Messanie Wilkins, “The Last of the Saddle Tramps”
In 1954 and at the age of 63, Ms. Annie Wilkins set out on an epic adventure of 7000 miles across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. Her story came alive after a local film student, Kevin McShane, stumbled across it after reading an article in 2001 about a controversy in her hometown of Minot, Maine and renaming of Wilkens’ old road “Jackass Annie Road.”
McShane believed her story had to be told and shouldn’t be lost, saying Wilkin’s story is a profile of courage and she deserves a lot more respect than to be remembered as “Jackass Annie.” So, the result was a 25-minute documentary of her life leading up to her 7000-mile cross country passage, was the culmination project for his master’s degree. As a teacher, Kevin has worked a curriculum into Maine’s history about this strong woman.
I expect Annie’s story to be given a Hollywood treatment. Wilkins wrote in her book about her desire to light up the silver screen. In the meantime, here are some of the highlights of her journey, beginning with her 4-legged companions.
The Minot resident went from indigent to icon when she set out with $32 in pickle money to travel across the country on the back of her horse Tarzan, her dog Depeche Toi and her pack horse Rex. She had lost her farm, had no money or family and had been given a diagnosis that she only had two years left to live. Ignoring her doctors advise to move to the county charity home, she instead donned men’s dungarees, bought a cast-off gelding and headed south in mid-November, hoping to beat the snow.
Between 1954-1956 they rode straight into a world transformed by the rapid construction of modern highways, pushing through blizzards, forded rivers, climbed mountains and clung to the narrow shoulders as cars whipped past them at terrifying speeds. They rode through big cities and small towns. Along the way she met ordinary people and celebrities; she had many jobs offered and even a marriage proposal from a Wyoming rancher.
She arrived in Redding CA in December 1955. After her trip to CA, she returned to her home state of Maine but instead of Minot, she moved in with her good friend in Whitefield Maine where she lived 24 years past her two-year prognosis. 12 years after returning home she was willing to turn her diary and photos into a book, “The Last of the Saddle Tramps.” A triumphant accomplishment from start to finish.
Here’s a link to a You Tube interview about the biography of the trip, “The Ride of Her Life” by Elizabeth Letts, who takes You on the journey. Inside the book: Elizabeth Letts (The Ride of A Lifetime), Penguin Random House. A very profound read about the changing landscapes then….and now. The more you know, the more amazed you will be. Just an ordinary woman doing an extraordinary feat.
She died at age of 88 and is buried in her family plot in Maple Grove Cemetery, Minot ME.