The Facts Behind a Folk Hero!
Who Was Johnny Appleseed?
By Joan Holub; illustrated by Anna DeVito
There are many legends and facts surrounding the folk hero named John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed.
My blog was prompted by our apple harvest of Dandee Reds, Macoun, Honey Crisp, Gala, Fuji, Golden and Red Delicious apples.
Was this man called “Johnny Appleseed” a country dreamer that traveled in a burlap sack with a metal mush pot on his head scattering apple seeds willy nilly….or was he a whole lot more than the legend? Young readers will be very interested in a man that had a dream and a practical side that made it happen.
I wanted to delve a bit deeper into the life of this extraordinary man, born in Leominster, Massachusetts, who traveled west with settlers, as far as Indiana. And all the while, he was planting apples and creating orchards with seeds harvested from cider mills. In fact Mr. Chapman was a pretty savvy business man.
Selecting spots for his apple orchards, he fenced them in with wood from fallen trees. Thus deer and other animals were prevented from helping themselves to his trees. And, apparently he came back regularly to check on them to see how they were fairing.
And he was a sort of door to door salesman, selling his seeds and seedlings to settlers that he came upon as he headed west.
Did you know that most of his trees were wild apple trees? Honey crisp and Fuji, that we grow, and are found in local grocery stores, would have been very unlike his wild fruit variety.
Ms. Holub has done a great job of fleshing out the real John Chapman from the storybook legend. And, it seems the reality of his life was as adventurous as the legend.
Reaching into Pennsylvania and on into Ohio, he had, according to Ms. Holub’s book, an uncanny knack of figuring out the next spot that settlers would head…and arriving before them. And he planted his apple trees there.
Stories filled his head and he relayed them to settlers where he was always welcomed for a tale or two. And he always traveled barefoot! Even in the cold of winter, it was said that the skin at the bottom of his feet was so thick that it was said a rattlesnake couldn’t even bite through it. One did though, while he was clearing a new orchard. Unthinking, he killed the snake and it was said he “felt terrible about it” as he loved all living things.
A popular story said he entered a hollow log in winter to find shelter only to find a mother bear and her cubs ensconced. Rather than remove them, he preferred to sleep in the snow, so they could keep warm. Now that is hospitality!
Coffee burlap sacks were his clothing as fashion was not high on his priority list. He was a “good apple”, helping settlers that needed a hand. And did you know that he was a vegetarian? Berries, grain and potatoes cooked in a pot of pure creek water sufficed for a meal. He refused to kill animals.
He hated fighting and instead of fisticuffs, Johnny would challenge the man to a tree chopping contest. By the time they were done felling the tree, the man was probably too tired to waste much energy on anger.
By the time he died, there were 27 states and John Chapman had planted apple trees in three of them – Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.
And apples must have run in the Chapman family’s blood, as his great great great grandparents also grew them in the 1670’s.
If you want to have your young reader enjoy a fully fleshed out portrait of a man in love with nature and the apple; who has books, songs and stories written about him, and even an official Johnny Appleseed Trail in northern Massachusetts, plus a festival in his honor, then “Who Was Johnny Appleseed?” by Joan Holub is a winner.
I was sad to read that many of the trees he planted would be dead now, but seedlings from some of his trees are still growing outside the Johnny Appleseed Museum in Urbana, Ohio.
Sure would like to plant one of those in our orchard!
The entire “Who Is?” and “Who Was?” series is well worth investing in for your young reader. These are chapter books full of facts and fun stories about real people that will both entertain and enlighten. Even parents and grandparents will be charmed by the easy accessibility of information. Listed is a sampling of the more recent names featured in the books: