Disney’s Johnny Appleseed


Johnny Appleseed's Bible features prominently in the Disney version of the story, from the 1948 animated feature Melody Time.

Johnny Appleseed’s Bible features prominently in the Disney version of the story, from the 1948 animated feature Melody Time.

John Chapman earned the nickname “Johnny Appleseed” during his lifetime, and people started sharing stories about the eccentric apple tree planter in the Ohio and Indiana communities where he spent much of his life long before he died in 1845.  But Johnny Appleseed did not emerge as a figure in the American national origin story until the 1870s.  In the late 19th century and throughout the first half of the twentieth century, most of the promoters of the Johnny Appleseed legend were social reformers, some of a socialist bent, who celebrated Johnny Appleseed’s efforts to promote a common social good by providing apple trees available to all.   After World War II, the range of acceptable national myth narratives narrowed considerably. As the United States increasingly defined itself against Soviet communism, interpretations of Johnny Appleseed

Disney made Appleseed part of its team of early American superheroes, alongside Paul Bunyan, John Henry and others.

Disney made Appleseed part of its team of early American superheroes, alongside Paul Bunyan, John Henry and others.

reflected this change. When Disney released an animated version of the Johnny Appleseed story in 1948, John’s faith in God was front and center. The narrator stated that three other great nation builders had their distinctive tools in their mission— Paul Bunyan had his axe, John Henry his hammer, and Davy Crockett his rifle— but Johnny Appleseed’s tools were his bag of apple seeds and his Holy Bible. The cartoon opens with a young Johnny singing a Disney-created song that has come to be known as “The Johnny Appleseed Grace,” and many believe it was actually written by Chapman.

disneyjohnnypotbibleThe Lord’s been good to me

And so I thank the Lord

For giving me the things I need

The sun and rain and the apple seed

Yes He’s been good to me

disneyjohnnyguardianThe Johnny Appleseed story told by Disney is a near perfect sermon on postwar American values. Faith in God and the ability of the individual to make a difference in history are the central themes. Johnny celebrates American freedom, singing, “Here I am ’neath the blue blue sky, doing as I please,” thanking God for that freedom. Soon his attention is drawn to a long train of Conestoga wagons pushing west, each containing a pioneer family. The wagon train has its own song celebrating American individualism:

disneyjohnnyconestogaGet on a wagon, rolling west

Out to the great unknown

Get on a wagon rolling west

Where you’ll be left alone.

The rivers may be wide

The mountains may be tall

But nothing stops the pioneer

we’re trailblazers all.

While John longs to join them, he believes he cannot— that he is too weak and too small,

The diminutive Johnny goes west without a gun, but in the Disney version, this is a result of his poverty and small size. No pacifist, he dreams of emulated the gun-toting frontiersman.

The diminutive Johnny goes west without a gun, but in the Disney version, this is a result of his poverty and small size. No pacifist, he dreams of emulated the gun-toting frontiersman.

and does not own the gear he needs. Johnny’s “private guardian angel,” sent down from heaven, convinces him that all he needs is his faith, his Bible, and his apple seeds. Johnny sets out through a rugged wilderness, “a little man all alone, without no knife, without no gun,” but to avoid the impression that Johnny is a pacifist, Disney included a scene where he imagines he is shouldering a rifle like the ones he saw the men on the Conestoga wagons hold, and another where he picks up a stick from the woods, and pretends to aim and shoot with it.

The creatures of the wild forest Johnny Appleseed will transform into an ordered orchard embrace him as a friend.

The creatures of the wild forest Johnny Appleseed will transform into an ordered orchard embrace him as a friend.

Notably, the Indian makes only a minor appearance in Disney’s Johnny Appleseed. Instead, Johnny Appleseed works to win over the trust of the forests animals, convincing them, by his kindness, of the benign nature of his mission to transform the wilderness. The Disney story ends with an image of an aged Johnny Appleseed atop a ridge, his shadow stretching across a transformed landscape of fields and orchards:

disneyjohnnyoldhilltopnurseryThis little man, he throwed his shadow clear across the land, across a hundred thousand miles square and in that shadow everywhere you’ll find he left his blessings three love and faith and the apple tree.

Despite the story’s celebration of individualism, Disney’s Johnny Appleseed stopped short of praising difference in favor of conformity. Johnny Appleseed was a generic Christian in the story, not an apostle of unconventional Swedenborgianism. Johnny Appleseed could be an eccentric in postwar America, but the boundaries of that difference were increasingly constrained in a culture that valued conformity even as it professed to celebrate the power of the free individual.

You can view the entire Johnny Appleseed animated short here:

Johnny Appleseed and our National Origin Story


Like most Americans of a certain age, I first encountered Johnny “Appleseed”  Chapman in elementary school.  In the story as I remember it, Chapman was a pious Yankee committed to a life of simplicity and benevolence. He determined at an early age to devote his life to one purpose–bringing the blessings of apple trees to the new lands in the developing West. His trees brought sweetness to the hard lives of pioneer families and helped sustain them in their labors. Wandering across the West in bare feet and ragged cast-off clothing, sleeping outdoors, and planting apple seeds wherever he went, Johnny Appleseed took pleasure in denying himself the most basic human comforts in order to carry out his mission. He asked for little in exchange for his trees—some old clothing, a simple meal, or from the truly destitute, nothing at all.  He radiated a spirit of peacefulness and both Indian and white man trusted him completely. He loved all of God’s creatures and was loath to harm any of them. One story recounts that he doused a fire and slept in the cold when he discovered that mosquitoes were flying into the flames to their destruction.  In the elementary school myth, Johnny Appleseed’s energy for planting trees was super-human. Nearly all of the orchards in the new west were the result of his labors.  He was St. Frances of Assisi and Santa Claus wrapped into one bundle.

Mansfield, Ohio boys wear tin pots on their head to honor Johnny Appleseed in 1953.


The myth of Johnny Appleseed is a part of our national origin story, in which the United States expands into the trans-Appalachian West in the years after the American Revolution. Johnny Appleseed isn’t the only hero in this drama, and in fact he is a curious outlier.  Men like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Mike Fink present a jarring contrast to the gentle tree-planter. Violence–directed at Native Americans and nature–lay at the heart of their stories, while Appleseed is remembered for sowing, not destroying. The short explanation for this difference is that the Boone, Crockett and Fink myths first flourished in the age of Andrew Jackson, and reflect that era’s obsessions with masculine aggression. The myth of Johnny Appleseed, in contrast, was a product of the Victorian era, when sentimental feeling and feminine traits were more commonly celebrated.

Mansfield, Ohio boys dressed as Indians in front of the local Johnny Appleseed monument in 1953.

Appleseed, along with Boone, Crockett, and Fink, received updates during the Cold War as each was deployed to serve new concerns. Among the most powerful disseminators of these legends was the Walt Disney Company, which seized on the westward expansion story to target a new audience of baby boomer children. Disney sanitized the most gruesome aspects of the Crockett and Fink traditions, yet even after this cleansing, the contrast with Johnny Appleseed remained startling. Mike Fink, Davy Crockett, and Daniel Boone were archetypes of American manhood, and even in the Disney versions, violence was nearly always central to their stories. Disney also added the thoroughly mythical Paul Bunyan to this cast, and celebrated him for his prowess felling whole forests of trees. Johnny Appleseed, in sharp contrast, devoted his life to planting them.

Johnny sowing appleseeds in Disney’s 1948 film Melody Time.

Nevertheless, most American children of the Cold War era understood Johnny Appleseed to be a member of the same team of frontier superheroes.  Boone, Crockett, Fink, Bunyan, and Chapman were all actors in a drama about transforming a continent. Crockett and Boone cleared the land of menacing Indians and wildlife; Fink helped make the interior rivers safe for commerce; Bunyan cleared the forest; and Appleseed planted fruit trees to prepare the land for white American farm families. In Cold War versions of these stories, Boone and Crockett reluctantly used violence as a last resort. These heroes protected American families from a red menace on television shows like Walt Disney Presents and Daniel Boone at a time when American soldiers were doing the same in other parts of the world. In that context, Johnny Appleseed symbolized the other American response to the threat, winning hearts and minds with charity and benevolence. If Crockett’s war against the Red Stick Creeks explained American military involvement in Korea, Appleseed’s unbounded benevolence was a metaphor for another approach to the same danger, manifested in American aid programs and organizations like the Peace Corps.

Myth and Reality in the American Southwest


Today we are delighted to present American Orchard’s first-ever guest post, by Ben Railton, Professor of English and American Literature at Fitchburg State. Dr. Railton is the author of several publications, including the just-released Chinese Exclusion Act: What it Can Teach Us About America (Macmillan, 2013) as well as Redefining American Identity: From Cabeza deVaca to Barack Obama (Palgrave, 2011).  He also maintains the American Studies blog.

Myth and Reality in the American Southwest: On two folk heroes, and the competing frontier histories they reveal.

PecosBillEven as a kid, encountering his stories in a compilation of tall tales, I could tell that Pecos Bill was a bit of a Paul Bunyan knockoff—an outlandish origin story (Bill fell out of a wagon as a baby and was raised by a pack of wolves as one of their own), similarly larger-than-life animal companions (his otherwise un-rideable horse Widow-Maker, the rattlesnake Shake that he used as a lasso), an equally mythic love interest (Slue-Foot Sue, who rode a giant catfish down the Rio Grande). So I wasn’t surprised to learn that Bill was a late addition to the “big man” school of tall tales, likely created in 1916 by Edward O’Reilly and shoehorned back into the mythos of Westward expansion and the frontier.

That Bill didn’t come into existence until a half-century after the closing of the frontier doesn’t lessen his symbolic status, however—if anything, it highlights just how much the mythos of the American West was and is just that, a consciously created set of myths that have served to delineate after the fact a messy, dynamic, often dark, always complex region and history. Moreover, that mythos was as multi-cultural as the West, as illustrated by Mexican American folk hero Joaquin Murrieta, “the Robin Hood of El Dorado”: Murrieta, a California 49er from northern Mexico, first came to national prominence in a popular dime novel, John Rollin Ridge’s The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta (1854); the tales of his banditry have been a part of the region’s folk history ever since, including a cameo as Zorro’s older brother in the Antonio Banderas film The Mask of Zorro (1998).

Yet however much Murrieta’s story has been fictionalized and mythologized, it did originate with an actual historical figure—and that distinction can help us see past the myths to some of the frontier’s messier, darker, and more defining realities. For one thing, Murrieta apparently began his outlaw career after he and his family were violently dispossessed of a land claim, events which connect to the social and legal aftermath of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. For another, his gang’s victims included not only Anglo settlers but also Chinese laborers, revealing California’s genuinely and often painfully multicultural community as of the mid-19th century. A fuller engagement with these histories would in part force Americans to confront the centuries of conflict and violence that have so frequently comprised the world of the frontier—but it would also allow us to push beyond tall tales of larger-than-life individuals and to recognize just how collective and communal are both the myths and realities of the Southwest, and of America.

Check out Ben Railton’s American Studies blog for more great posts.

“The Invention of Johnny Appleseed” now available online


Fall 2012 issue of the Antioch Review.

Fall 2012 issue of the Antioch Review.

“The Invention of Johnny Appleseed” first appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of the Antioch Review.  It is excerpted from the final chapter of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, which is available at finer bookstores and at a number of online sellers, including:

Powell’s Books

Harvard Bookstore

Elliott Bay Book Company

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

It is also available in ebook form:

Kindle

Nook

Sony Reader

“The Invention of Johnny Appleseed” in the Antioch Review


Image

Fall 2012 Issue of the Antioch Review

The Fall 2012 issue of the Antioch Review, “Johnny Appleseed and Other Legacies,” features a range of excellent non-fiction and fiction essays and poetry, including my essay, “The Invention of Johnny Appleseed.”  The essay, which is excerpted from Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, examines how Americans of different generations found new meanings in the story of the wandering apple tree planter.

Who would Johnny Appleseed Vote For?


Who would Johnny Appleseed vote for?

There is nothing more American than a Presidential political campaign.  Every four years Americans who love their country pontificate, cajole, and argue with their neighbors about which candidate will not destroy the republic, and watch televised political debates with the same level of intensity they bring to annual Super Bowl parties.  And when Election Day passes, their momentary feeling of glee or despondency quickly fades into battle fatigue.  So if I am going to go out on a limb and speculate on Johnny Appleseed’s political perspective, I’d better do it today, as in two weeks absolutely no one will want to read this post.

If cable television and the internet exist in heaven, perhaps Johnny Appleseed is watching right now and choosing sides.  Does he identify with Mitt Romney, who, like him, was a missionary for a Christian sect operating on the periphery of mainstream Christianity?  Or does he relate more to Barack Obama, who also spent much of his childhood with an absent father and in a financially unstable household?

When I teach the politics of early America to my U.S. History classes, I have to caution my students to not conflate the political parties of the past with our current ones.  The issues that divided the Republican and Democratic parties of the 1850s, for example, are quite different from the concerns of voters in 2012, and neither of the two parties today much resemble their 1850s counterparts.  Did John Chapman even vote? No voting lists with John Chapman’s name on them survive, but one early Knox County, Ohio historian claimed that he was one of the fifteen voters to take part in Owl Creek’s first local election.  But my question is posed playfully.  We do not know, for certain, whether John Chapman preferred the Federalist Party or the Democratic-Republican Party in 1810, or if he was inclined to support William Henry Harrison’s “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” campaign over Democrat Martin Van Buren’s in 1840.

We can’t say anything with certainty about John Chapman’s political perspective, but we do know much more about the politics of those who have celebrated and retold his story over the years.  John Chapman may not have revealed to us whether he was a Harrison or Van Buren man, but in the one hundred and sixty-seven years since his death, his life and legend have been celebrated by both progressives and conservatives.

In the first one hundred years after his death, the Johnny Appleseed legend appeared to have its greatest appeal to political and social progressives and radicals.  W.D.

The November 1871 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine which introduced the Johnny Appleseed story to a national audience.

Haley, the Unitarian minister-turned-journalist who first brought John Chapman’s story to a national audience in an 1871 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine essay was a leader in the Patrons of Husbandry, also known as the Grange movement.  The Grange movement was the farmer’s response to the economic crisis they faced as a result of industrialization and the rise of monopoly power.  Grange members formed cooperatives to bolster the price of their produce, lobbied for regulation of the railroads, and the establishment of Rural Free Delivery of the mail.  “Faith, Hope, Charity, and Fidelity” was their motto, and they encouraged their members to “buy less and produce more.”  Haley saw Johnny Appleseed as a patron saint of the farmer frontier.

While the politics of the Grange were moderately progressive, the politics of Johnny Appleseed’s next great champion were quite radical for their day.  Lydia Maria Child was a feminist, anti-imperialist, and advocate of the rights of Native Americans.  She was also a prolific writer, and her book American Frugal Housewife was a best seller in the mid 19th century.  For poetry, she is most remembered for her Thanksgiving poem “Over the River and Through the Woods,” but she took on the subject of “Appleseed-John” in 1880.  She found in Johnny Appleseed a kindred soul, one who prized frugality, charity, and concern for the well-being of the most marginalized people in society as much as she did.

In the twentieth century, the people’s poet Vachel Lindsay celebrated John Chapman’s life in a series of poems. Lindsay at times appeared to aspire to be a twentieth-century version of Johnny Appleseed. He set off on several “tramping expeditions” across the nation with little money in his pocket, eager to meet ordinary Americans, and swap poems for food and shelter. Traveling across the nation, he gave recitals of his poetry in a frantic, populist style he called “High Vaudeville,” and many of his poems were choreographed and performed as dance. Lindsay combined a deep patriotism with a concern for the poor and dispossessed. He voted the socialist ticket, embraced pacifism, and had utopian dreams for his nation.  His best poem about the tree planter, “In Praise of Johnny Appleseed,” is the subject of another entry in this blog.

Perhaps the most radical champion of Johnny Appleseed was American Communist Party member Howard Fast, who made Chapman the hero of his first young adult novel, The Tall Hunter, in 1943.  After WWII, Fast became a target of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and was imprisoned for three months for refusing to divulge the names of persons who had contributed money to a orphanage for the children of American anti-fascist veterans of the Spanish Civil War.  Blacklisted for years, many of Fast’s patriotic historical novels are now staples in American schools.

During the Cold War era, more conservative representations of John Chapman emerged.  When the Walt Disney Corporation made a cartoon of John Chapman’s life in the 1948 film Melody Time, they emphasized Chapman’s faith in God and the power of the individual to make a difference in the world.  In the Disney version, Chapman carried a Bible with him at all times, and no mention was made of the tracts of the New Church—a Christian sect deemed outside the mainstream of American Christianity—which he distributed freely as he traveled.

By the 1980s it became increasingly common to hear John Chapman described as an entrepreneur and successful businessman.  A writer for the American Fruit Grower rejected the idea that John Chapman ever gave away his products for free, but instead sold them at their market price.  “Johnny Appleseed was an entrepreneur, the kind of small businessman so much a part of the building of America,” the writer declared, “who conceived and executed a daring enterprise of growing and selling apple tree seedlings.”

With the end of the Cold War, Johnny Appleseed seems to have become a figure with champions on both the left and right.  Many Christians celebrate his deep faith and piety.  Children in Christian schools often recite the Johnny Appleseed Grace. Conservative champions continue to portray Chapman as a “successful businessman” who amassed a fair amount of wealth during his lifetime. (Chapman’s relative wealth or poverty at the time of his death will be the subject of a future blog post.)

But Johnny Appleseed has also been celebrated by the sustainable agriculture movement, by vegetarians and environmentalists, and others who are ambivalent about the march of global capitalism and the rise of big agriculture.

Finally, in his best-selling book Botany of Desire (2001) Michael Pollan presents John Chapman as a social subversive, bringing alcohol in the form of hard cider to otherwise “dry” frontier communities.  Pollan declared Johnny Appleseed to be “Dionysus’s American son,” and “a figure of the fluid margins, slipping back and forth between the realms of wildness and civilization, man and woman, man and god, man and beast.”

Americans of various political and social orientations have found in Johnny Appleseed’s story elements to celebrate and honor.  And I suspect future generations will take other lessons from his life.  Were John Chapman to descend from the sky tomorrow, would he be more comfortable in the crowd at an Occupy rally, or at Christian religious revival?  My hunch is that he’d be delighted to attend both.

Vachel Lindsay, Johnny Appleseed Poet


A Kindred Spirit

Of the many artists and poets who have celebrated the life of John Chapman, Vachel Lindsay is perhaps my favorite. Lindsay at times appeared to aspire to be a twentieth-century version of Johnny Appleseed. He set off on several “tramping expeditions” across the nation with little money in his pocket, eager to meet ordinary Americans, and swap poems for food and shelter. Lindsay combined a deep patriotism with a concern for the poor and dispossessed. He voted the socialist ticket, embraced pacifism, and had utopian dreams for his nation. 

Traveling across the nation, he gave recitals of his poetry in a frantic, populist style he called “High Vaudeville,” and many of his poems were choreographed and danced. Although there are some surviving recordings of Vachel Lindsay performing his poetry, I am not aware of any recordings of his performance of “In Praise of Johnny Appleseed.” Lindsay cared deeply about how his poems were read, and sometimes offered his readers puzzling instructions on how to read them.  In the introduction to his Collected Works, Lindsay instructed: “All my verses marked to read aloud should be whispered, however contradictory that may seem.  All poetry is, first and last, for the inner ear, and its final pleasures are for the soul, whispering in solitude.”  I confess to taking this advice literally.  But when I read “In Praise of Johnny Appleseed,” the whisper that leaves my lips is a glorious shouting in my head.  One last note:  Vachel Lindsay included italicized instructions on how to hear this poem along the margins of the text.  I have included these odd little instructions in brackets and italics, as close to their location in the original printing as I could.   

Vachel Lindsay on a tramping expedition. He often swapped poems for food and a place to sleep..

In Praise of Johnny Appleseed

I.              Over the Appalachian Barricade

[To be read like old leaves on the elm tree of Time, Sifting soft winds with sentence and rhyme.]

 In the days of President Washington,

The glory of the nations,

Dust and ashes,

Snow and sleet,

And hay and oats and wheat,

Blew west,

Crossed the Appalachians,

Found the glades of rotting leaves, the soft deer-pastures,

The farms of the far-off future

In the forest.

Colts jumped the fence,

Snorting, ramping, snapping, sniffing,

With gastronomic calculations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

The east walls of our citadel,

And turned to gold-horned unicorns,

Feasting in the dim, volunteer farms of the forest.

Painting of Vachel Lindsay by artist Ted Keylon.

Stripedest, kickingest kittens escaped,

Caterwauling “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Renounced their poor relations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

And turned to tiny tigers

In the humorous forest.

Chickens escaped

From farmyard congregations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

And turned to amber trumpets

On the ramparts of our Hoosiers’ nest and citadel,

Millennial heralds

Of the foggy mazy forest.

Pigs broke loose, scrambled west,

Scorned their loathsome stations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

Turned to roaming, foaming wild boars

Of the forest.

The smallest, blindest puppies toddled west

Lindsay gesturing dramatically during a reading.

While their eyes were coming open,

And, with misty observations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

Barked, barked, barked

At the glow-worms and the marsh lights and the lightning-bugs,

And turned to ravening wolves

Of the forest.

Crazy parrots and canaries flew west,

Drunk on May-time revelations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

And turned to delirious, flower-dressed fairies

Of the lazy forest.

Haughtiest swans and peacocks swept west,

And, despite soft derivations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

And turned to blazing warrior souls

Of the forest,

Singing the ways

Of the Ancient of Days.

And the “Old Continentals

In their ragged regimentals,”

With bard’s imaginations,

Crossed the Appalachians.

And

A boy

Blew west,

And with prayers and incantations,

And with “Yankee Doodle Dandy,”

Vachel Lindsay

Crossed the Appalachians,

And was “young John Chapman,”

Then

“Johnny Appleseed, Johnny Appleseed,”

Chief of the fastnesses, dappled and vast,

In a pack on his back,

In a deer-hide sack,

The beautiful orchards of the past,

The ghosts of all the forests and the groves—

In that pack on his back,

In that talisman sack,

To-morrow’s peaches, pears, and cherries,

To-morrow’s grapes and red raspberries,

Seeds and tree-souls, precious things,

Feathered with microscopic wings,

All the outdoors the child heart knows,

And the apple, green, red, and white,

Sun of his day and his night—

The apple allied to the thorn,

Child of the rose.

Porches untrod of forest houses

All before him, all day long,

“Yankee Doodle” his marching song;

And the evening breeze

Joined his psalms of praise

As he sang the ways

Of the Ancient of Days.

Leaving behind august Virginia,

Proud Massachusetts, and proud Maine,

Planting the trees that would march and train

On, in his name to the great Pacific,

Like Birnam wood to Dunsinane,

Johnny Appleseed swept on,

Every shackle gone,

Loving every sloshy brake,

Loving every skunk and snake,

Loving every leathery weed,

Johnny Appleseed, Johnny Appleseed,

Master and ruler of the unicorn-ramping forest,

The tiger-mewing forest,

The rooster-trumpeting, boar-foaming, wolf-ravening forest,

The spirit-haunted, fairy-enchanted forest,

Stupendous and endless,

Searching its perilous ways

In the name of the Ancient of Days.

II. The Indians Worship Him, but He Hurries On

Painted kings in the midst of the clearing

Heard him asking his friends the eagles

To guard each planted seed and seedling.

Then he was a god, to the red man’s dreaming;

Then the chiefs brought treasures grotesque and fair,—

Magical trinkets and pipes and guns,

Beads and furs from their medicine-lair,—

Stuck holy feathers in his hair.

Hailed him with austere delight.

The orchard god was their guest through the night.

While the late snow blew from bleak Lake Erie,

Scourging rock and river and reed,

All night long they made great medicine

For Jonathan Chapman,

Johnny Appleseed,

Johnny Appleseed;

And as though his heart were a wind-blown wheat-sheaf,

As though his heart were a new built nest,

As though their heaven house were his breast,

In swept the snowbirds singing glory.

And I hear his bird heart beat its story,

Hear yet how the ghost of the forest shivers,

Hear yet the cry of the gray, old orchards,Bound volume of "In Praise of Johnny Appleseed"

Dim and decaying by the rivers,

And the timid wings of the bird-ghosts beating,

And the ghosts of the tom-toms beating, beating.

 [While you read, hear the hoof-beats of deer in the snow. And see, by their track, bleeding footprints we know.]

 But he left their wigwams and their love.

By the hour of dawn he was proud and stark,

Kissed the Indian babes with a sigh,

Went forth to live on roots and bark,

Sleep in the trees, while the years howled by.

Calling the catamounts by name,

And buffalo bulls no hand could tame.

Slaying never a living creature,

Joining the birds in every game,

With the gorgeous turkey gobblers mocking,

With the lean-necked eagles boxing and shouting;

Sticking their feathers in his hair,—

Turkey feathers,

Eagle feathers,

Trading hearts with all beasts and weathers

He swept on, winged and wonder-crested,

Bare-armed, barefooted, and bare-breasted.

 [While you read, see conventions of deer go by. The bucks toss their horns, the fuzzy fawns fly.]

 The maples, shedding their spinning seeds,

Called to his appleseeds in the ground,

Vast chestnut-trees, with their butterfly nations,

Called to his seeds without a sound.

And the chipmunk turned a “summerset.”

And the foxes danced the Virginia reel;

Hawthorne and crab-thorn bent, rain-wet,

And dropped their flowers in his night-black hair;

And the soft fawns stopped for his perorations;

And his black eyes shone through the forest-gleam,

And he plunged young hands into new-turned earth,

And prayed dear orchard boughs into birth;

And he ran with the rabbit and slept with the stream,

And he ran with the rabbit and slept with the stream,

And he ran with the rabbit and slept with the stream.

And so for us he made great medicine,

And so for us he made great medicine,

And so for us he made great medicine,

In the days of President Washington.

  1. III.        Johnny Appleseed’s Old Age

[To be read like faint hoof-beats of fawns long gone From respectable pasture, and park and lawn, And heartbeats of fawns that are coming again When the forest, once more, is the master of men.]

 

Long, long after,

When settlers put up beam and rafter,

They asked of the birds: “Who gave this fruit?

Who watched this fence till the seeds took root?

Who gave these boughs?” They asked the sky,

And there was no reply.

But the robin might have said,

“To the farthest West he has followed the sun,

His life and his empire just begun.”

Self-scourged, like a monk, with a throne for wages,

Stripped, like the iron-souled Hindu sages,

Draped like a statue, in strings like a scarecrow,

His helmet-hat an old tin pan,

But worn in the love of the heart of man,

More sane than the helm of Tamerlane!

Hairy Ainu, wild man of Borneo, Robinson Crusoe—Johnny Appleseed!

And the robin might have said,

“Sowing, he goes to the far, new West,

With the apple, the sun of his burning breast—

The apple allied to the thorn,

Child of the rose.”

Washington buried in Virginia,

Jackson buried in Tennessee,

Young Lincoln, brooding in Illinois,

And Johnny Appleseed, priestly and free,

Knotted and gnarled, past seventy years,

Still planted on in the woods alone.

Ohio and young Indiana—

These were his wide altar-stone,

Where still he burnt out flesh and bone.

Twenty days ahead of the Indian, twenty years ahead of the white man,

At last the Indian overtook him, at last the Indian hurried past him;

At last the white man overtook him, at last the white man hurried past him;

At last his own trees overtook him, at last his own trees hurried past him.

Many cats were tame again,

Many ponies tame again,

Many pigs were tame again,

Many canaries tame again;

And the real frontier was his sunburnt breast.

From the fiery core of that apple, the earth,

Sprang apple-amaranths divine.

Love’s orchards climbed to the heavens of the West.

And snowed the earthly sod with flowers.

Farm hands from the terraces of the blest

Danced on the mists with their ladies fine;

And Johnny Appleseed laughed with his dreams,

And swam once more the ice-cold streams.

And the doves of the spirit swept through the hours,

With doom-calls, love-calls, death-calls, dream-calls;

And Johnny Appleseed, all that year,

Lifted his hands to the farm-filled sky,

To the apple-harvesters busy on high;

And so once more his youth began,

And so for us he made great medicine—

Johnny Appleseed, medicine-man.

Then

The sun was turned –up broken barrel,

Out of which their juicy apples rolled,

Down the repeated terraces,

Thumping across the gold,

An angel in each apple that touched the forest mold,

A ballot-box in each apple,

A state capital in each apple,

Great high schools, great colleges,

All America in each apple,

Each red, rich, round, and bouncing moon

That touched the forest mold.

Like scrolls and rolled-up flags of silk,

He saw the fruits unfold,

And all our expectations in one wild-flower written dream.

Confusion, and death-sweetness, and a thicket of crab-thorns!

Heart of a hundred midnights, heart of the merciful morns.

Heaven’s boughs bent down with their alchemy,

Perfumed airs, and thoughts of wonder.

And the dew on the grass and his own cold tears

Were one in brooding mystery,

Though death’s loud thunder came upon him,

Though death’s loud thunder struck him down—

The boughs and the proud thoughts swept through the thunder,

Till he saw our wide nation, each State a flower,

Each petal a park for holy feet,

With wild fawns merry on every street,

With wild fawns merry on every street,

The vista of ten thousand years, flower-lighted and complete.

Hear the lazy weeds murmuring, bays and rivers whispering,

From Michigan to Texas, California to Maine;

Listen to the eagles screaming, calling,

“Johnny Appleseed, Johnny Appleseed,”

There by the doors of old Fort Wayne.

In the four-poster bed Johnny Appleseed built,

Autumn rains were the curtains, autumn leaves were the quilt.

He laid him down sweetly, and slept through the night,

Like a stone washed white,

There by the doors of old Fort Wayne

Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard is now in bookstores


Just released by Johns Hopkins University Press, my book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, is now available for order through your favorite local bookstore, or via internet retailers Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s Books.  It is also a History Book Club selection.  

From the History Book Club website:

Most people forget about the legend of Johnny Appleseed after childhood—but the man behind the myth was a significant figure in the agricultural development of early America. In Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, William Kerrigan illuminates John Chapman’s life and reveals the environmental and cultural significance of the plant he propagated. Drawing on oral histories and material from archives and historical societies, he dissects the Appleseed myth, creating an eye-opening new portrait of the eccentric apple tree planter.
Known for his gentleness and self sacrifice, Johnny Appleseed stands apart from quintessentially masculine frontier heroes like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. His apple trees, nonetheless, were a central part of the transformation of the West. Chapman, who planted trees from seed rather than grafting, came under assault from those who promoted commercial fruit stock and were determined to extend national markets into the West. He had taken a side in a culture war that ultimately transformed him into a curious relic of a pre-market era.

Tracing Chapman’s life from seedling planter to national legend, Kerrigan casts new light on the landscape of early America.