A Ponca City Monument to Confidence - 405 Magazine

A Ponca City Monument to Confidence

The Spirit of the Pioneer Woman Statue.

The Pioneer Woman statue in Ponca City. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society.

The Pioneer Woman statue in Ponca City. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Historical Society.

Her introduction attracted more than 40,000 people, all eager to see the larger-than-life bronze statue: a pioneer woman, her face one of determination and courage, leading her young son by the hand.

The much-anticipated Pioneer Woman statue was dedicated in Ponca City on April 22, 1930, on the 41st anniversary of the first land run in Oklahoma. Declared a state holiday, the day also included a nationwide radio address by U.S. President Herbert Hoover from the White House. Secretary of War Patrick Hurley, a native Oklahoman, had planned to attend the ceremony but was ill so he spoke from his home.

“There are few men of the West of my generation who did not know the pioneer woman in his own mother, and who does not rejoice to know that her part in building that great civilization is to have such beautiful recognition,” the president said.

E.W. Marland, Oklahoma oil magnate, philanthropist, and future state representative and governor, had often expressed similar sentiments and wanted to honor his own pioneering mother, grandmother, and other women who helped settle the land.

In 1926, Marland launched a national competition to create a statue to express what he called “the spirit of the pioneer woman — a tribute to all women of the sunbonnet everywhere.”

Twelve artists were chosen to submit a three-foot bronze model to be taken across the country for public viewing and voting. Each artist was paid $10,000 for their work. More than 750,000 people viewed the models.

Winning sculptor Bryant Baker’s model, named “Confident,” connected with voters who felt her strength and grit. Today’s visitors can see it too. Her posture is strong and straight. Her eyes look forward to the southwestern horizon as she carries a Bible and protectively grasps her young son’s hand, determined to meet any challenges.

The Pioneer Woman statue, at an initial cost of $300,000, rests on 14.5 acres of land staked during the fourth land run in 1893. The statue is 17 feet tall, weighs 12,000 pounds and is posed atop a limestone base. 

Baker, a world-renowned sculptor, created more than 100 statues and busts during his career but none more well-known than the Pioneer Woman statue. The vision was all his, too, since no one posed for the Ponca City icon.

“I think it grew out of my reading the many stories of James Fennimore Cooper when I was a boy, but the woman was to me the courageous character marching out, carrying all her worldly belongings, her Bible and her son, the man of tomorrow, to a new life … She is the abstract, beautiful, ideal woman of the spirit of great faith and hope,” he wrote in a letter to Gareth Muchmore, former Associated Press correspondent and co-publisher of the Ponca City News.

Though the statue took center stage during the unveiling, Oklahoma’s own Will Rogers added a playful twist as he closed out the ceremony. “That’s a wonderful figure of the boy. That’s the cleanest face I ever saw on an Oklahoma boy,” he said. “That woman’s got on a corset, you know, and we haven’t seen one on in years, but she’s got one on.”

Marland was said to be frustrated with Rogers’ humor, thinking he was making fun of the statue. The crowd may have laughed at Rogers, but then, as now, there’s only admiration for the statue and who it represents and honors.

Interested in making a trip to see the Pioneer Woman Statue? Here’s some more ideas of what to check out on your trip to Ponca City.