Westport businessmen wanted to put up a life-sized stone wagon train to mark the centennial of the Santa Fe Trail. Instead, local women raised the funds for this 1920 tribute To the Pioneer Mother. It was one of the first pioneer mother monuments erected in the United States.
To mark the 1912 centennial of the Santa Fe Trail, a group
of Westport businessmen formed the Westport Improvement Association. The
Improvement Association sought to install a monument to that trail in Westport,
Missouri. The men worked with the Kansas City Historical Society, the Daughters
of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the Confederacy, other
genealogical organizations, and the National Old Trails Road Association to raise
money for a Pioneer Monument Fund. Together these voluntary organizations hosted
a Santa Fe Trail and Battle of Westport Reunion and Carnival. They envisioned a
life-sized stone sculpture including five yoke of oxen and a “prairie schooner with
wagon-master and bull-whackers and the faithful dog in the rear.”1 They planned to install it at the site of the City Hall of Westport,
which stood on the Santa Fe Trail route.
Plans for a stone sculpture depicting commercial traffic
over the Santa Fe Trail soon faded. But while the other organizations involved
in the centennial event soon turned toward other projects, the Daughters of Old
Westport were determined to erect a pioneer monument in their community.
The Daughters of Old Westport was a group of neighborhood
women descended from the earliest settlers of the town. They ran a doll booth
to raise money for a carnival at the Westport reunion. Their $181 in profit became
the start of an eight-year fundraising campaign.
Instead of a life-sized stone sculpture, the Daughters of
Old Westport settled on a more modest design. It was similar to those erected by the
Daughters of the American Revolution in this era. The Westport women installed
two bronze bas relief plaques on a large boulder, which they placed in the
heart of Westport’s historic business district.
Instead of celebrating the men who hauled goods between
Missouri and New Mexico, the Daughters of Old Westport commemorated the first
women who settled in their town. Sculptor
Merrell Gage’s central bas relief depicts a white mother with her two young
children. She holds a rifle to defend her children against wild animals and the
Native Americans these white settlers displaced. Text in the upper right corner
dedicates it “To the Pioneer Mother.”
On the back of
the boulder, an accompanying dedication plaque features a male trapper and
American Indian reminiscent of those that appeared in earlier pioneer monuments
elsewhere in the American West. The Daughters of Old Westport Memorial was one
of the first monuments to pioneer women erected in the United States. Dozens
more would follow later in the 1920s.