Since 1890, Americans have erected some 200 sculptural monuments to the “pioneers” who settled western lands. A few of these monuments honored famous individuals, but most depicted generic men or women. By the late 1920s, the designs of pioneer monuments coalesced around remarkably similar depictions of sunbonneted women carrying white “civilization” westward, armed only with a rifle or a Bible.
Despite the growing popularity of cowboys and Indians in film and television, public interest in these “pioneer mothers” declined after World War II. Pioneer monuments increasingly celebrated nuclear family units.
Most western urbanites largely ignored the pioneer monuments in their midst. Yet even as interest in older monuments waned, the Culture Wars and the rise of heritage tourism collided to inspire a new wave of more varied pioneer monuments beginning in the 1990s.
Within this website, you can:
- Explore an interactive map and timeline. Scroll along the timeline and watch as monuments appear across the country.
- Read highlights of this study, including comparisons of similar statues and diverse monuments within one area.
- Browse the 200 monuments included in this study by date, location, artist and title of the work. Read about and view photos of each statue.
- Search for the pioneer monument nearest you.
- Search for individual monuments in the database.
- Read tales and musings on this decade-long research project.
This website is a WORK IN PROGRESS. We invite you to visit again, as more content will be coming soon.