Pioneer Mother's Memorial Forest

pioneer mothers memorial wall Imagine walking through Indiana 100 years ago. Instead of cornfields and forested hillsides of young trees, there were 19,000,000 acres of old growth forests. Walnut trees 40 inches in diameter and 130 feet tall were common. Ancient oaks, which had stood since before Columbus discovered America, were abundant.

You don’t have to just imagine, you can visit Pioneer Mother's Memorial Forest and step back into the past. This 88-acre area is located just south of Paoli, Indiana. large tree in pioneer mothers memorial forest

Formerly known as Cox Woods, the tract is one of the last old growth forests of it's size in Indiana. The site has been left virtually undisturbed since before it was purchased by Joseph Cox in 1816.

Joseph and Mary Cox came to Indiana from Tennessee in 1811 and acquired 258 acres near what was to become the town of Paoli. Cox loved trees and set aside a hillside of forest land to save for future generations. His land stayed in the family and eventually passed to another Joseph Cox who shared his grandfather’s love of the stately old trees. He resisted pressure to sell the large trees despite poverty and debts. The second Joseph Cox died in 1940. His heirs quickly sold his property, including the tract of old growth timber, to Wood-Mosaic Lumber Company of Louisville, Kentucky for $23,000.

big trees in pioneer mothers forest

When the sale was publicized in local papers, a movement was started to save the unique tract from harvest. The Meridian Club of Paoli convinced Wood-Mosaic to refrain from cutting the timber for 90 days and to resell the tract at the purchase price. The community then began a massive fund-raising effort.

The Forest Service also initiated efforts to help save the old forest. The agency was able to procure half the funds needed as long as the land would be controlled by the Forest Service. The remaining money was quickly raised with one day of grace and the land bought back from the lumber company. Two conditions were attached to the donations received from the community.

First, no trees on the 88 acres could ever be cut. Second, in tribute to the $5,900 donation from the Indiana Pioneer Mother's Club, the area would be named the Indiana Pioneer Mother's Memorial Forest and a suitable memorial would be built. A rock wall memorial was completed in 1951 and the area was officially dedicated in 1955.

visitors at memorial wall

In 1944 the tract was designated a Research Natural Area by the Forest Service. Along with a 165-acre buffer, the area is managed to protect its unique qualities.

Today, because of the determined commitment of many people, the Pioneer Mother's Memorial Forest has been preserved. These great trees now stand as a monument to the massive deciduous forests that covered Indiana 200 years ago.

Before the Cox Family Arrived

children in pioneer mothers memorial forestLong before Joseph Cox arrived in 1811, Native Americans inhabited this area. One group is known as the Oliver Phase people. These prehistoric people are believed to primarily have lived in White River valleys between A.D. 1000 and 1500. They were a farming culture that lived in small groups (up to about 100 individuals). While most Oliver Phase villages have been found along the White River, at least one village was along Lick Creek in what is now the Pioneer Mother's Memorial Forest. This site was dated to A.D. 1380.

Survey reports noted the archeological value of the Lick Creek site as early as 1876. In the 1940’s, Jesuit missionaries collected artifacts from the site and did some excavation. Since a portion of the area had never been plowed it was still apparent where the walled village had been.

Restored pottery from an Oliver phase villageThe pottery shown here is from an Oliver Phase village and is what the people who lived at the Lick Creek Site would have used.

A double-walled post stockade designed for defense encircled the village. This stockade enclosed over an acre of land. Excavations by the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archeology at Indiana University in 1993 and 1994 defined the walls and scope of the village. Further study focused on identification of house sites and a central plaza, and study of the daily life of these people. The lithography below shows what the village might have looked like.

drawing of an oliver phase villageEven though vandalism and illegal digging have disturbed some of the area, the site is still eligible to be on the National Register of Historic Places.

Archeological sites hold clues to America’s past. Federal law protects them. If you discover such sites, leave them undisturbed and report your discoveries to the Forest Service. Like the tall trees preserved for future generations on the hillsides above the site, archeological resources are shadows of our past - a tie to the people and cultures that came before us.

Logs cut from trees at Pioneer MothersAlthough most records show there were never any trees harvested from the Pioneer Mother's Memorial Forest, there may have been two trees cut in 1936. Possibly Joseph Cox, facing a depression economy was forced to sell two of his beloved trees.  These logs were shown in a USDA photo from that year. The caption with the picture said two trees from Cox Woods near Paoli, Indiana sold for $1,200 (a phenomenal amount for that time!) These logs were from one of those trees which included a 16' x 33", 16' x 32", 16' x 30", 16' x 28", 16' x 27", and 12' x 27" log, plus 2 limb logs.

Pioneer Mother's Trail

This one mile, hiking only trail runs between the parking area on State Road 37 and U.S. Highway 150. The memorial wall's location now seems rather odd, however it once stood near the site of a former picnic area accessible by a road on Highway 150. The access road has been closed and the picnic site removed. Limited parking is available at the access road to Hwy 150, however this road is not signed and visitors would need to hike down the old road to access the trail. Preferred access is from S.R. 37. 

Map of Pioneer Mothers Area with TrailNote: Since this area is a Research Natural Area no hunting, camping, target- shooting, or plant collecting is allowed. Horses and bikes are also prohibited in this area.

Printable Informational - Recreation Opportunity Guide Format

Click here for information on a research study on oak seedling dispersal at Pioneer Mothers Memorial Forest.