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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Johnny Appleseed, An American "Icon"

Starting with this from This Day is History: 1774 John Chapman was born. He was better known as Johnny Appleseed. He planted orchards, befriended wild animals and was considered a great medicine man by Native Americans.

Growing up in America is an exercise in being indoctrinated in American myths. Many "historical figures" we are taught about are not historical at all, such as Paul Bunyan. Other "truths" we are told are mythic in stature, GREAT Americans who through hard work and the "blessings of God", established this "Great Nation".

Then there are some historical figures which are deemed "untouchable", paragons of virtue beyond ANY reproach. Today when I saw that it would have been Johnny Appleseed's 233rd birthday I was intrigued. After all, we all know the song, "Johnny Appleseed", indeed the first few lines, "Oh the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need like the sun and the rain and the appleseed Oh the Lord is good to me", This song is taught to ALL Girl Scouts and sung quite often as a meal blessing. If we are old enough to remember, we have all probably also seen the video done by Disney below which was produced in 1948.

John Chapman aka "Johnny Appleseed" was indeed a REAL person. And he is iconocalized in American history as a folksy hero who was loved by all, even by the Native Americans whom he encountered as is written here:

In the Mohican country, Johnny visited every cabin religiously, feeling that he had been commissioned to preach, to heal diseases, to warn of danger-in short, to help God take care of the settlers. He planted his nurseries around Mansfield, Loudonville, Perryville, and the Indian village of Green Town, living in a little cabin near Perryville. When asked why he feared neither man nor beast, he replied that he lived in harmony with all people, and that he could not be harmed as long as he lived by the law of love. He is said to have sown the seeds of medicinal herbs wherever he went: dog fennel, pennyroyal, catnip, hoarhound, mullein, rattlesnake root, and others. For a long time, fennel was called "Johnny weed." He often appeared at the door of a new settler's home with a gift of herbs in his hands. Johnny made friends with many of the Indian tribes and was known to have learned many Indian languages well enough to converse. Memoirs from settlers who knew Johnny well indicate the impression that many Indians held Johnny in a high regard, and that his unusual zeal for serving others led some to believe he was touched by the Great Spirit. For that reason, they allowed him to listen to their council meetings, and he was therefore sometimes able to avert trouble between a tribe and incoming settlers. He is said to have had compassion for the views and needs of both cultures, and was a fine communicator. He possessed a peculiar eloquence and a resonant voice that was persuasively tender, inspirationally sublime, or when needed witheringly denunciatory. He had a keen sense of humor and was quick to make a witty retort or a cutting rebuke. And he was sincerely patriotic. He had unlimited faith in his country. On one occasion, at least, he made a Fourth of July oration at a celebration in Huron County.

So I got to thinking and researched further. In the war of 1812 in which many Native Americans sided with the British, he learned of an impending Indian attack on settlers and is said to have RACED 30 miles to warn the settlers. Now myself being a PACIFIST I do NOT condone massacres. But what are we talking about here? We are talking about the settlers who were encroaching on Indian lands and taking them for themselves, quite OFTEN in a violent manner.

So continuing to research, for page after page I kept coming up with the statement about Native Americans honoring Johnny Appleseed. I kept thinking to myself, wait a minute, he IS peaceful by all accounts, he DID befriend Indians by all accounts, but what was his GOAL? His goal was quite unmistakenly to make things easier for the settlers to achieve their goals, albeit in a "friendly manner".

Then I came to this website which writes:

“Not withstanding his grotesque dress, Johnny was always treated with the greatest respect by the rudest frontiersman. The Indians not only treated him kindly, but with a sort of superstitious feeling.

“They regarded him as a ‘great medicine man’ because of his fantastic dress, strange manner, eccentric conduct and the wonderful calmness with which he endured pain.

“He would thrust needles and pins into his flesh without flinch or quiver.

“In his wanderings among the Indians during the War if 1812 – when they were murdering settlers -- he frequently obtained information in regard to their intentions. Thus he was able to warn settlers, thereby enabling them to fly to places of protection"

So just WHAT was Johnny Appleseed's mission? His mission was to make it EASY for settlement to spread westward in Manifest Destiny (John L. O'Sullivan on Manifest Destiny, 1839 ). And every person on this earth SHOULD know what happened to the Native Americans as the White Man took over, it is a matter of brutal history which our nation has only in recent years been able to admit. Remember, one man's hero is not necessarily another man's hero. By all accounts I read the Native Americans he came in contact with revered him and yes, by all accounts he seems to have been a good man, but what he enabled was NOT always peaceful by ANY means. So while there WERE good relations between many settlers and the Native Americans, the ultimate outcome was tragic beyond all words.

As Johnny Appleseed moved west planting apples, our settlers went also and eventually all of the Indian tribes ended up on squalid reservations, were given land which was quite often stolen from them at a later date, many were slaughtered, many died from White Man's diseases and they were treated as a nuisance simply to be pushed aside "for progress" And while I am certainly not trying to detract from the apparent goodness of Johnny Appleseed as an individual, I am attempting to put it in context.

Video: Disney's 1948 production marvellous animation. The story of the life of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.With a tin pot for a hat and the Bible at his side, Johnny set out into the wilderness to do his own part in helping the western march: plant apple trees all over the countryside to help feed the pioneering settlers. As evident in this sweet, gentle classic, he proved that one need not have great size or strength to make a difference.

Question: Where are the Native Americans in this Disney production?

Much has been written about the similarities between the Native American experience at the White Man's hand and that of the Palestinians at the hands of the Zionists. Indeed, the similarities are VAST.

The following is an excellent source giving several essays on the comparison between Native Americans and Palestinians. (SOURCE) (read further on that site for essays)

Reservation Politics: the Palestinian experience through the historical monocle of Native Americans - Melancholic Troglodytes

Palestinians in Native American costume protest Condoleeza Rice visit

An historical examination of the similarities and differences in the situations of the Palestinians and the Native Americans.

"Our historical analogy aimed to demonstrate the failure of the present course of action for the region’s proletariat and suggest an alternative. It is the social and not the military dimension of the struggle that has the potential to transcend capital."


Reservation Politics: the Palestinian experience through the historical monocle of Native Americans

(Melancholic Troglodytes, 2007)
The current plight of Palestinians increasingly resembles the tragic demise of Native Americans. To have become refugees in their own land, hounded and derided by a superior military and economic entity, and to have endured mostly apathy from the outside world as well as the inevitable corruption and authoritarianism of ‘their own leaders’ are markers of both experiences. The aim of this short essay is to demonstrate (some of) the commonalities and differences that have shaped these two struggles.

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