The story behind the man: First-ever Horace Kephart biography explores a complex man and momentous life

Horace Kephart has been dead for 88 years, but his name and his story still pull an undercurrent through Western North Carolina. 

Kephart is acclaimed as the father of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an outdoorsman gifted with an adventurous soul, and the author of such staples of regional literature as Our Southern Highlanders and Camping and Woodcraft. He’s derided, too, as a man with a severe drinking problem, a shirker of family responsibility and an outsider who profited off of sometimes less-than-flattering depictions of the locals. 

A search for Horace Kephart’s alcove

The setting for Horace Kephart’s posthumous novel Smoky Mountain Magic (2009) is the Cherokee Indian Reservation, Bryson City and Deep Creek — places familiar to most readers of this column. The main character, John Carrabus, spends much of his time camped in a hideaway named Nick’s Nest (a real place adjacent to the well-know Bryson Pace) where there’s a rock overhang he calls “The Alcove” and an immense cavern in which he becomes trapped.

Ellison just plain wrong about Granville Calhoun

op granvilleTo the Editor:

I have read with interest the original article by George Ellison questioning the account that Granville Calhoun has provided about the trip of Horace Kephart to Hazel Creek in 1904 and the response made to that article by Granville’s great niece Gwen Franks Breese and Mr. Ellison’s response to her letter. Quite frankly I am appalled by Mr. Ellison’s largely unsupported position that the story related by Mr. Calhoun was false.

More on the saga of Kephart’s arrival at Hazel Creek

op kephartTo the Editor:

Readers may well be approaching exhaustion with this ongoing exchange regarding circumstances surrounding Horace Kephart’s arrival at Hazel Creek, but since his death the Kephart saga has been misrepresented to a degree rivaling the pervasive stereotyping and inaccuracies found in Our Southern Highlanders (OSH). We feel it important to delineate some factual verities.

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. 

Digging deeper into the Kephart-Calhoun relationship

mtnvoicesThe meeting between Granville Calhoun and Horace Kephart (the quintessential highlander and outlander, respectively) is a noteworthy event in this region’s cultural history. Janet McCue and I are especially interested in events associated with that encounter for the Kephart biography we are writing. The ongoing exchanges in the pages of this newspaper have been more than informative.   

Unraveling the story of Horace Kephart’s ‘drying out’

op kephartGeorge Ellison’s response to Gwen Breese’s letter regarding his article on Horace Kephart and his condition when he arrived at Hazel Creek states, correctly, that as someone who is working on a biography of Horace Kephart, he is “obligated to examine, as best I can, each episode in Kephart’s life in the light of available evidence.” We wholeheartedly agree with that obligation. However, the information and supposed evidence which Ellison offers in an effort to describe Calhoun’s story of the meeting with and “drying out” of Kephart as nothing more than the equivalent of a “tall tale spun by Mark Twain” is at best open to serious question and at worst highly suspect. Here are some of the reasons why this rewriting of history is so fraught with problems.

Looking back at strawberry wine, Kephart and Calhoun

In a letter to the editor of the Smoky Mountain News published several weeks ago, Gwen Franks Breese took exception to a Back Then column of mine originally published in SMN in November 2013. 

That column went into considerable detail as to Horace Kephart’s “condition” (in November 1904) at the time Granville Calhoun (her great-uncle) escorted the writer from Bushnell to an abandoned cabin on the Little Fork of the Sugar Fork of Hazel Creek.

Kephart's life after Hazel Creek

Horace Kephart left the cabin site on the Little Fork in the fall of 1907, spending considerable time in other areas of the Southern Appalachians, comparing life there with what he had observed here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Upon his return to the Smokies in 1910, the W.M. Ritter Lumber Company had commenced operations on Hazel Creek. Not wanting to live among that sort of activity, he moved into the Cooper House, an unpretentious boarding just off the town square in Bryson City.  He also rented a small office space over the old Bennett’s Drug Store just around the corner.  

No shortage of critics as Kephart play comes home

art frFor a man who has just won the North Carolina Literature Award, writer Gary Carden is quite somber.

At his home in Sylva last week, he rocked in a chair on the front porch, his trusty dog Jack lying nearby. He was recently informed of the award, but it seems bittersweet. His latest creation — and a catalyst for the achievement — is the play “Outlander,” a historical drama about famed writer Horace Kephart who chronicled the lives of hardscrabble Appalachian settlers in the early 1900s.

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