Maiden Warriors, rescued first from damaged courthouse, then from abandonment, unveiled at museum

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BAKERSFIELD Calif. (KGET) — The Kern County Museum is full of artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries and the latest exhibit is no exception. But four Maiden Warriors, unveiled this week, hearken back to a time much, much earlier. Say, a millennium or two.

When the Kern County Courthouse, built in 1912, was deemed unsafe following the 1952 earthquake, workers removed a few noteworthy elements before the demolition crews came in. Of particular note were four limestone sculptures — the Trojan Ladies, as they were called then — which stood atop the courthouse 65 feet above street level.

They were removed by crane and given to the Kern County Museum, which, it was understood, would make them the centerpiece of a public square to be built in the museum’s Pioneer Village.

Instead, they ended up in an old wagon and covered with tarps. And there they stayed for 68 years.

Rachel Hads, the museum’s designated historian, said the indignity just became too much.

“We were clearing out that section, kinda clearing out the weeds,” she said, “and then we kinda came across them and said, ‘We can’t keep leaving them here.’ So we decided they needed to be pulled out. They needed to be seen and restored to their former glory.”

Museum Executive Director Mike McCoy said he was finally motivated to act by District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer, who had seen them while touring the grounds.

“Something about armed Warrior Maidens fighting for justice — I think District Attorney Zimmer liked that,” he said.

Thanks to donations from the Kern County Bar Association and philanthropist William Edmonds, the four stone statues, each about 6-foot-2, have a new home on the west side of the museum grounds — protected by ornamental barbed chain links that once stood in front of the city’s original government building, built in 1876. 

And, a new but necessary touch — metal safety belts, added to protect against any overly enthusiastic museum goers who might decide to ride piggyback — which, by the way, is strictly discouraged.

The statues are only a little over a century old, and they’re showing it in places, but the Maiden Warriors they represent are no mere legend, no fantasy. Stories of formidable female fighters turn up in Scandinavian sagas of the 12th century — and semi-mythological versions of Greek Shield Maidens predate even that by 2,000 years. 

If it seems like history books are full of stories of the exploits of great men, that’s because history, by and large, has been written by men. And women have gotten secondary roles and short shrift. No more, at least not at the Kern County Museum.

The exhibit — next door to the old Havilah courthouse and jail — will be finalized when the 144-year-old metal pillars on the ends of the fence are sanded and painted, the concrete is glazed and information signs completed. But these ladies are ready to be admired, right now, right here.

You have to agree the Maiden Warriors deserved better than what they got at first. Finally, though, they’re on display — no more tarps covering up Kern County history.

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