During the first quarter of the 20th century, an eccentric itinerant peddler, George Adams, was living in Brown County near Nashville.
Mr. Adams was familiarly known as Sassafras George, or Old Dutch George.
He made his living by digging sassafras, cutting and tying the red-to-brown roots into bundles and loading them on a wheelbarrow which he trundled over the countryside, supplying Hoosier housewives and the Indianapolis food markets with material for the stimulating, aromatic sassafras tea so prized as “a fine spring blood tonic.”
There are those who claimed Sassafras George enjoyed frightening people. He was tall and thin with reddish hair and a beard. An old slouch hat was usually pulled low over his black eyes. His clothes were shabby and mussed from sleeping in straw stacks and hay mounds. He pushed his wheelbarrow in the middle of the road and delighted in making drivers and teamsters go around him.
His companions were tramps and hobos. He was not adverse to “barrowing.” My grandfather once found his mattock (a tool shaped like a pick ax) in his woods where Sassafras George had “barrowed” it to dig some merchandise.
The sassafras vendor had a great appetite to which he catered as he strolled along. His vest usually protruded with apples, tomatoes and other edibles he managed to “pick up.”
In the fall, his vest stretched over ripe papaws, a favorite delicacy. Knowing this, some pranksters at a farmhouse he once visited conspired to “accidentally” run against him. They got into a scuffle and successfully carried out their plan. The cold, ripe papaws were pressed against the skin of Sassafras George. But the fun makers were abashed when the peddler told them in a somber, courteous manner that he was sure they would not have intentionally mashed his fruit.
Old Dutch spoke with such a marked German accent that many concluded that he was of German descent. No one knew that as fact; however, it was a common practice as late as the first part of this century, as it had been since our nation was born, to refer to anyone with a foreign accent as “Dutch.” Mr. Adams usually prefaced his remarks with, “Wall, ya see, ya see, ya see, ya know, ya know, ya know ….”
He was reported dead so many times that few knew when he actually passed away.
Long before his death, he became so celebrated that other sassafras peddlers traded on his reputation and called themselves Sassafras George. The name has become synonymous with sassafras in this part of the country.
Mr. Adams did odd jobs besides peddling, but he had one other calling in particular that added fame to his fame. He sold apple cider at county fairs and would shout in a voice that could compete with the most accomplished barkers: “Sweet and hard, sweet and hard, both outta the same bar’l.”
We ran across the above little country story written by Ruby Butler as it appeared in the December 1948 issue of Hoosier Folklore.
— Pauline Hoover, Brown County Historical Society