EDITOR’S NOTE–This is another article on Findlay-area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.
By R.L. HEMINGER
Henry Howe was the author of a two-volume set entitled “Historical Collections of Ohio.” It was published twice, once in 1846 and once 50 years later in 1896. Mr. Howe, an Easterner, visited all the 88 counties in Ohio at one time or another and gathered the material personally and drew many scenes himself for illustrative purposes. Each county has its own section in the two-volume set.
Mr. Howe devoted nearly three pages to Johnny Appleseed. The account appears under Richland County because it was there that Johnny spent more time than in any other area of Ohio. Howe talked with people who knew the distributor of appleseeds firsthand, especially for his 1846 account.
“His personal appearance was as singular as his character,” says the Howe account. “He was quick and restless in his motions and conversation; his beard and hair were long and dark and his eyes black and sparkling. He lived the roughest sort of life and often slept in the woods. His clothing was mostly old, being generally given to him in exchange for apple trees.”
MR. HOWE QUOTED the A.A. Graham history of Richland County as follows:
“Johnny was quite an orator. On the subject of apples he was very charmingly enthusiastic. One would be astonished at his beautiful descriptions of the excellent fruit. I saw him once at the table, when I was very small, telling about some apples that were new to us. His description was poetical, in language remarkably well-chosen; it would have been no finer had the whole of Webster’s ‘unabridged,’ with all its royal vocabulary, been fresh upon his ready tongue.
“The Indians all like him and treated him very kindly. They regarded him, from his habits, as a man above his fellows. He could endure pain like an Indian warrior; could thrust pins into his flesh without a tremor. Indeed so insensible was he to acute pain that his treatment of a would or sore was to sear it with a hot iron and then threat it as a burn.”
The Howe account says Johnny ascribed great medicinal virtue to the fennel, which he found, probably in Pennsylvania. The overwhelming desire to do good and benefit and bless others induced in him to carry a quantity of the seed in his pockets and occasionally scatter it along his path in his journeys, especially at the wayside near dwellings.
Mr. Howe went on to comment that in bringing fennel to Ohio, Johnny was introducing a pest that was hardly welcome, actually.
THE GRAHAM ACCOUNT said Johnny once “had a girl,” presumably back east before he came to Ohio. He had befriended a young woman and provided her with many comforts and possessions. However, once he came to visit and found her keeping company with another man and that ended romance in Johnny’s life. He told this story to a friend of Mr. Graham.
He was scrupulously honest. He was a follower of a Swedish philosopher, Swendenborg, likening himself to the primitive Christians “literally taking no thought for the morrow.” Wherever he went he distributed Swendenborg literature.
Once he built a fire in the wilderness, the story goes. When he saw mosquitoes flying into the blaze and becoming burned to death, he quickly extinguished the fire with the statement, “God forbid that I should be the means of destroying any of His creatures.”
Another time he made his campfire at the end of a hollow log in which he intended to pass the night, but on finding it occupied by a bear and cubs, he removed his fire to the other end and slept on the snow in the open air rather than disturb the bear.
The Graham account of Johnny Appleseed closes with this tribute:
“His bruised and bleeding feet now walk the gold-paved streets of the New Jerusalem, while we so brokenly and crudely narrate the sketch of his life — a life full of labor and pain and unselfishness; humble unto self-abnegation; his memory glowing in our hearts, while his deeds live anew every springtime in the fragrance of the apple blossoms he loved so well.”