Going West on the Old Santa Fe Trail
This stagecoach sculpture designed by local Chinese-born artist Kwan Wu, reflects the ethnic diversity of the 19th-century American West. The sculpture was funded by private donations to mark Olathe’s 150th anniversary.
Backstory and Context
To mark its 150th anniversary, the town of Olathe constructed a 10,000-square-foot Heritage Center to accompany the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm historic site and erected a sixty-foot-long bronze stagecoach relief by local artist Kwan Wu.
The sculpture is 60 feet long and 15 feet tall. It features full scale bronze relief of stagecoach and passengers against a concrete backdrop. Stand-alone figures of horses, a woman and young boy emerge from the relief.
Sculptor Kwan Wu was born, raised, and trained in China. He immigrated to the United States in 1988, settling in the Kansas City area. He became a U.S. citizen in 1997.
The stagecoach sculpture reflects the ethnic diversity of the 19th-century American West. Wu’s stagecoach scene is far more diverse than most pioneer monuments. Wu relied on historic photographs and photos of reproduction clothing and a stagecoach as he sculpted the scene. Fifteen characters represent men, women, and children of different ethnicities traveling on the stagecoach. A Latino man and African-American couple sit on the roof of the crowded stagecoach. A Native American woman and her dog wave farewell to the travelers while birds fly overhead.
The sculpture was funded by private donations to mark Olathe’s 150th anniversary. It was dedicated August 14, 2008.
“We wanted to give something significant that the city could be proud of,” said Marlene Natoli, a co-chair of Olathe’s Sequicentennial Committee. The sculpture “doesn’t let the city forget where it came from.”1
The sculpture was originally planned as part of the construction of a 10,000-square-foot, $3 million Heritage Center next to the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm. That plan was set aside when funds ran short. But Wu had already designed the sculpture, which was taken up by the town’s sesquicentennial committee. Local philanthropist Maron Moore contributed half of the $400,000 budget. The anniversary committee raised the other half.
The artist used local residents as models. Donor Maron Moore sits in the front window of the stagecoach. Sesquicentennial Committee co-chair Mike Haskins and Mahaffie employees provided faces for several other characters.
1 Weinstein, Jack. “’Going West’: Local artist completes nod to Olathe’s past.” The Olathe News August 12, 2008.
Kwan Wu Sculptor. Accessed July 23, 2019. http://www.kwanwusculpture.com/html/bio.html.
Prescott, Cynthia Culver. Pioneer Mother Monuments: Constructing Cultural Memory. University of Oklahoma Press, 2019.