Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Kiddo - aka Trent - The Famous Cat with Sutton Connections

Kiddo showed up in some recent conversations, including videos on local TV stations. Time to revisit that famous feline associated with Sutton's past. 

Kiddo, later known as Trent, is the most famous cat with Sutton connections even though most people have never heard of him. We've told the story before. It looks like the website "Famous Felines" story of Kiddo has been updated at

The Sutton connection is through Walter Wellman, Captain of the America airship and the man behind this attempt to cross the Atlantic in a hot air balloon as well as an earlier attempt to fly to the North Pole in a similar craft. Wellman was from a homesteading family in York County when he left home to begin a newspaper, The Sutton Times, in Sutton in 1873. He was 14 years old at the time and operated the paper for several years, possibly as long as nine years before heading off to start a paper in Cincinnati and later to work with a Chicago paper.

It was when he was with the Chicago paper that he talked his employers and others into supporting his flying endeavors including his attempt to reach the North Pole in his balloon and later, in the project described here, to cross the Atlantic in his airship, the America.

Kiddo was renamed "Trent" after the British mail ship Trent rescued
Walter Wellman, his crew and his cat. The cat figured prominently in
stories of the rescue.

Another story of the America appeared in the British newspaper, The Telegraph in 2010 describing the airship and the trip, and the cat ... Telegraph Newspaper article  

Walter Wellman was convinced that the future of air travel would be based on the hot air balloon. there is an article online which Wellman wrote well after fixed-wing aircraft were common in which he still was holding out for balloons. 

Walter Wellman - actually a rather distinguished looking fellow, in an early 20th-Century kind of way.

Weather and other conditions did not cooperate as the America was blown off course and an approaching hurricane tempered everyone's enthusiasm for the trip. The balloon drifted about in a large circle and about 400 miles off the North Caroline coast the crew contacted a nearby British mail ship Trent on its route from Bermuda to New York. The crew of the America lowered their lifeboat and in windy conditions with choppy seas managed to transfer themselves to the boat, with Kiddo. 

We have a later account by the captain of the Trent:

'... I had the pleasure of welcoming aboard Mr. Wellman and his five lieutenants and a cat which seemed little the worse for its air experience.' However theNew York Times detected a note of amusement from the agents for the Trent: 'Details of the rescue that appealed to the company's officials here was the saving by Capt. Down of the pet cat, for the Captain's antipathy to felines is well known to his friends.'

Some of us enjoy newspaper stories in which some back story is at least alluded to, one which we would not normally be aware of but are given little hints. Here, it appears that Captain Down of the Trent had a long-standing and well-known dislike of cats which the author slipped in to his obvious delight and, we suspect, to the delight of some small subset of his readers. 

So, not unlike the "Six Degrees of Separation" concept or the Kevin Bacon stories, this is another of our "Sutton Connection" stories. Walter Wellman was a 14-year old newspaper publisher in Sutton in 1873 and likely was long gone from our town by about 1882. He went on to liven up newspaper stories for several years with accomplishments and almost-accomplishments. 

We have no indication that Walter Wellman ever returned to Sutton or even to Nebraska. He may never have thought much about our town as he was living out this interesting life. But we can imagine that late some night, in a small bar near their workshop, Walter Wellman was exchanging lies with his crew members and the stories of The Sutton Times and Sutton, Nebraska were included. 

Crewman Melvin Vaniman with Kiddo on board the America in 1910

So, is this a legitimate story about Sutton history? Well, maybe not exactly, but it is our blog and my time and here it is....

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