Archived Mountain Voices

More on the meeting of Kephart and Calhoun

The story of the initial meeting between Horace Kephart and Granville Calhoun has as many twists and turns as a short story by O. Henry. 


In brief, Kephart arrived in Western North Carolina in August 1904 and established a base camp on Dicks Creek west of Dillsboro. By October, a mining company had given him permission to use one of its abandoned cabins at the Everett Mine near Medlin on Hazel Creek. Calhoun had been asked to meet Kephart at the depot in Bushnell, 16 miles southeast of Medlin. 

I noted in an introduction to the 1976 reissue of Our Southern Highlanders by the University of Tennessee Press that aspects of Granville’s account “conflicts with available sources.” I had in mind, in particular, the assertion that Kephart remained in the Calhoun residence for three weeks. In a chapter devoted to Kephart in Strangers in High Places (1966), Michael Frome provides a long account from which the following is excerpted: 

“So it went for three weeks. Granville spoon-feeding Kephart, first milk, then bread and butter and fish from the stream, while Kephart arose very slowly from his torpor and tremens, the long hangover, the flight away from himself and the world he knew before.”

Kephart’s Photo Album and an Index to his diary (presumably lost) are available via the “Horace Kephart: Revealing an Enigma” web site maintained by Special Collections at WCU’s Hunter Library.

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In October, Kephart broke camp on Dicks Creek headed for Medlin. The event is noted in section 35 of the Index with the brief notation “Addio!” In the “Camp on Dick’s Creek” section of the album there is a photo of Kephart dismantling a lean-to captioned: “Addio! / Sunday, October 30, 1904.”   

There’s no entry for Monday. Section 36 opens “Off for Medlin,” and “Second Class Travel” (indicating he has departed Dillsboro for Busnell). The entry “Trip to Medlin” indicates that he has departed Bushnell for Medlin with Calhoun.

Page 21 of the album provides photographs of or from the cabin. One is captioned “The Cabin in Autumn” and just above it is Kephart’s caption: “Lived here alone, Nov. 2, 1904, to Jan. 1906.” The image above that notation is missing but the only place he lived during that time was in the cabin on the Little Fork. 

The opening of volume two of Kephart’s Camping and Woodcaft (1917) reads: “From the autumn of 1904 until the winter of 1906 I lived, most of the time, alone in a little cabin on the Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains.”     

According to a page in Kephart’s journals captioned “Southern Appalachians — Seasonal Changes” 5 inches of snow had fallen by Nov. 13, when, according to Granville Calhoun, Kephart still had a week to go in his recovery from “the torpor and tremens.”

Bob Plott is the author of The Story of the Plott Hound (History Press, 2007) and other books about WNC. In an email of Aug. 27, 2014, Plott wrote: “Granville Calhoun was a childhood hero of mine. I am honored to have the diary I sent you, as well as his pistol, fishing rod, pocket watch and host of other personal items that mean a lot to me, but most people would consider useless. I spent considerable amount of time with him when he was almost a hundred years old — and he was still sharp as a tack then as this was before his stroke — and I was only 9 or 10. Our friendship lasted until his death at 103.”

The “diary” Plott references is a 3-by-6 inch, 48-page booklet titled “Pierce’s Memorandum and Account Book (World Dispensary Medical Association, 1900.) 

Incredibly, the first entry is dated Aug. 5, 1904, while the last is Nov. 30, 1904, providing an almost exact frame of reference for the time period at issue.

There are numerous brief references in pencil to plowing, visiting neighbors, etc., but there isn’t a single reference to Horace Kephart. Indeed, on the date when Calhoun supposedly met Kephart at Bushnell, the notation reads “plowed some.” 

An argument could be made that it’s unlikely Calhoun would fail to mention someone he had traveled 32 miles roundtrip to pick up and subsequently nursed back to life in his own home. But the booklet isn’t signed as an indication of ownership by Calhoun or anyone else. And although the handwriting resembles samples of Calhoun’s writing available online, I’m still not certain that it was Granville’s, despite the fact that it was part of a collection of items belonging to Calhoun. (  

Looking through my files, I reread a lengthy interview with Kephart conducted in Bryson City by F.A. Behymer of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1926. It was reprinted on Dec. 12 of the same year in the Asheville Citizen-Times as “Horace Kephart, Driven from Library by Broken Health, Reborn in Woods.” 

“There was a railroad from Asheville to Murphy. It would take him somewhere close to the ‘Back of Beyond’ he was seeking. Dillsboro on the Tuckaseigee seemed from the map a good place to take off from … but there he learned that a little farther westward greater solitude was to be found, and he moved on up the line to Bushnell. From there with all his worldly possessions in a pack on his back he set out [with] three days rations 

… Beyond this provision his dependence was upon rod and gun … He did not know where he would make his lodge. Probably where night found him. Or the next night or the night after that. It did not matter … An abandoned cabin afforded shelter.” 

Kephart’s 1926 version is certainly a fabrication concocted to make his departure into the remote Smokies seem all the more dramatic and romantic.

Ken Wise is an associate professor at the University of Tennessee’s John C. Hodges Library. He is co-author of of several books on the Smokies, including Hiking Trails of the Great Smoky Mountains (2014).

In his chapter on the hiking trails and history of Hazel Creek, Wise summarizes Frome’s account before providing the following conclusion: “There is evidence that Calhoun’s recollection of his first encounter with Kephart is largely inaccurate. Calhoun recounted this story when he was an old man, 50 years after the events took place. While the setting remains accurate, details of some of the events conflict with other known instances. It is doubtful that Kephart spent three weeks at Calhoun’s recuperating from an illness. Nevertheless, Calhoun’s account is an enduring part and parcel of the strange lore that masquerades as the life story of Horace Kephart.”                 

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