Maybe I’m just imagining it, but it seems like there are a lot of monuments to various and sometimes obscure causes and personages scattered around Albuquerque. Many of these are quite old and have been moved a time or two from their original locations, usually ending up in someplace a bit more…quiet, shall we say?

That kinda describes the Madonna of the Trail, a likeness of a sturdy pioneer woman and her young children commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and unveiled in Albuquerque in 1928. This lady is not just tough (she’s 18’ tall and made of a mix of crushed marble, Missouri granite, stone, cement, and lead ore) but one of the first public memorial sculptures in New Mexico, too.

In all, twelve identical statues were spread across the country, one in each state that the National Old Trails Road passed through. Seemingly forgotten now, the National Old Trails Road was sort of the father of Route 66, a coast-to-coast highway built in 1912 which followed the storied Cumberland Road and Santa Fe Trail. Symbolizing the same things as the Mother Road later would--exploration and expansion, both personal and national--some of the National Old Trails Road was even incorporated into Route 66.

That all sounds good, eh? Well, it turns out that the Madonna of the Trail was somewhat controversial. She was first offered to Santa Fe but it was said she didn’t quite fit with the “art and architecture” of the city. What did that mean, exactly? I’ll let you look at the photos and make up your own mind. In any case, the Albuquerque DAR got their money together and brought the lady to the Duke City. But not all Burqueños were pleased either. One resident was quoted referring to the Madonna as a “caricature.”

Most people didn’t feel quite so glum about the Madonna though and when the statue was installed in McClellan Park (gazing out over Route 66) the mayor led a parade and a band played patriotic songs. Harry S. Truman, then a district judge in Missouri, even showed up. But the lady’s view got considerably less interesting in 1937 when Route 66 was re-aligned to Central Ave. Still, she stoically kept watch over her increasingly quiet piece of Albuquerque until 1996, when she was taken down for cleaning and moved 100’ north to make room for the courthouse.

And that’s where she stands now, on a little piece of cut grass and manicured stone between 3rd and 4th downtown, beside a time capsule that was also installed in 1928. Perhaps she doesn’t get many visitors, but there is some seating for those who do show up and want to stay awhile. She remains oriented toward the old Route 66 road bed, too, making our Madonna of the Trail one of two still considered true to the DAR’s original intent, face yet upflung toward the sun.

Thanks to NM Places for insight and direction on this one.

John Mulhouse is an Albuquerque-based frequenter of gravel roads, ghost towns, and empty buildings. His blog, City of Dust, features photos and hidden history from all corners of New Mexico and beyond. He publishes a ghost-town-photo-a-day on Facebook.

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Comment by Phil_0 on February 12, 2014 at 10:41am

The weird thing for me about this statue is that this particular chunk of the "primitive west" had been settled by Europeans for more than 200 years before any Madonnas headed west on the pioneer trail. To say nothing of the 750+ years of complex indigenous civilization in the Southwest before that. While the Eurocentrism and lack of regard for indigenous culture is to be expected for the time period, the disregard for Spanish/Mexican settlement in a state that is and has always been so permeated with Hispanic culture is a surprising slight, even in the 1920s. The fact that the DAR - never a bastion of multiculturalism - is behind it explains things a bit more, but doesn't really excuse the revisionist history.

Comment by John Mulhouse on February 12, 2014 at 11:44am

You know, at this point, I interpret the statues more as monuments to the National Old Trails Road and westward movement than as a comment on settlement per se, melodramatic inscriptions (and, sure, perhaps original intention) notwithstanding. Of course, there were identical statues in Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, West Virginia, etc. so I'm certain no special consideration was given to the history of New Mexico. Or any other state, for that matter.

Comment by Phil_0 on February 12, 2014 at 1:18pm

True, but I imagine that the idea of "westward movement" and local perspectives thereon might have played into the controversy you mention when this particular statue was originally erected.

Comment by John Mulhouse on February 12, 2014 at 2:18pm

I would be very interested to know if there were other reasons for the statue not being placed in Santa Fe. I paraphrased the National Park Service, who actually said the monument "did not blend well with the Spanish-style art and architecture" of Santa Fe. But they checked themselves and added that the major reason the statue is here is because the ABQ DAR raised the necessary funds before the SF DAR. (They didn't say whether the SF DAR actually made an effort.) On the other hand, an historian told me the Madonna was rejected outright for being "too ugly."

Comment by once banned twice shy on February 12, 2014 at 3:24pm

Too ugly?  Say, those pioneer women were too damn busy to get mani/pedis, have their hair and makeup done and go shopping for the finest clothes.  Harrumph.

Comment by John Mulhouse on February 12, 2014 at 8:07pm

I don't think anyone will call her ugly to her face, OBTS. Did I mention that's a rifle barrel she's got in her right hand?


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