“Sassafras John”

Kendallville, Indiana. From the collection of Michael Mapes

Ole Sassafras John, in days of yore,
Wusn’t jist known fer the clothes he wore;
Er the bent over way he used to walk,
But more fer his deeds an’ way of talk.

Fer he wus a feller of rustic renown,
A ragged ole saint ’at looked like a clown.
His tattered ole hat looked jist like a boat,
An’ bright colored patches half kivered his coat.

The folks would know ’at spring wus near
When they’d see Sassafras John appear,
Trudgin’ along in his gumshoe boots
A-sellin’ his bundles of Sassafras roots.

He wus the strangest ole man in town
Yet he could spell the schoolmarm down;
An’ fiddle a tune, or file a saw,
An’ quote frum the scriptur’ an’ the law.

When folks were sick an’ needed care
Ole John would all their burdens share,
An’ they would on his cures depend
Fer he wus mor’n jist a friend.

He used to hold me on his knee
An’ tell his ole-time tales to me,
He said, when he wus jist a boy,
A rifle wus his only toy.

He told of early Hoosier days,
Of ole-time life, of ole-time ways,
Of one room schools an’ spellin’ bees,
When logs were cut frum gi-unt trees.

An’ seems he allus did allow
’At oxen pulled his bulltongue plow,
An’ how wild critters screamed at night
When he would read by candlelight.

Sumhow…his tales of woods an’ streams
Helped me to build my boyhood dreams,
An’ now sumtimes when lights are dim
My thoughts go strayin’ back to him;

As out of the shadders of bygone years
His strange ole form again appears,
Trudgin’ along in his gumshoe boots,
A-totin’ his bag of sassafras roots.


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