Three Madonnas of the Trail


In the late 1920s, the Daughters of the American Revolution commissioned the design, casting and placement of twelve memorials commemorating “the pioneer mothers of the covered wagon days.” The monuments were designed by Arlene B. Nichols Moss who, inspired by a statue of Sacajawea in Portland, created plans for a series of ten-foot-tall statues of pioneer women clutching two small children and a rifle. The memorials, now known collectively as the “Madonnas of the Trail,” are located along the route of the National Old Trails highway, “a wilderness trail over which hardy pioneers made their perilous way seeking new homes in the dense forests of the great northwest” that extended from Maryland to California. This is the story of my three ancestral Madonnas: the pioneer mothers of Richmond, Indiana who trekked thousands of miles to provide their children with safety, security and opportunity.

Rebekah (Roberts) Hawkins

Rebekah Hawkins

Rebekah Roberts, my 5th great-grandmother, was born on August 8, 1787 to Thomas and Nancy Ann (Whitson) Roberts. She married Nathan Hawkins on November 26, 1807, and the pair had ten children in Wayne Co., Indiana: Thomas (b. 1808); Ann (b. 1810); Betsy (b. 1813); John (b. 1815); Sally (b. 1818); Jehu (b. 1820); Nathan (b. 1823); Amos (b. 1824); Rachel (b. 1827); and Simeon (b. 1829).

Fearing unrest during the War of 1812, Nathan and Rebekah fled with their children to Rebekah’s brother’s farm in Richmond, Indiana. The couple built a one-room, windowless log cabin for their family on Thomas Roberts’ land; after returning to their homestead at the end of the war, Thomas converted the log cabin into a one-room schoolhouse that still stands today. Nathan’s and Rebekah’s daughter, Betsy, was born in this cabin in March 1813.

A newspaper clipping from the July 7, 1972 edition of the Palladium-Item’s “Our History Scrapbook” series sheds some light on Rebekah’s life outside of the records: “Descendants of the Hawkins family, in lauding the spirit and accomplishments of Rebekah, wife of Nathan Hawkins, said she typified the spirit symbolic in the Madonna of the Trails statues…Rebekah Hawkins possessed the traits of character which enabled her to endure the hardships of pioneer life as well as to enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that she and her family were creating the solid elements of a good citizenship. The drudgery of pioneer life did not dull her appreciation and desire for the finer sides of life. This attitude was not confined to Rebekah Hawkins alone, but was entertained by nearly every pioneer mother.”

Richmond, Indiana’s Madonna of the Trail in Glen Miller Park

Betsy (Hawkins) Harold

Betsy Hawkins

Betsy Hawkins, the third of Nathan and Rebekah (Roberts) Hawkins’ ten children, was born on March 27, 1813 in the family’s one-room log cabin in Richmond, Indiana. She married Nathan Harold, the son of Jonathan and Margaret (Schooley) Harold, on September 19, 1832 and had nine children: John (b. 1833); Henry (b. 1836); Lemuel (b. 1839); Herman (b. 1841); David (b. 1844); Rebecca (b. 1846); Benjamin (b. 1849); Isaac (b. 1852); and Cyrus (b. 1855).

Betsy also features in Richmond’s “Our History Scrapbook” series:

‘In March, 1813, when the bluebirds came, another little daughter, Betsy, was born,’ the family chronicle says, ‘and the family went back to Dover (Webster) in time to make garden…’

This little Betsy, born in this crude and simple shelter, grew to be one of the most interesting and forceful pioneer women of whom we have any record…She grew up in an atmosphere of affection and seems always to have been loved tenderly by those with whom her life was spent throughout her 84 years.

She learned early to weave, to cut garments and to knit, and before she was 20 and was married, she was known locally as a spinner of special deftness. It was she who spun the fine thread from which many women of the Friends Society made their tarlatan or crepe lisse caps and neckerchiefs. This ability to spin she developed through her long life and her children once said she had spun and woven more than 3,000 yards of woolen, cotton and linen fabrics.

Her ability to cook was well known, as was her helpfulness in time of illness. This skill she had opportunity to show when, in 1832, she was married to Nathan Harold and went with him to Carmel…Although he had little formal education, young Nathan had set his mind on being a doctor, and with every cent he could earn he bought medical books.

This is a specific inheritance to their descendants, as they had three sons who were physicians and five grandsons, three of whom practiced in Indiana–Drs. Norris and Albert Harold of Indianapolis and Dr. Frank Harold of Richmond. Henry Harold, the youngest grandson to take medical work, was called ‘Henry the Eighth’ because he was the eighth of the family to be a doctor.

Roberts School7
The Old Hawkins Cabin–later Roberts Schoolhouse–where Betsy (Hawkins) Harold was born in 1813

The next edition of “Our History Scrapbook” details Betsy’s experiences on the American frontier and starting a new life with her husband in the northwest:

In 1833 Betsy and Nathan Harold bought 40 acres, and later more, in Hamilton County because all the ‘free land’ in Richmond had been allotted.

With her baby John, Betsy walked mile after mile, like the true pioneer mother that she was–one of the many Madonnas of the trails–through the heavy forests that lay between Dover (Webster) and Carmel. Her husband drove the ox team and wagon with a few tools, glass and a sash for one window and what household gear they had with them. Nathan, Betsy’s father and her two strong young brothers accompanied them.

At the beech tree or ‘Witness Tree’ on a section line near Carmel they hewed buckey logs for the new home. Then her father and brothers left the young people with one long-handled skillet and its lid, one kettle and lid, a frying pan and, most touching of all, 50 cents in money to pay the postage on two letters to her family so that they might know how she was ‘making out.’ And, excepting love and the courage of youth, that was all Nathan and Betsy Harold had to begin their new life.

To them were born nine sons and one daughter, who was their sixth child. A six-foot loom was installed in the one-room cabin and there Betsy wove when she was not nursing friends and strangers in need, educating her family and entertaining the yearly meetings of the Friends church. Her sons helped her with her housework and she early taught them thrift and skill.

Richmond, Indiana’s Madonna of the Trail Plaque in Glen Miller Park

Sally (Hawkins) Bond

Hawkins, Sally (2)

Sally Rebekah Hawkins, the fifth of Nathan’s and Rebekah’s ten children, was born on April 23, 1818 at the family homestead. She married Pleasant Bond, the son of Thomas and Mary (Nation) Bond, on July 26, 1837 and had seven children: Phebe (b. 1838); Exum (b. 1842); Hiram (b. 1844); Thomas (b. 1846); Elam (b. 1848); Anna (b. 1853); and Alpheus (b. 1855). I descend from Sally’s son, Thomas, through my Cook ancestors on my dad’s side of the family tree; my 2nd great-grandmother, Mollie Sally (Bond) Cook, was named after her grandmother, Sally.

Pleasant died on September 2, 1862 in Warren Co., Indiana, leaving Sally a widow at the age of 44. To support her family and maintain the homestead, Sally sold hand-sewn quilts and clothing at market, and her sons came home to help harvest the crops at the end of each season. Sally descended from strong Quaker roots: her father, Nathan, was known for “his strength, tradition saying he could lift as much as four men,” and her mother, Rebekah, was a “true pioneer woman” who “possessed the traits of character which enabled her to endure the hardships of pioneer life.” My 4th great-grandmother used what she knew and the resources she had left to raise her children, to ensure that they had access to school and to help them as they eventually made their own way on the American frontier.

Hawkins, Sally (1)
Clockwise from top right: Elam, Thomas, Hiram, Sally, Exum, Alpheus, Anna & Phebe, Abt. 1895

8 thoughts on “Three Madonnas of the Trail

  1. I found your link on the Celebrating Women Blog Party. I live near Richmond. I’ve always loved the Madonna of the Trail there at Glen Miller. I have several Wayne County lines.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by! It’s great to hear that it does exist from someone living in the area, you know? I research the places that my ancestors lived in, but it doesn’t feel real until I visit them myself. Here’s hoping I can make a trip up to Glen Miller Park soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What terrific stories about your ancestral family. I have a special fondness for the Madonnas of the Trail. My DAR chapter is caretaker of the one in Upland, California. They are approaching their centennial birthdays and are wonderful memorials of the country’s westward movement.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m in the process of joining the DAR, and I wish there was a statue around here! The closest is in West Virginia–I’ll just have to make a detour one of these days when I’m driving up to Buffalo to visit my grandparents.


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