Horace Kephart: A Great-Grandfather Appreciation

Posted by | May 12, 2009

Please welcome guest blogger Beth Kephart. Kephart is an award-winning author of what is now ten books—memoir,poetry,corporate, fable, history, and literary novels for young adults—who is currently at work on a novel for adults.

He must have been short, my brother tells me. I saw a portrait of his face, full on, he says, for the first time. It was astonishing to see the photographs of his funeral—to see how many traveled so far to say a final goodbye.

Laura Kephart, wife of Horace KephartLaura Kephart.

We are, my brother and I, forever looking for glimpses of our great-grandfather, Horace Kephart. Kephart has been glorified; he has been vilified. He did public good (his librarianship, his camp craft, his anthropological Our Southern Highlanders, his passion for preserving the Great Smoky Mountains). He did private harm (leaving a wife and their six children behind to live the life he knew would save him). He is mythical in some minds. He lived and breathed, actual and real, within my family’s memory.

Horace Kephart childrenThe Kephart children.

I am a writer like he was; so is my son. I need the outdoor air, the rivers, the mountains to survive—hawks and hummingbirds, yellow finches, the bloom of transplanted irises. His blood runs through me—his melancholy, his joy. But all I have of him is the books he left behind, the photographs that others took, the rumors, the research, the artifacts tucked safely within the acclaimed space of George Ellison’s library. All I have is what my friend Ann McDermott says: I have a Bryson City friend who has something she wants to show you.

What do we ever have of those we never knew, who nonetheless have shaped us, and will shape those who live beyond us?

I haven’t climbed Mount Kephart, not yet. It’s a place I’ll someday take my son.

5 Responses

  • Lester Gregory says:

    For six weeks in 1931 I was able to sit on the porch of the Calhoun House. along with my friends. to hear Horace Kephart read from some of his books.This was a daily ritual until his death in April..I am glad the locals have decided to honor his efforts to improve the area,We boy scouts used to walk up Deep Creek to the Bryson Place, his last campsite.There is a plate to his memmory.

  • I am looking for information on the Bryson City, Horace Kephart, Boy Scout Troop. Any information would be greatly appreciated as I am writing a story about the Boy Scout Troop.

  • Jim Casada says:

    Mr. Gregory may well have listened to Kephart read his stories, but it would not have been on the porch of the Calhoun House. While Granville Calhoun, his son, Seymour, and his granddaughter did eventually acquire the property, that did not occur until the building of Fontana Dam in the 1940s. These myths seem to grow like weeds and distort the historical truth. Even today the proprietors of the place suggest Kephart shared tales with Granville Calhoun there. It simply did not happen–Kephart had been dead for well over a decade before the place was owned by the Calhouns.

    As for the plaque near the Bryson Place, it was placed by the local BSA troop named for Kephart and led by Simon Peter Davis. I personally have serious doubts about the permanency of the campsite, at least where the plaque is placed, for three reasons. It is not a particularly salubrious location, it is not situated as close to the branch running through the area as one would have expected, but most notably, why would a man who prized solitude have a camp at one of the most popular destinations for sportsmen in the entire region?

  • Thomas Midgett says:

    Is it possible Mr Gregory meant the Cooper House? Obviously if he can remember sitting on any porch in 1931 then he must be in his 80s or older.

  • Thomas Midgett says:

    Point being maybe his memory is cloudy. Im sure he has some interesting stories just the same. Nice to see a discussion on Kephart and the area. I have enjoyed the book and the area many times.

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