Chicago Society of the New Jerusalem
Johnny Appleseed and the Indians

During my lifetime I witnessed the sharp transition between two different worlds. My family had been farmers for hundreds of years. By the time my brothers and sisters were born, the world had changed so completely that family farms were no longer an option. Now, I carry around pictures in my mind of a world that no longer exists. I still remember what it means to "slop the hogs," but I'd have to explain that to most people I know.

The last person in my family who fully lived the farming lifestyle was my grandmother. She sewed clothing by hand and planted the garden each year, but she didn't slop the hogs. That was a man's work. What she did do was make the best biscuits that I've ever tasted. One of things that I've tried to hold onto in my life is the ability to cook the simple kinds of foods that my family ate. I've never been able to duplicate her recipe for biscuits. I think it was the lard that did the trick.

Some time ago there was another person who handed out hot bread--hot bread from heaven. His name was Johnny Chapman, but everyone called him Johnny Appleseed. Most people know him because he planted trees. We know him because the hot bread he handed out through Ohio and Indiana was the writings of Swedenborg. Johnny Appleseed is special to me because he was one of the few people in American history who treated the Indians with respect.

One thing you have to know is that the Indians saw Johnny as one of their own. We know this because he travelled among them without fear, and he visited them often. The Seneca and Munsee saw Johnny as a holy man.

The Indians believed, and still believe, that everyone has the ability to be holy, but not everyone can. Indians have actual standards by which they know that a person is holy. First of all, holy people are people who have a closer sense of the spirit world than others. Did Johnny wear plain clothes because he was a tramp? Or was it because he saw the ultimate lack of worth of material things?

The second reason that the Indians saw Johnny as a holy man was that he had a proper sense of humililty. Indians call all the things in nature their "relatives," because they know that without animals and trees and birds, they can't exist. There are many stories about Johnny, and they all talk about how he didn't have an exaggerated sense of his own importance.

The third reason Johnny was considered a holy man is that he had a respect for life. Johnny's respect for life extended to the proverbial "beasts of the field."

Johnny Chapman was ahead of his time, and other Christian churches are only now beginning to discover his wisdom. He may have been the first cross-cultural missionary in America, and he was certainly the best. Let me tell you how he did it. While Johnny was feeding the frontier people with hot bread from heaven, he ate from the supper of the Indians. This was no little thing. Sharing food is a religious act for Indians. Even today, one of the gravest insults you can give an Indian is to refuse to eat with him. But he allowed the Indians he met to share not just their food, but their world with him. He did not see the Devil behind every Indian face. He listened to their sacred stories and respected their cultures.

Although non-Indians could do that, it wouldn't take as much to show respect for the Indians. People could just say "thank you" to the Indians. Did you have coffee this morning? You can thank the Indians. Do you like to eat popcorn when you go to the movies? The Indians gave you that. I doubt if anyone here likes french fries more than I do, or for that matter, any potatoes. Russet potatoes used to have the nickname "Irish potatoes." Just remember the next time you have tater tots that Indians were eating potatoes in North America long before the Irish or any other Europeans knew about them. Perhaps all this is just giving you a headache, and you want to take an aspirin. Just remember to thank the Indians when you do it. Aspirin is a derivative of red willow bark, and we Indians still use it in tea for headaches. A European scientist got the credit for it, but it came from the Indians. If it weren't for us Indians, you wouldn't have any junk food at all. In fact, most of the foods that are now considered staple foods came from North and South America. In this century, a Southwestern Indian variant of corn was successfully introduced into Africa to reduce famine there. Oh, and by the way, that chocolate that you love so much? Well, you get the idea.

What was Johnny's secret? How was he respectful to the Indians? You'll notice that unlike other missionaries, Johnny wasn't trying to make the Indians into white people. He didn't distribute the writings of Swedenborg to Indians as he did the settlers (and if you're wondering, many Indians that Johnny knew did know to read). Johnny did a revolutionary thing, one that hardly ever happens to Indians, either then or now. He listened.

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