Oklahoma is home to one of the United States’ best-known pioneer monuments. In 1927 oilman E.W. Marland sponsored a competition to select the best portrayal of pioneer womanhood for his adopted hometown of Ponca City. Twelve 3-foot bronze sculptures toured major cities across the country; art critics and average Americans evaluated their designs. Marland selected the public favorite, Bryant Baker’s Confident, to become Ponca City’s Pioneer Woman monument. Like the 12 identical Madonna of the Trail statues erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution and less-known Pioneer Mother monuments that followed, Ponca City’s Pioneer Woman depicts a young mother in a sunbonnet striding bravely westward.
Most later Oklahoma pioneer monuments portray scenes specific to Oklahoma’s history as a former Indian Territory. Two–in Guthrie and Broken Arrow–depict the state of Oklahoma as a marriage between white cowboys and Native American women. And eight monuments depict late-19th-century land runs when settlers rushed to claim lands taken from Native tribes that had themselves been relocated onto other Indigenous groups’ homelands decades earlier.
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