Johnny Appleseed

During the past year and a half that we have been having these history lessons, we have talked mostly about our great leaders, the generals and statesmen, usually those who have held high positions or have been selected for the Hall of Fame.
Today we are going to change the format. We will not be talking about one of the big people, but one of the little people who served this nation in a unique way, one who did not achieve fortune, fame or glory.
It takes all kinds of people to build a nation. Certainly we need dedicated leaders but we also need those who follow—the great mass or multitude of people—generally referred to as the “common people,” people who live, work, and contribute to the strength and stability of our nation.
Here is the first question:
Who was Mentor Graham? He was a country schoolmaster who taught Abraham Lincoln what little book learning he acquired in Illinois. Some historians give credit to Mentor Graham for most of the humanitarian ideas that made Lincoln the Great Emancipator.
There are many such men, who behind the scenes made great contributions to our country, but history hardly records their names.
Who was John Chapman? Have you ever heard of him? Probably you know him by his nickname--Johnny Appleseed. Johnny Appleseed was born in Massachusetts in 1775, one year before the Declaration of Independence was adopted. When he was 26 years old, he headed out from Pennsylvania for the Midwest and for 40 years he wandered the country not seeking land or gold but to plant apple orchards.
Wherever he wandered, he made friends not only among the whites but the Indians. He carried no arms, no worldly goods save a few tattered religious books and his knapsack of precious apple seeds which he planted in many scattered places.
Johnny Appleseed was something of a Circuit Rider with the whole Midwest for his parish, but he did not do much preaching. But if he was spending the night in a farmer’s cabin as he did most of the time (for he was always a welcome guest), he would leave one of his ragged religious books with the family until he returned at some future date. Sometimes he would tear out a few pages and leave them so he could at least leave a little reading matter in more homes.
The nearest he came to preaching a sermon would be to tell the folks he was staying with that his idea of heaven was a great big apple orchard in full bloom. When he was caught out at night on the road or trail, he would read his books and sleep by a campfire. One rainy night he took refuge in a hollow log and found it already occupied by a bear. The two slept peacefully and in the morning parted on good terms. He told someone “the bear didn’t bother me so I did not bother him.” Some have called this ragged rover of the great heart of our country the St. Francis of the West. I don’t know whether Johnny Appleseed thought of himself as a saint but he found a place in the affections of the people for he was greeted with joy everywhere, making friends and planting apple trees.
One of America’s finest poets, Vachel Lindsay, said that Johnny Appleseed was “the symbol of the restless creative spirit of America.” He wrote a poem about Johnny Appleseed—how he crossed the mountains to wander the wide country of the West and left it blossoming behind him.
Johnny Appleseed or John Chapman, the kindly wanderer, is an emblem of our national life in its pioneering days—of the faith, hope and perseverance that caused the Western wilderness to blossom and bear fruit.

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