MINOT — Fifty-nine years ago, Annie Wilkins left her Minot home to travel to California.

On a horse.

With her dog.

At nearly 63 years old.

A woman who liked to wear pants and speak her mind, she wasn’t well-regarded by local folks at the time. Some breathed a sigh of relief when she left.

But Wilkins — also known as Mesannie or Jackass Annie because she rode a donkey to her job at a Lewiston shoe shop — would become famous for the journey. And her odyssey, documented in her book, “Last of the Saddle Tramps,” would inspire others to ride across the country.

On Saturday, nearly 59 years to the days since Wilkins left for her trip, Minot welcomed the latest of those riders — and celebrated Wilkins’ spirit — with a 100-person parade along Jackass Annie Road.

“Women can do stuff just as good as the guys, maybe different stuff, maybe in a different way,” that latest cross-country rider, Sea G Rhydr, told the crowd after members of the Minot Junior History Club read a Walter Wintle poem about the power of positive thinking. “But that poem, nobody would have thought that (of a woman) back when it was written. And Mesannie was part of that change.”

Wilkins began her journey on Nov. 8, 1954. She’d recently lost the last member of her family, and a doctor said Wilkins would likely live only a couple of more years herself. Her mother had always wanted to see California, so Wilkins decided to travel there in her mother’s memory. She readied her horse, Tarzan, leashed her dog, Depeche Toi, to the saddle and, with $32 in her pocket, set off for the West Coast.

Parade organizer Julie Goodell acknowledged that Wilkins was “rough around the edges.”

“In my eyes she was ahead of her time,” Goodell said. “People didn’t know how to handle her in the hometown. She was considered very uncouth because she wore pants and she told people what she thought. In this day and age she wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb, but back then she did.”

Sticking out proved to be a good thing for Wilkins. Her cross-country trip, picked up by newspapers and TV, made her famous. At one point she appeared on the “Art Linkletter Show,” where Linkletter gave her a horse.

The 7,000-mile, meandering journey took Wilkins 17 months. About 12 years later, she wrote a book about her life and the adventure of traveling across America. 

Wilkins died in 1980 at age 88. But her journey lived on through her book, which remains in circulation four decades after it was published.

Rhydr, who’d long dreamed of riding across the country, was one of the people inspired by Wilkins’ book. Two years ago she set out on her own journey, this one from west to east.

“(The book) kicked through the rest of my excuses,” she said. “She wasn’t any more prepared than I was. She didn’t have any more money than I did. She didn’t have any better horse than I did. It was sort of this feeling of, if she could to that at 63, what was my problem at 46?”

Rhydr documented her journey on her blog, Free Range Rodeo. She ended where Wilkins began: Minot.

Rhydr arrived in town Friday, the anniversary of Wilkins’ departure. On Saturday, townspeople gathered for a parade to celebrate Rhydr’s arrival and Wilkins’ adventurous spirit.

“We wanted to celebrate something that pretty much everybody’s forgotten,” said 12-year-old Jacob Hart, a member of the Minot Junior History Club, which helped put together the event. “We’re trying to make sure everybody remembers her because she was a great person.”

The 45-minute parade ran down Route 119 and Jackass Annie Road. Dozens of people walked, rode horses or drove in classic cars as neighbors waved to them and snapped pictures from their driveways. 

“I like anybody who has an adventurous spirit like that. I only wish I could do something like that. I think we all do,” said Susie Reinheimer, one of several women who packed up their horses and drove from Bowdoinham to ride in the parade. “I think we all wish, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to ride across country, coast to coast?”

The parade stopped at the site of Wilkins’ old homestead, where more than 100 people gathered to congratulate Rhydr and pay homage to Wilkins. A bean supper was planned for the evening at the West Minot Grange Hall, as well as a showing of a 2003 documentary about Wilkins. The evening event was planned as a fundraiser for the Minot Historical Society.

Minot is the last stop for Rhydr. She recently bought a home in Mississippi, where she plans to write her own book. 

“I’ve had people say, ‘Oh, I could never do what you do. I could never live without electricity. I could never camp out.’ But, you know, we’re the same gene pool as the pioneers. When did we get so soft?” Rhydr said. “It’s like, yes, I would prefer to be comfortable. Yes, convenience is nice. But it’s not worth wrapping your life around and missing all the other amazing opportunities that are out there if you can just step outside your comfort zone a little bit.”

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