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By Terry Ommen
Dusting Off History 

The Pioneer Is Gone – Something Should Be Done!

 

Last updated 7/16/2023 at 3:54pm | View PDF

The Pioneer at Mooney Grove Park in about 1960

In 1915, the famous American artist Solon Borglum revealed to the world a statue he called "The Pioneer." It stood at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco at the entrance to the Court of Flowers. It depicted a "triumphant American" man on horseback with a buffalo skin, carrying a rifle and an axe. It represented a rugged pioneer advancing forward on his way to winning the West.

Nearby at the exhibition stood James Earle Fraser's "The End of the Trail", a statue that many considered a companion piece to The Pioneer. The Fraser statue showed a weary Native American warrior on an equally tired horse, and to Fraser it represented his sadness that native people were being "pushed" into the Pacific Ocean.

After the Pan-Pacific Exposition was over, many of the statues on display were offered free of charge to groups willing to pay the cost of crating and shipping. The Tulare County Forestry Board, which was the agency responsible for the administration of county parks, applied to receive The Pioneer statue. Thomas Jacob led the effort to acquire it for the county saying, "That is the one piece of statuary we want..."

On April 7, 1916, the statue was awarded to Tulare County.

The $150 charge was paid and on May 2nd, several crates of statue pieces arrived by flatcar at the Visalia Southern Pacific Depot. They were delivered to the recently acquired Mooney Park. Damaged segments were repaired and all were assembled, and in November 1916, the work was finished. The completed statue was mounted on a pedestal and went on display at the park entrance.

For over six decades, The Pioneer was the pride of Tulare County as it welcomed visitors to the beautiful park. During that time, the plaster of paris statue was exposed to rain, fog, heat, frost and even abuse from visitors. County workers painted, varnished, sealed and repaired it as best they could, trying to hold it together, a very difficult job considering the statue was originally made to be temporary.

On Sunday, May 25, 1980, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit Mammoth Lakes, California, northeast of Tulare County. The county felt the 6.2 magnitude jolt and suffered only minor damage, but the tremor proved to be disastrous for the 64-year-old statue.

No one witnessed the collapse, but by Tuesday morning, May 27th, the statue was found in a pile of rubble, destroyed beyond repair.

The salvaged sign that once stood in front of The Pioneer statue (Photo courtesy Tulare County Museum)

So for the last 43 years, only the statue pedestal is on display perched on a picturesque little knoll just inside the park entrance. But the years have not been kind to it and it is falling into serious disrepair. The concrete is cracking, and the ground squirrels continue to undermine it structurally.

We lost The Pioneer and we are slowly but steadily losing its pedestal. How long should we be forced to watch the indignity of it falling apart? How long should Mooney Grove be without a welcoming entrance feature?

The site is special and calls out for attention. Thomas Jacob had a vision 107 years ago. Where are the visionaries today? We have a wonderful opportunity to add to the park's beauty, so let's take advantage of it!

Note: In 1919, The End of the Trail statue also was acquired by Tulare County and, for over six decades, Mooney Grove Park was home to both of these historic pieces.

 

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