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Home > Holidays > Arbor Day > Stories for Kids > Johnny Appleseed

Arbor Day Short Stories for kids - Children's Stories About Trees

Legends and Short Stories About Arbor Day

Johnny Appleseed

by Clement Martzolff

In the year 1806, a man living in Jefferson County, happened to look out upon the Ohio River one day when he saw floating down with the tide a strange looking craft. It consisted of two ordinary canoes lashed together. The crew was one very oddly-dressed man and the cargo comprised racks of appleseeds. This singular man was John Chapman, better known as "Johnny Appleseed," from his penchant for gathering apple-seeds at the cider-presses in western Pennsylvania, bringing them to Ohio, planting them at suitable places, so when the pioneer came he would find an abundance of young apple trees ready for planting.

This was the mission of "Johnny Appleseed" who conscientiously believed it had been heaven sent. He was deeply religious and his faith taught him he could live as complete a life in thus serving his fellow-men, as in perhaps some higher (?) sphere of usefulness. Certainly the result of his labors proved a great blessing to the Ohio pioneer.

Very little is known of Johnny Appleseed before he came to Ohio. He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the opening of the Revolutionary War, 1775. As a boy he loved to roam the woods, searching for plants and flowers. He was a lover of nature in all its forms. He studied the birds as well as the flowers. He loved the song of the brook as he did that of the birds. At night he would lie upon his back and gaze into the sky and whether he studied flowers or stars, brooks or birds, he saw God's hand-writing in them all. It is thought he came westward with his half-brother about the year 1801, and located somewhere about Pittsburgh. His father, Nathaniel Chapman, shortly afterward became one of the residents of Marietta and later moved to Duck Creek, in Washington county, where he died. "Johnny" never spoke much about his previous life. It was said by some that he had been once disappointed in love and this accounted for his never marrying and for living the life he did. This is not probable. Such stories are told about every old bachelor and since they are so common, they lose their value.

What educational advantages our tree-planter enjoyed, we do not know, either. But it is certain he possessed a fair knowledge of the rudiments of learning. He was a great reader for one of his time and his mode of life, and moreover, he was a clear thinker.

There are some who would call "Johnny Appleseed" "odd;" others, "freakish;" again, "eccentric," etc. This peculiar, odd personage may be described by all these terms. But the ruling passion of his life was to plant apple seeds, because he loved to see trees grow and because he loved his fellow men. The world has often been made better because there was a man who possessed but one idea, and he worked it for all it was worth.

"Johnny's" methods were to keep up with the van of pioneerdom and move along with it to the westward. So we find him in the early years of the century in western Pennsylvania, then in Ohio, and after forty-five years of service to mankind, he dies and is buried near Ft. Wayne in Indiana.

His nurseries were usually located in the moist land along some stream. Here he would plant the seeds, surround the patch with a brush fence and wander off to plant another one elsewhere. Returning at intervals to prune and care for them, he would soon have thrifty trees growing all over the country.

He did not plant these trees for money, but the pioneer got them oftentimes for old clothes, although his usual price for each tree was "a fip-penny-bit."

The first nursery Johnny planted in Ohio was on George's Run in Jefferson county. Others he planted along the river front, when he moved into the interior of the state. For years he lived in a little rude hut in Richland county near the present town of Perrysville, from where he operated his nurseries in the counties of Richland, Ashland, Wayne, Knox, and Tuscarawas.

On his journeys across the country he usually camped in the woods, although the pioneer latch string was always hanging out for "Appleseed John." He carried his cooking utensils with him. His mush pan serving him for a hat. When he would accept the hospitality of a friend, he preferred making his bed on the floor. He wore few clothes and went barefooted the most of his time, even when the weather was quite cold. For a coat a coffee sack with holes cut for neck and arms was ample.

There were plenty of Indians in those days and they were troublesome, too, since several massacres occurred in that region. But they never did any harm to our hero. No doubt they thought he was quite a "Medicine Man." Once, during the War of 1812, when the red-men were at their depredations and all the people were flocking to the Mansfield block-house for protection, it was necessary to get a message to Mt. Vernon, asking for the assistance of the militia. It was thirty miles away and the trip had to be made in the night. Johnny volunteered his services. Barefooted and bareheaded he made his way along the forest trails, where wild animals and probably wild Indians were lurking. The next morning he had returned and with him was the needed help.

He loved everything that lived. He harmed no animal, and if he found any that were wounded or mistreated, he would care for them as best he could. Once when a snake had bitten him, he instinctively killed it. He never quite forgave himself for this "ungodly passion."

He, as has already been stated, was deeply religious. He was a disciple of Emanuel Swedenborg, and he always carried some religious books about with him, in the bosom of his shirt. These books he would give away. Often he would divide a book into several pieces, so it would go farther. When he visited the pioneers, he would always hold worship and discuss religious subjects with them.

But Johnny was getting old. The first trees he planted had for years been bearing fruit. Still he kept planting and caring for new nurseries. Once in Ft. Wayne he heard that some cattle had broken into one of them and were destroying his trees. The distance was twenty miles. He started at once to protect his property. It was in the early spring of 1845. The weather was raw and the trip was too much for him. He sought shelter at a pioneer home, partook of a bowl of bread and milk for his supper, and before retiring for the night as usual held worship.

The family never forgot that evening. How the simple minded old man read from the Book, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Then he prayed and as he spoke with God, he grew eloquent. His words made a deep impression on all who heard him.

In the morning he was found to have a high fever. Pneumonia had developed during the night. A physician was called, but the age of the man and the exposure to which he had subjected himself for so many years were against him. God's finger touched him and he slept.

 

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