Mabel Leigh Hunt was the author of 31 children's books and many short stories. She was born in Coatesville, Indiana to Quaker parents. She spent much of her life in the towns of Greencastle and Plainfield. She attended DePauw University and graduated from the Western Reserve Library School. Hunt was a librarian for the First Friends Church and the Indianapolis Public Library. She received many awards including the Newberry Award runner-up in 1951 for Better Known as Johnny Appleseed, which references the land in northern Indiana. She also won the Indiana University award for the most distinguished work of children's literature published by an Indiana author for Stars for Christy in 1956 and in 1962 for Cupola House. Miss Hunt passed in 1971 at age 78.
Because of her Quaker upbringing, many of her stories, like Lucinda and Little Girl with Seven Names have Quaker influence. She has also written stories like Ladycake Farm, the account of a black family who moves to a farm, surrounded by white neighbors. Michel’s Island is a story of French and Indian fur-trading days on the Mackinac. Her writing does not focus on nature, and most of the time it is not necessarily set in Indiana.
Better Known as Johnny Appleseed, however, does mention Indiana in passing. In the later part of Johnny’s most ambitious life, he travels through northern Indiana, citing observations about the land. In chapter nine (1830-1845), Johnny conveys how he knew it was time to plant his seeds.
It was time because the country was on the verge of a new era. It was time because Fort Wayne had recently attained the stature of an incorporated town. The population was not more that four-hundred: the forest crowded up to the very doors. A man might live—yes, and die—in the neighboring forest, and none in the village the wiser. (189)
When Johnny arrived in Fort Wayne, Hunt speaks briefly on the history of Fort Wayne, stating that it used to be an Indian village. In the following excerpt, she mentions the Maumee, a river in northwestern Ohio and northeastern Indiana that is formed in Fort Wayne at the confluence of the St. Joseph and St. Marys rivers:
The citizens of Fort Wayne were accustomed to a great variety of arrivals, and in numbers. Indeed, men had been breasting the Maumee ever since the first travelers had discovered that this Indian village marked the only break in a water route that proved the shortest distance between the mouth of the St.Lawrence and that of the Mississippi. Follow that route, and a pirogue need never be lifted from the water save for a seven-mile portage from the village southwest to the Little Wabash. Consequently, Fort Wayne had become the focus and center of communication and trade for as long as tribes and nations had found it and coveted it and shed blood for its possession and control of the portage. (190)
For the duration of Johnny’s stay in Indiana, Hunt describes the places Johnny planted his seeds and the changes he observed. In one instance, he followed an Indian trail leading north out of Fort Wayne. Hunt writes that the trail "eventually passed along the eastern edge of Elkhart Prairie, to the present town of Goshen." She continues,
Perhaps the grasses of wide Elkhart, softly swaying in April air and melodious with April song, seemed lovely to Johnny Appleseed when he came in the springtide and planted along the bottoms if the Elkhart River. The Miamis and the Pottawatomies were sowing their fields along the prairie borders, north and south. (192)
Hunt may not have written a lot about Indiana, but the historical information in Better Known as Johnny Appleseed gives readers today an insight about what northern Indiana was like in the 19th century. About her career, she once said, “The circumstances of my life, my temperament, my inheritance, my education, my preference, and all that I am have made me a writer. Professionally, a remarkable series of fortunate coincidences have helped me along through all my years of writing. The thing I need comes to me. The jigsaw falls into place. It has been amazing.”
Gale. Contemporary Authors Online. 2003.
Hunt, Mabel Leigh. Better Known as Johnny Appleseed. Lippincott, 1947.
Thompson, Donald Eugene. “Hunt, Mabel Leigh.” Indianaauthors and their books, 1917-1966. Crawfordsville , IN: Wabash College, 1974. 314.
Source Database: Contemporary Authors.
Lippincott Authors. Biographical Notes for Library Files. Mabel Leigh Hunt . Indianapolis: Marion County Public Library.