Virginia, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, California and Arizona.

As she is here, she is often overlooked or neglected. Attempting to pull over and walk around her statue was risky. The cars fly by at a blind spot on a curve and the arc of a hill. But looking at the strength portrayed in every inch of her construction and image, it's unclear whether or not she'd care if you stop.

 

If you do stop, you'd best not whine about it.

A frontier woman probably would have thought it frivolous to honor her, as she is just trying to make a way for herself and her family.

The project to build all 12 monuments to highlight the courage of these women was spearheaded by the Daughters of the American Revolution to remind us that the Wild West was not just a place of stories but also families looking for a fresh start. Along the way, on a quest that included breathtaking vistas, hardship, lawlessness and finding a sense of place in the wide-open spaces of the American frontier, they might find gold.

We've come to a remarkable moment when our culture supports the destruction of monuments designed to capture a sliver of our history. Often, both the mob and the liberal media that chronicle these destructive actions are illiterate in their understanding of history.

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