Minot is a quiet Androscoggin County town. You wouldn’t expect it to produce daredevils and adventurers, but Minot had a couple of them some 50 or 60 years ago. Their stories earned them and the town some national fame.
Roland R. Maheux’s feat of aerial bravado was celebrated in the popular newspaper cartoon titled “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.” The single-panel drawing (March 17, 1946) showed Maheux in mid-air on the landing gear of his single-engine plane. He would intentionally stall the engine and then step out and spin the prop to restart the engine as the pilotless plane glided along.
National news media heard of Maheux’s solo stunt that he had performed about 50 times at air shows. A Paramount newsreel crew arranged to film him in May 1947. There were cameras behind the seat, on the ground and in a plane flying alongside. The film crew made Maheux flirt with death three times before they were satisfied. The maneuver takes about two minutes to complete.
Although he lived in Auburn, Maheux flew from a small air field he owned in West Minot.
The other unlikely celebrity from the town of Minot was Mrs. Annie Mable Wilkins. At the age of 63, she set out on a cross-country trip on horseback in 1954. She arrived in California 502 days later.
She called herself “the last of the saddle tramps,” and she wrote a book with that title. She preferred the name Mesannie Wilkins, and that’s her byline on the book along with co-author Mina Titus Sawyer, who wrote frequently in the Lewiston newspapers.
Mesannie Wilkins had lived alone a long time and she yearned to see the world beyond the pig farm she had known all her life. After a bout with pneumonia, doctors told her she had only a few years to live, so she decided it was now or never for her extraordinary adventure.
She saddled her 9-year-old horse Tarzan and left West Minot on Nov. 6, 1954. With only $32 in her pocket, she was certain that the kindness of strangers would sustain her with shelter and food, and she was right.
She had problems, but Mesannie persevered and her travels were reported by newspapers all along the way. Her little dog Depeche Toi (French for Hurry Up) ran along beside, with an occasional turn in the saddle while Mesannie led Tarzan.
There were nights in jails, where officials offered a place to sleep, and there were many people along the way who befriended and helped Mesannie.
One story comes from a Web site of the Chadds Ford Historical Society in Pennsylvania. It quotes an interview with Eleanor Flaherty, the owner of the local hotel, who saw the woman on horseback pass by.
“I said, ‘I think you better stay here with us tonight because it is too dangerous for you to go up the hills,’” Flaherty recalled.
Friends of Flaherty bought Mesannie dinner at the hotel, but it’s evident the horseback traveler didn’t know who was treating her. It was world-famous artist Andrew Wyeth and his wife, Betsy.
A second horse, Rex, was added. Rex died of tetanus shortly before she reached North Hollywood, Calif., in late March of 1955. TV personality Art Linkletter learned of it and gave Mesannie another horse named King.
In California, Mesannie also appeared on the Groucho Marx TV show “You Bet Your Life.”
“Last of the Saddle Tramps” is a delightful account of her adventure, and I had the pleasure of meeting Mesannie Wilkins when it was published in 1967. The Portland public relations firm where I worked was hired to publicize it and arrange book signings for her. After years of celebrity following her remarkable trip, Mesannie Wilkins was still a fascinating personality who loved to tell her story. This woman who was told before the trip that she should take it easy lived to the age of 88.
Much of the above information comes from Lewiston Daily Sun and Lewiston Evening Journal clippings preserved by Marge Downing in a large binder of Minot information.
Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and native of Auburn. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]