Horace Kephart

Several years of research, compilation and collaboration by two writers from Western Carolina University have resulted in a scholarly book about Horace Kephart, a pivotal and sometimes controversial figure in the region from the early 20th century.

The University of Tennessee Press recently published “Horace Kephart: Writings,” a collection of magazine articles, unpublished manuscripts and correspondence, edited by Mae Miller Claxton, professor of English, and George Frizzell, retired archivist of Special Collections at Hunter Library.

Kephart, an outdoorsman, writer and advocate for establishing Great Smoky Mountains National Park who lived from 1862 to 1931, is best known for “Camping and Woodcraft” and “Our Southern Highlanders.” Both books are still in publication, more than 100 years after first printings. Kephart lived the latter part of his life in Bryson City.

“We felt that more of Kephart’s diverse writings should be available to the general public,” said Claxton. “Most people think he wrote just a few things – important though they were. Also, the Kephart family, especially Libby Kephart Hargrave, has donated so much important archival material that needed to be part of a more complete Kephart portrait.”

A collection of Kephart belongings, including camping and fishing gear, photographs and documents, is held by WCU through Hunter Library and the Mountain Heritage Center, with a digital exhibit available online. Kephart has been criticized as exaggerating and stereotyping native mountain peoples in his works.

The book has nine chapters, each accompanied by an introductory essay by a notable Appalachian scholar providing context and background.

The book is organized by seven distinct themes to tackle biographical information, as well as his frequent writing topics, such as the outdoors, firearms, Southern Appalachian culture, fiction, the Cherokee, the Boy Scouts, and formation of the Smokies national park and the Appalachian Trail. 

Frizzell has been working with Kephart materials for almost 40 years. During his tenure with the university’s Special Collections, Frizzell proved a reliable resource for authors, historians and archivists working on projects that required utilizing Kephart materials.

Due to his popularity, Special Collections and the Mountain Heritage Center collaborated on a Kephart website, Frizzell said.

“Eventually, I started to assemble programs and PowerPoint presentations based on Kephart’s life and times to try and provide some additional perspective,” he said.”One of the things that inspired me was working with Mae’s Appalachian literature classes and trying to address their questions.”

For more information on Hunter Library’s Special and Digital Collections, visit digitalcollections.wcu.edu or email specialcollections@wcu.edu.

“Horace Kephart: Writings” is available online and at local bookstores.