By Jeff Fox
The Pioneer Woman is coming back, though she won’t be on display for awhile.
The city of Independence, which operates the National Frontier Trails Museum, needs to address security and other concerns first, said Tourism Director Cori Day.
“It’s really just that we want to do it right,” she said.
The life-size, bronze statue by Juan Lombardo-Revera was dedicated in 1990 at the Trails Museum, a few blocks south of the Square. She held a baby in one arm and a bucket in another. On the weekend of June 15-16, the statue was stolen.
A recycling company in Kansas City rejected an attempt to sell what appeared to be the destroyed remants of the statue – someone at the company identified what appeared to be an arm – and videotape from that helped police find and arrest three people. The cases of two Independence residents and one Kansas City resident are working their way through the courts. The statue has not been recovered.
Another artist has been commissioned for a new statue.
“It’ll be slightly different because we’re not going to try to (repeat) what another artist did,” Day said.
That could be done by the end of the year, at a cost of $30,000 to $40,000.
“We have the funds to replace her,” Day said. “The problem is it will take every dime we have.”
The first statue was near the museum, but the thieves were able to get to it and, according to police, load it into a car.
“For security reasons, she will not be back where she was,” Day said.
The plan is to put the statue near the Chicago and Alton Depot, also on the grounds of the museum. That would give a 360-degree view, but security issues have to be worked out.
“It’s the right place for her to be,” Day said.
A related issue is that the Trails Museum is in the midst of a long-term renovation and expansion. The building would be reoriented toward Osage Street, and officials want a more visual connection between the museum – the building once housed the famous Waggoner-Gates Mill – and the Square. The old water tower, which served the mill, would stay. “It’s part of the landscape now,” Day said.
For the work involving the statue, the city would like to move the Pioneer Spring Cabin, which currently sits, unused, next to the Sermon Center at Noland and Truman roads. Day said it’s falling apart. Moving it means it could be renovated and used for educational purposes.
But the city needs money for all the Trails Museum work, and Day said an in-kind contribution for the cabin would really help.
“It would be awesome if we could get someone to step up and say, yeah, we’ll move it for you,” she said.
It could be next summer, Day said, before the new statue is unveiled to the public, in a historically fitting setting.
“She really needs a sense of place,” Day said.