March is Women’s History Month. My choice for 2021 recognition is the life of an ordinary woman who achieved an extraordinary thing.
I received an ARC of The Ride of Her Life, by award winning author, Elizabeth Letts and met Annie Wilkins. This is the true story of a plain and simple 63-year-old woman in poor health who was told she had less than 4 years to live. Annie Wilkins was the last of her family and unable to work the farm. A kind doctor found her a place to stay at the County Home; a quiet place to wait out her fate. That option didn’t sit well with the hard working, strong willed, and independent Annie.
Ignoring nay-sayers, a poor choice of seasons to start, dead-broke, poor health, inadequate clothing, few food supplies, and without a plan or a map, Annie set on November 5, 1954 from Minot, Maine to fulfill her father’s dream to see California. Her mode of transportation was a retired trotting horse. She reasoned it was better to sit in a saddle and see the world than die of boredom in a rocking chair.
Annie had little formal education and little knowledge of life beyond her Maine farm. Yet she firmly believed in the kindness of strangers and her ability to achieve whatever she set her mind to doing. She did successfully cross into California, just as she started, in the dead-of-winter, on March 25, 1956.
The ride wasn’t always sunshine and roses. She soon learned that automobiles now ruled the roads, saddle tramps were history, and the United States had wicked weather and elevation challenges. Annie also was relieved to find strangers who were kind and generous outnumbered those who were stinkers and hateful people. She suffered injuries and near frostbite but nothing slowed her down for long.
After her journey, Annie fulfilled another ambition. Using her nickname, Mesannie, she submitted her memoir entitled The Last of the Saddle Tramps to a publisher. Editors polished the crusty edges off her character to suit the readers of the God-fearing era. They transformed Annie into “Doris Day”, and the book was published in 1967.
In 2017, the author, Elizabeth Letts, began a lengthy and exhaustive search for facts about Annie, before, during and after her journey, that would culminate in her newest work, The Ride of Her life to be published in June of 2021. Where Annie’s book is told from personal experience, Lett’s new book is more a travelogue of the journey using what remains of Annie’s journals, newspapers articles and personal interviews. The book is nicely annotated.
I found the book fascinating, Annie as stubborn as a mule, the towns and communities along the way generous and invested in her journey. And in the end, I know that dumb luck played a part in her success as well. This journey could not be accomplished today. Horse lovers, history buffs, and curious travelers will enjoy the read.