This is a production of Cornell University Library.
JANET MCCUE: Well, thank you, Michael, for that incredible introduction. And thank you all for being here today. So I might start off with getting teary because I see so many familiar faces in the audience. I also see some people who are trying to make me laugh. Do you see Christina's glasses and Barb's glasses? They'll keep me from getting too teary today.
But I'd like to actually start with a quote from Elder Leopold, the philosopher, author, ecologist, and environmentalist. He wrote that there are some who can live without wild things and others who cannot. I'd like to think that Back of Beyond, Horace Kephart's biography, is the story of a man who could not.
Now if I were in Western North Carolina today and I mentioned Horace Kephart's name, many people in the audience would be familiar at least with his name and maybe aspects of his story. There is one of the highest peaks in the Smokies is named Mount Kephart. There's a popular hiking trail called Kephart Prong. There's a memorial marker as you drive into Bryson City that touts not only his accomplishments in the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park but also his two most famous books, Camping and Woodcraft and Our Southern Highlanders, both of which are still in print. In fact, all of his books are still in print.
There's a tombstone overlooking Bryson City. That's where Kephart is buried. And little tokens are always placed on his tombstone by wayfaring strangers. All of his books are still in print, as I mentioned. And the University of Tennessee Press is publishing a new Kephart reader next year. So in Western North Carolina, his name has certainly not been forgotten.
But here we are in upstate New York. And Horace Kephart, I bet, unless you're in my family, is not necessarily a household name. But there are many people, places, and things connected to Kephart or connected to Ithica and connected to Cornell that play an important role in the Kephart narrative. Many of us have just walked by Fernow Hall as we came here. And Fernow-- the name Fernow-- one of Kephart's daughters was married to a Fernow.
And there is a mysterious letter all written in code that tells an important part of the Kephart story. She signed her name Wonref, W-O-N-R-E-F. And only because I knew Fernow Hall would I understand that Wonref was Fernow spelled backwards. Wenkroy was New York spelled backwards. You know, there are lots of different codes in this letter. And it plays an important part in telling Kephart's story.
There's a glen in the botanical gardens called Kephart Glen. There's a tombstone in the Ithica city cemetery that has Laura's name and Horace's name even though Horace is buried in Western North Carolina. It was Claudia who actually pointed out that tombstone to me and Saoirse who actually helped me find it in the cemetery.
So there are lots of people, places, and things that connect to the Kephart story. Robert Morgan, who teaches in the English department, teaches creative writing, his poem entitled "Horace Kephart" opens Back of Beyond.
So today I'd like to do actually three things. I'd like to talk a little bit about Horace Kephart so that you understand some of his accomplishments and maybe with a little focus on Ithaca and Cornell, because normally in Western North Carolina, most folks aren't that interested in the Cornell connections, but it'll be nice to have an audience that's familiar with Kephart and Ithaca to be able to talk to today. So I'd like to tell you about some of his accomplishments as well as his contradictions, also give you a sense of why I've been interested in this guy for the last 40 years, as Michael so kindly pointed out. And then I'd like to leave lots of time for questions from you.
I'm going to start with a reading from the prologue just so we all have a similar context. "By the 1880s, the railway that would become known as the Murphy branch extended from Asheville to Waynesville over the Balsam Mountains via what is still the highest crossing in the eastern United States, to Silva and to the adjacent village of Dillsborough.
From there, the original tracks continued to Bryson City where Deep Creek empties into the Tuckasegee River and on down to Bushnell near where the Tuckasegee once flowed into the Little Tennessee River, now Lake Fontana, and finally up through the Precipitous Nantahala Gorge to Andrews and Murphy. It was completed in 1891. The Murphy branch help transform the region wherever it was extended. The North Carolina flank of the Great Smokies in particular became directly accessible for representatives of logging, mining, and land investment companies.
In their wake came more homesteaders, missionaries, tourists, sportsmen, convalescents, and wayward travelers seeking a place of refuge. It also served as the gateway to the region for individuals who would make singular contributions in their given area of interest.
James Mooney, a monumental figure in the studies of Western Indian cultures, especially the ghost dance tradition, conducted his initial fieldwork among the Cherokees in the 1980s, which resulted in the publication of myths of the Cherokees. John K. Small, who would become the first curator of museums at the New York Botanical Gardens and author of The Flora of Southeastern United States conducted his first botanical excursions in Western North Carolina in the summer of 1891.
William Brewster, who co-founded the American Ornithologist Union, conducted his most significant field work in the summer of 1895 as did Arthur Keith, who served as president of the Geological Society of America.
But unlike Mooney, Small, Brewster, and Keith, Kephart did not merely extract the information he needed from the region and then depart. He ended up staying. And in doing so, he became the writer most closely associated in the national consciousness with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which he would help found. His Camping in Woodcraft is established as one of the cornerstones of American outdoor writing, having been almost continuously in print in various formats since 1906.
The Place of Our Southern Highlanders, first published in 1913, with an expanded edition in 1922, as one of the classics of both southern Appalachian and regional American literature is secure even while aspects of his depiction of mountain culture are still debated.
His posthumously published novel, Smoky Mountain Magic, evokes the life, lure, language, and landscapes of the pre-park Great Smoky Mountains. This biography attempts to piece together the varied incidents in Kephart's life that took place in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Italy, Germany, Austria, New Jersey, Connecticut, Missouri, Ohio, Washington, DC, and the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee while at the same time evoking recurrent themes as they emerge and evolve through the years.
A biography is not only a story of its subject but also of the major figures in his or her life. Those who fill that role in the Horace Kephart story are each one varied and interesting in his or her own right.
Kephart's father Isaiah, for example, was a pervasive influence, especially in regard to their shared and somewhat idealized admiration for all things associated with the pioneer lifestyle. Despite some differences"-- whoops-- yep. "Despite some differences, the two remained close until Isaiah's death in 1908.
Kephart and his wife Laura maintained a sometimes enigmatic yet constant relationship. Even though their attempted reconciliation in 1909 failed and they were essentially estranged for the last three decades of their marriage, they corresponded regularly and both attended a family reunion that took place in New York City in 1927.
An important influence was Nesmock George Washington Sears, the author of the widely popular Woodcraft. Bob Barnett, who appears as himself in Our Southern Highlanders and in camping and Woodcraft, and as the fictional character Tom Buford, met Kephart soon after his arrival in the Smokies. The two maintained a close relationship until Kephart's death. The Asheville-based photographer George Massa and Kephart merged their respective talents in support of the movement that culminated in the founding of the National Park in the Smokies in 1934.
Most people who are aware of the Kephart story think of it as having two distinct periods, life prior to 1904 and life thereafter. It's a dividing line that Kephart himself also fostered. But influencing his life both before and after that division were several important traits, themes, and concerns. He maintained a researcher's mindset and a systematic way of thinking even after he was no longer a professional librarian. His affirmation abiding interest in the pioneer lifestyle, was based upon his father's experiences growing up in the Alleghenies.
Throughout his life, Kephart believed in the recuperative powers inherent in the natural world. And as a young man, he began formulating his concepts, involving the need to search for and find a place of refuge, or as he phrased, a back of beyond.
I thought we'd start with some of the things that Kephart said about himself. Kephart wrote this letter to his friend Koopman. They were both graduate students at Cornell in the 1880s. He wrote, "Looky here. When you"-- meaning Koopman-- "when you came to Ithaca, I"-- meaning Kephart-- "was on the high road to Bustville, drinking beer, using unorthodox idioms, belligerously impious, and very full of advanced ideas on social subjects. You used to sigh over me and lend me money."
Kephart came to Cornell as a graduate student in 1880. He had been born in central Pennsylvania in 1862. And when he was five, his family moved to Iowa. The extended Kephart family were very much a part of the United Brethren Church. His dad was a minister, served as chaplain in the Civil War. Two of his uncles were bishops in the church, and all of Kephart's schooling through college was in the United Brethren Church schools.
He graduated from college when he was 16, but he did say that it was not without some misgivings on the part of the faculty. So after he left Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, he spent a year in Boston, where he strengthened his language skills and his science background. And it was then that he came to Cornell as a graduate student studying history and political science.
While he was a grad student, he got a job working in the library. He worked under the first librarian at Cornell, Daniel Willard Fiske, and Fiske was professor of North European languages as well as the university librarian. Morris Bishop describes Fiske as "possessed by a raging intellectual curiosity, but when this was somewhat appeased, he found a new subject of inquiry." Now Fiske could lecture in Swedish, he could read stories in Persian, he could speak Italian or Icelandic, he was an incredible linguist and a bibliophile.
But he saw the library as the literary workshop of the university. The library that time was housed in McGraw Hall. And his intent was to make the library as accessible as possible to both students and to faculty. Kephart's job in the library was to create a unified subject and author index. At that time there were different listings. The library was created because of donations and because of purchases. Each of those little subject collections had their own listings or catalogs, but there was no unified author and subject catalog. And that was what Kephart's job was in that position.
In the summer of 1883, Kephart's parents and his sister Bella came to visit. And it was around this time that he also met a young woman. Her name was Laura White Mack. She came from a prominent Ithaca family. Her father was the assistant treasurer at Cornell. There were judges and elected officials and merchants in her family.
Laura's family lived in Cascadilla Hall. And she was talented. She was popular. The Cornell Daily Sun, in fact, writes about her cheerfulness and her vast usefulness to student enterprises. Kephart, on the other hand, says, "I know no games, tell no stories, am anything but a musician, can't joke, guess riddles, dance, flirt, or even sit gracefully. I can't talk nonsense with strangers and I won't. My lore is of the heavy and hardly digestible kind, which is fiendish to introduce in common conversation. I can talk like a phonograph on points of literature, statecraft, morals, or art when I feel like it, but it's the hardest thing in the world for me to entertain a stranger when I find that I'm on my good behavior."
So quite a contrast between this sum between these two young people. But in spite of those differences, these opposites did attract, and soon they were engaged. Kephart, although his love life was promising, his work life was much more challenging. In 1883, Fiske resigned his position at the university following his wife's death and a major lawsuit related to her estate. If you haven't read the Great Will case in Maurice Bishop's history of Cornell, I highly encourage you to do it. It's an extraordinary lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court.
But as a result of that lawsuit, the university's finances were incredibly tight. And in some ways, I also think that the Great Will case also affected Kephart. Kephart was anxious to marry. He was anxious to have a permanent position in the library with some hope for advancement. And although his new boss-- who was Mr. Harris-- although he supported Kephart's promotion and salary increase, and even AD White, the president of Cornell, supported it, the executive committee of the university said no way. We're not giving raises to anybody. Might sound a little familiar to contemporary Cornellians.
But Kephart, as a result, was livid. As you can see from this letter that he sent to Fiske, he said he was thinking about options. Maybe he was going to give up being a librarian and become a lawyer, move to California. His parents were living out in California now. And he said that would be better than living and dying an underpaid, underestimated university attache. But he obviously was sick of that policy that treats employees as serfs and is liberal only in advertising, adjectives, gilt, and tinsel. So it was not one of his better days at Cornell.
So Kephart considered his options, but ultimately he decided not to move to California. Instead, he accepted Fiske's offer to come to Italy, where Fiske was now living. After he resigned his position, he moved to Italy with his mother and became-- he had already been an incredible bibliophile, but he was very focused on building his rare book library.
This is a picture of the library at his villa in Italy. He did receive some money from Jenny's estate, but there was a major lawsuit, and there was a lot of gossip in town as to as to the Fiskes and their finances. So he moved to Italy, and he invited Kephart to come and catalog his Petrarch collection. Fiske had both collected Petrarch and Dante.
And in fact, after all of the lawsuits and after Fiske's death, Cornell inherited that Petrarch collection. We have an extraordinary collection of both Petrarch and Dante. We also have a copy of Kephart's cataloging book. He described in great detail all of the Petrarch books that were in Fiske's collection, and his book is still in the library with his very thorough descriptions.
But Kephart spent a year abroad. He spent about 14 months there. He did his research in German libraries and university. He traveled throughout Italy, collecting rare editions of Petrarch and cataloging them. He hiked in the Alps and socialized with the Fiskes. Willard Fiske had a great circle of friends, and Kephart was very much a part of that scene.
But he was anxious to come back. He wanted to marry his sweetie. And after 14 months abroad, he did make it back in time for Laura's Valentine's Day birthday. He had strengthened his language skills, he had developed his research skills, and he was he was an important figure in early librarianship. Of course, he got a job soon after he got back. He was hired by Yale, and a year later, he and Laura married. Soon there was a little Kephart on the way and then another little Kephart on the way.
But he excelled as a librarian. And after three years, he was hired as director of the St. Louis Mercantile Library, which was considered the finest library west of the Mississippi. Kephart had learned from his mentor, and one of his goals was to modernize the library. He hired professional staff. He developed services such as a reference desk, an interlibrary loan, and document delivery. And he also built up an extraordinary collection of Western Americana literature, collecting the narratives of trappers and explorers of the west, locating rare government publications that described the geology and vegetation of the area.
His family had grown to six little kiddos. And he was well-known as both a St. Louis professional and a well-regarded librarian nationally.
Now for many years, Kephart had a passion for target shooting, and he was good at that. In the '90s, he also developed a passion for camping and woodcraft. He used Nessmuk as his guide. Nessmuk was the pen name of George Washington Sears from Willsboro, Pennsylvania. But he was the explorer of the Adirondacks. And he taught Kephart the woodcraft skills that he needed to be able to explore the wilderness.
And it was sometime in the 1890s that Kephart's writing shifted rather dramatically. He wrote a lot of history articles, particularly on the pioneer history, and he also did, certainly, a lot of articles on library and information science. But around the 1890s, late 1890s, his writing shifted dramatically to writing on outdoor topics predominantly. He wrote for Field and Stream and Forest and Stream, and Outing.
And his son Leonard described his father's den, which he said contained "on shelves and in closets in orderly ranks were axes, compasses, knives, pelts, camp clothing, medicines, condensed food, and all the other paraphernalia used in camping in the woods. In racks on the walls were revolvers and rifles, and in a special corner was the table in a cabinet where he experimented with bullet molds and cartridge loading."
Escaping St. Louis was easy. He could step off the train at any number of the flag stops and be lost to the world. He describes this area to Koopman, and he says, "I've found a goodly wilderness within 25 miles of St. Louis to which I scuttle every Sunday. Plenty of foxes, coon, possum, and other small game, and not a human. It brings me health, strength, and a happy heart, this craze of mine. But enough."
By the turn of the century, though, the lure of the wild became seductive. And Kephart began spending more and more time in the woods, less time at home, fewer hours at the library, more time at the bars with his cronies. And by 1903 the situation was out of control. The board of the St. Louis Mercantile Library demanded his resignation. Kephart had gone from prominent librarian to disgraced professional.
Without a source of income, Laura and the six kids moved back to Ithaca, and Kephart moved into a rooming house and became more and more isolated. In 1904, Kephart handed a suicide note to a bartender and headed toward the Eades Bridge. He was stopped from jumping off the bridge by a police officer, who took him to the emergency room in the hospital.
The details of Kephart suicide attempt, the contents of his suicide letter, the paranoid delusions he was experiencing, and the hallucinations that he had had when he was in the boarding house was front page fodder for all of the newspapers in St. Louis. At the time there were three St. Louis newspapers, three dailies, and the news of Kephart's breakdown was blasted all over these papers. A reporter had actually come into Kephart room and interviewed this very sick man, and had no qualms about putting the details of that conversation into the newspaper.
When Kephart's parents and Laura heard about his mental and physical collapse, they rushed back to St. Louis, and Kephart's parents took him back to Dayton, Ohio, where he recovered. Other than a brief attempt at a reconciliation in 1908 and 1909, Laura and the kids never lived with Horace Kephart again.
Kephart once described his idea of paradise to Koopman. He said, "Imagine Boston or Florence set in the middle of Yellowstone Park with no suburbs, not even a farm within 200 miles. That's my idea of paradise. When a fellow wanted to, he could go to the public library or the opera. When he wanted to, he could walk right out into the primeval truth of things and cuss the universe of shams, be Samuel Johnson and Daniel Boone by turns."
For awhile, these two contrasting worlds could coexist. He could be a city man with a successful career and a beautiful family, and on weekends escape to the wilderness. But something shifted at the turn of the century, and it was no longer possible for Kephart to balance these two worlds. The stress, insomnia, and tension that he felt in his profession, along with the demands and chaos of a large family, it broke him. His reliance on alcohol exacerbated it all.
As one of Kephart's daughters wrote, "My father was not a normal man and could not stand it as most men do." These contradictions in Kephart's life-- his religious upbringing and his rebellious nature, the tension between professional and family life of the city man and the freedom of an explorer, the sham of civilization and the authenticity of the wilderness, the private man and the public world-- these tensions continued to play out during Kephart's life.
Kephart came to the smokies as a 41-year-old seeking a back of beyond, a refuge. After setting up a summer camp at Dix Creek, just west of Dillsboro, North Carolina, which is only half hour from where Michael went to college in Western North Carolina, he set up a summer camp there. And when winter approached, he moved into an abandoned cabin on the little fork of Sugar Fork of Hazel Creek deep in the Smokies.
It was there that he put his woodcraft skills to work over the next three years, met and benefited from the skills of his neighbors. And he actually drew a map of his of his neighborhood and the watershed area, the Complex Watershed, indicating on his map where the scattered residences of some of his neighbors were. He lived there for three years, for the most part for three years, and then he moved into town in 1910, renting a room at the Cooper House, and then also renting an office in a building overlooking the Tuckasegee River.
And it was here that he did good part of his writing for the next-- I'd have to subtract that-- for the next two decades. He also kept a summer camp, a fixed camp at Bryson Place, where he also did some writing. But many images of Kephart show him as a solitary man, as do many of the anecdotes about him. But he was actually a very friendly man and a wonderful storyteller. And he had a large circle of friends, from moonshiners to filmmakers, from politicians to writers.
And I put up this little memoir, or an excerpt of a memoir, that Dodette Westfeldt did when she met Kephart in 1912, 1913. And she says, "I should never forget the first time I met Horace Kephart. He came strolling up to our campfire one evening, he and a friend of his from Massachusetts, JB Anderson." If anybody is related to JB Anderson, I would love to know. He's a figure that we've been trying to find for the last 10 years. But JB Anderson is not an easy name to-- he played the ukulele, he wore a red flower in his lapel, and he came from Massachusetts. That's all we know about him.
But anyway, Kephart and Anderson strolled up to Dodette Westfeldt's family camp, and they had a delightful evening talking, not just that night but every night thereafter. She says that "We never tired of listening to him. He was fine company and a friendly and likeable man. He appreciated the mountaineers and liked them and they liked him. He was an expert shot, knew all about guns and camping. He also knew well the trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and ferns. He did love the Great Smoky Mountains and the mountain people. Oh, those were happy days that June up on Deep Creek."
So just to step back for a minute, folks ask me, what is it about Horace Kephart that intrigues you? And George gets that question all the time, and I think I've gotten that question quite a few times as well. So I thought maybe I'd tell you a little bit about-- before we go back to the Kephart story-- I'd tell you a little bit about my interest in Kephart and give you a sense of how that all came about.
Now was anyone here for Professor Matt Pritchard's talk last month? If you do, you might remember-- yeah, Jenny was there-- you might remember that he had this wonderful graph. Matt talked about the geology of the Finger Lakes. And I remember this one graph that went back to 385 million years ago when Africa collided into Pennsylvania, helping create some of the geology that's so familiar to us.
Well, my background, or my timeline with Kephart doesn't go back quite that far. But I thought this would be helpful for you to see-- and Michael did already allude to how long ago it started-- but my first interest in Kephart began in 1976, when my husband, Bob, had a copy of Camping and Woodcraft on his shelf. And we did lots of backpacking trips in the Smokies and in Canada, and also in other national parks.
But I was a city girl. I had been raised in Pittsburgh. My idea of nature was going to the Highland Park Reservoir in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. There wasn't a lot of nature around. So I fell in love. I think of my first encounter with Kephart as falling in love with the Smokies. I was enchanted with its grandeur, amazed by the profusion of wildflowers, and just struck by the beauty of it.
A few years later, as Michael said, I went to grad school at the University of Michigan. And I was in a research methods class. I had to do a annotated bibliography and bibliographic essay, and I decided to do to do it on Kephart and Kephart's writings.
And I cited that bell-bottomed young man over there, George Ellison. George had written a biographical introduction to Our Southern Highlanders. He had been invited to do that when he was a graduate student at the University of South Carolina. And so he wrote this wonderful biographical introduction, and I cited him liberally in my paper in 1979.
I came to Cornell in 1979, actually. And in my first job I had on Saturdays, I would often go to the library. Rare and Manuscripts was open on Saturday mornings, and this library nerd went to archives and delved into the Kephart archives. George, one of Kephart's sons, had deposited quite a bit of material on the Kephart family in the archives, and I found it. Having done that research and having seen Mount Kephart and hiked on Kephart Prong, I was already well-versed in some of the basics of Kephart.
But George's archives led me to a more intimate view. I also found correspondence with Fiske and AD White and Charles Hall and lots of other early members of the Kephart community. And a few years later, I had a son, and then another son. And Kephart was put on the back burner as my job and my family took up a lot of time and a lot of energy.
But in 1996, I took a brief research leave, a three-week leave research leave, and I traveled to Brown, I traveled to Western North Carolina, and traveled to St. Louis and used the archives in those three places. In just my regular job, I had run into a book on women in librarianship and happened to notice in a footnote for Kephart to Koopman letter. And that led me to that trove of documents at Brown University.
But again, about a year later I was appointed director of Mann Library, and I ran out of time. Again, Kephart was put on the back burner. He was put on the back burner many times in my life, as you can see. And not until 2006 did I pick him up again. A librarian from Alaska, Dennis Stevens, invited me to come down to Kephart Days in North Carolina. He had written a play about Kephart, and so I thought, why not?
So I went down there. Kephart Days was something that was initiated by Kephart's great granddaughter, Libby Kephart Hargrave. And all these folks who knew about Kephart or were interested in Kephart gathered there. And it was there that I met George. George realized that I had done work on Kephart's background, and I knew information that he didn't know. I certainly knew that George had done quite a bit of research on Kephart. So it was easy for us to have long gabfests, as Kephart might say.
He invited me to write a biographical introduction to Camping and Woodcraft. He was working on that at the time, and he me to co-author it. We did, and it was an 80-page biographical introduction. And that's when the Great Smoky Mountains asked us to write a full biography, and that resulted in Back of Beyond.
So I think I have a couple other things. I haven't actually talked about George. I need to talk about George. George is an extraordinary writer, naturalist, and wonderful human being. He was named one of the 100 most influential people in the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as was Kephart. He and his wife Elizabeth, who's a wonderful artist, were also named the Blue Ridge Naturalists of the Year.
When we began Back of Beyond, we were incredibly lucky to have this woman as our editor, Frances Figart, who not only helped smooth out two voices in writing a biography, she also pared out any extraneous information that we had, even though it's still a pretty long book.
She also tried to teach me the proper use of commas, which I don't think I've mastered yet, just like George has tried to teach me ferns. I've not mastered those yet, either. And you can also, I think, tell from this picture how much Kephart has aged us over the years.
But I began this presentation with a reading from the prologue, and I mentioned the Murphy Branch of the railroad transforming the area. Kephart writes in Our Southern Highlanders that-- this is in 1913-- "A way down in the rear, I heard the snort of a locomotive, one of those cog-wheeled affairs that are specially built for mountain climbing with a steam loader and three camps of 100 men each. It was despoiling the Tennessee forest. Slowly but inexorably, a leviathan was crawling into the wilderness and was soon to consume it."
It was this devastation that prompted Kephart's interest, as well as the interests of others, in protecting the Smokies. Stephen Mather, who was the first director of the National Park Service-- the National Park Service was created in 1916-- he believed that we should have some parks in the east, not just in the west. At that time, the only park in the east was Acadia National Park, what was called Lafayette National Park at the time.
That being in Maine, most of the population of the United States, a national park wasn't accessible to them. He believed that having national parks in the east would not only benefit the people, but he also thought it would add additional political structure or political power to the National Park Service because more people would be engaged. More people would be dedicated to the idea of having national parks.
So the Secretary of the Interior, under which the National Park Service resides, established a commission in 1924. It was the Southern Appalachian National Park Commission, and its goal was to try to identify places in the east that would be suitable for a national park. The commission members, over eight months, looked at various sites that people had recommended or that they knew, sites from Georgia to West Virginia, from Alabama to Kentucky, and certainly North Carolina and Tennessee.
People and organizations made lots of different claims about their area being the best. It had a lot of economic benefit. People were hoping to have tourist dollars associated with the establishment of a park. But also, people were keenly interested in protecting areas that they thought were extraordinary.
And it was at this point that Kephart stepped into action. He wrote articles for newspapers and magazines. He organized talks. He discussed the economic benefits that new roads and tourist dollars would have. He wrote about the unique qualities of the Smokies. He published this book. Actually, one of the members of the commission, the Southern Appalachian Commission on the parks, saw his writing, and they said, Kephart, I'll give you $500. Get a copy of this book in every area of all of our states and make sure that people know about the benefits of the Smokies.
So Kephart's Congressman, also, Zebulon Weaver-- I love the name Zebulon Weaver-- he also wrote a letter to Kephart in December, 1924, asking him for the salient facts on why the Smokies should be the best location for a national. Park and on Christmas Day, Kephart delivered the answer. It was an eight-page, eloquent statement. It was read on the House floor, inserted into the Congressional record. And in it, he extolled the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains.
I also thought I'd throw in one of Elizabeth's paintings here. It's sort of like the Wizard of Oz. Everything is black and white and then you get a little burst of color. But Kephart wrote-- and this is an excerpt from this eight-page letter-- but he says, "For wild beauty and grandeur, I've seen nothing in eastern America that equals the Smoky divide in its outlooks. Over a good part of this range, the primitive forest still stands, and it's the most varied forest in the world today.
Long ago, when Asa Gray, the botanist of Harvard was in Western North Carolina, he said that in a 31-mile jaunt, he identified a greater variety of native forest trees can be found than in crossing Europe from England to Turkey, or going across our continent from Boston to the Rocky Mountain plateau. If he had come a little further west into the Smokies, he would have found still more."
Ayres and Ash, in their 1905 report on the Southern Appalachian forests, cataloged 136 species of native trees and 174 species of wild shrubs, nearly all of which are found in the Great Smoky section. The undergrowth, largely composed of species that cannot survive if the original tree growth is cut off, is so varied that this is one of the richest collecting grounds for botanists in the United States."
Kephart had done his homework and outlined exactly how the Smokies met the criteria for a national park in the east.
I'm going to close by reading a short section of the epilogue that describes Kephart's legacy. But before I do that, there are probably eight eloquent pages of acknowledgments in this book. And I just want to point out one of those pages because there's no way I could have written this book without George as my partner. There's also no way that I could have done it without Frances as our editor.
But there's also no way I couldn't have done it without various colleagues. Elaine [INAUDIBLE]. I don't know that Elaine is here, but she followed my Kephart journey for 40 years. Fred Muratori tried his damnedest to try and find something on Fiswoode Tarleton, another player in this saga.
Lots of folks. Jill tried to help me track down a patent on one of the bullets that Kephart had designed. Thomas Mills. There's another great case called that relates to Margaret Gooch, and he had colleagues and in Virginia getting legal cases for me.
So lots of folks in the library were incredibly instrumental in helping me. And Kenny as mentioned there. I see Ann back here. She supported some research time for me, which I very much appreciated. And also, I had an incredibly beautiful corner office that was about this big that allowed me to get away from my home and work on this project.
So I couldn't have done it without all of those people, including the superb interlibrary loan copying service and access to the HathiTrust. We're here in upstate New York, and I was doing a project on Western North Carolina. We don't have a rich deep collection on Western North Carolina, but Interlibrary Services and the HathiTrust were truly amazing.
So anyway, librarianship offers a better field for mental gymnastics than any other profession. My other son, who's not here today, did tell me that there's a new meaning for mental gymnastics, Mom, and you have to really be careful about how you use it because it's now being used to twist things rather than how Kephart meant it, as a lot of agility as a reference librarian. But anyway, I'm incredibly grateful for all the help I received on this book.
So let me just close by a real quick reading-- because I do want to leave time. This is going to be a three-minute reading-- but that talks a little bit about Kephart's legacy.
Kpehart's name has not been forgotten. He's remembered for his contributions to the establishment of the park and for the quality of his writing. No doubt he is remembered, too, for his story. The librarian and outdoorsman, writer and advocate, has his own riveting narrative of disaster and redemption. From the abyss of his breakdown in 1904, Hart found the fortitude to build a worthwhile life.
In spite of his retreat from his family, Kephart's wife and children remained loyal and understanding. In spite of his alcoholism, his weaknesses, and his escape, he had a successful career as a writer. He maintained a close and devote devoted circle of friends from many walks of life.
Paul Fink, who was instrumental in the Appalachian Trail and some work that Kephart had done, wrote that "Kephart was a delightful person to be with. Kephart remains a delightful person decades after his death. No matter how often we read Our Southern Highlanders or Camping and Woodcraft, we're captured by his language and his imagery.
Although Kephart scattered few autobiographical clues that would provide us with deep insights into his personality, his demons, or his emotions, we continue to try and puzzle out this gentleman from the Little Fork of Sugar Fork of Hazel Creek. Kephart's personality has captured the imagination of poets, playwrights, songwriters, and novelists. He was brilliant, according to Clarence Miller, his assistant at the St. Louis Mercantile Library.
Leonard Kephart, his son, called his father a natural storyteller. Hundreds paid tribute to Kephart at his funeral, and testimonials poured in after his death. Kephart made an indelible impression on his contemporaries.
But Miller also wrote that Kephart was baffling, and it may be this attribute that continues to intrigue us. He's a man full of contradictions, solitary yet a congenial storyteller, generous but indebted, conventional yet unconventional, a loyal friend and an absent parent, an outsider but a confidante.
Based on our understanding of his work and his life, we form our own perceptions. We piece together a version of his life. We begin hoping that a researcher will uncover a few more details about Kephart's life, find another letter in an archive, or learn from a family member that they found a lost diary matching the index in the Western Carolina University archives.
Maybe these as yet undiscovered details will someday dispel some of our bafflement. Until that happens, Kephart remains both a delightful companion and an enigmatic figure. Thank you.
Well, thank you, folks. Are there any questions? Who's JB Anderson? Who's Fiswoode Tarleton? Linda.
AUDIENCE: I just wondered if you ever met any of his descendants.
JANET MCCUE: Yeah. Well, Libby Kephart Hargrave, she's the one who set up Kephart Days, which goes every year. I don't make it to Kephart Days every year, but I have made it to a few of those. I've met Lucy [INAUDIBLE] great-- just one great-- granddaughter. Her grandmother was Lucy, who wrote the mysterious letter that I referred to. And I met George, George Kephart, Jr., who was at Kephart's funeral. He was a six-year-old boy, and he said it was the first time he ever saw a man cry. I also met-- yeah, Barbara. My gosh, I've met a lot of Kephart family members, yeah. Thanks, Linda.
Any other questions? Nancy.
AUDIENCE: Do you any of the details behind the bench that's in the arboretum, the Kephart Bench?
JANET MCCUE: Well, that's actually Leonard Kephart. I quoted Leonard. And he dedicated to his wife, Pauline. So Leonard and Pauline were a married couple. Leonard was Kephart's oldest son. And I don't know all the details of this either.
But what's amazing to me is Kephart his wife and kids. He earned his living being a writer. But after his death, Laura-- during Kephart's life, Laura and the kids struggled mightily. But after Kephart died, royalties continued to come in from his books. And when she died in the '50s, royalties were still coming in in the '70s.
And the family, at some point, became hard to distribute the royalties to the six kids and the grandchildren and the great grandchildren. And they gave money to Cornell, any proceeds from the relatives of the book. And it was at some point that Leonard decided to do that for his wife, Pauline. There's also a Kephart Glen in the Botanic Gardens because I think the money from the estate came to came to the Botanic Gardens.
AUDIENCE: In your thinking about him and writing about what he accomplished, how do you think that's affected the way you think about environmental issues or your interest in the natural world?
JANET MCCUE: Oh, thank you, Larry. That's a good question. Certainly one of the things-- I don't know if I mentioned it, but George and I were committed to publishing this book through the Smokies so proceeds from the book would go to the Smokies. We were very imbued with Kephart's idea that the Smokies saved his life. And writing a book about him, for us, the money had to go to the. Park
I think those early backpacking years took, maybe, on the Highland Park Reservoir. And I think I certainly agree with the recuperative power of the wilderness theme that Kephart had back in 1910, 1920. There's been a lot of research about that. I certainly have a wonderful group of friends that I enjoy hiking with. Bob and I have hiked all over the world, and to me, I can't imagine not having nature in my life.
So I think Kephart certainly pulled me out of being a city girl and into being much more appreciative of the wilderness, but also being much more environmentally conscious. It's a combination of things. But I certainly think Kephart played a role in that.
AUDIENCE: Does the Appalachian Trail go through the Smokies?
JANET MCCUE: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: When was that established, and have you hiked much of it?
JANET MCCUE: Some of it. Not all of it. Yeah, that's true. Actually, Kephart-- there's so many more things that I could have talked about. But Kephart had a major role in routing the Appalachian Trail through the Smokies. He also had a major role in the nomenclature of the Smokies. But at that time they were trying to figure out what the route of the Smokies should be.
He died in 1931. And it was Kephart and Masa and Paul Fink and others who helped route, or find a route, through the Smokies on the state line. Again, interesting to think about the politics that go on. But different people wanted the Appalachian Trail going through their area. And certainly there was a big group that wanted it to be on the high peaks in the Smokies. So I have hiked a little of that.
What was the other part of your question, Paul? Oh, when was it established. It wasn't completed during Kephart's lifetime, but a few years later. I don't have that date off the top of my head. But he was in correspondence with Myron Avery, as was Kephart's friend George Masa. And Myron Avery is considered the builder of the Appalachian Trail because he used all the different hiking groups as his man- and womanpower to mark the trail and to clean up the trail. There's a whole chapter in there on the Appalachian Trail. Yes.
AUDIENCE: Did Kephart have any relationship with Gifford Pinchot and the president at the time that would have been involved?
JANET MCCUE: Not as far as I know. I mean, he was inspired by Teddy Roosevelt. He actually raised a regimen of sharpshooters to fight in the Cuban Spanish American War. But he didn't know him. I think he admired him. And he didn't actually get called up. The war was over before-- I don't think they needed sharpshooters at that point. But I have no knowledge of him knowing Gifford Pinchot.
AUDIENCE: Wasn't he involved with the National Forest Service?
JANET MCCUE: And there's a lot of confusion. The establishment of the park was in 1916. And so up until that point, the forest was really the only way to protect a natural area. So there was a lot of confusion early on about whether the Smokies should be a national park or a national forest. And it was only after people understood the difference between forests-- national parks and national forests-- that the emphasis shifted to making the Smokies into a national park.
But the closest he came to the sources of power were really the commission, the Southern Appalachian National Park Commission and his Congressmen. He also knew Arno Cammerer. I forgot that. He was the assistant director of the National Park Service. So he knew people and they knew him. There's a lot of correspondence between Cammerer and Kephart, too. But I don't know the president had any knowledge of him. Michael.
AUDIENCE: Did he interact with or write much about the Cherokee?
JANET MCCUE: He did. There's a book-- in fact, Cornell has a copy of it-- The Cherokees of North Carolina. It's a very powerful statement. And essentially-- Kephart was president of the North Carolina Literary and Historic Association. And he gave an address to that group, and essentially he said, I'm going to give the white people hell for their treatment of the native population. And he did. It's quite a powerful statement.
And that was actually a book that-- he had written it as an address. And after Laura died, there's a what some wonderful stories related to IK Stearns, who was a friend of Kephart's, trying to find some way to give Laura some support and money. She still has these six kids. And they actually republished The Cherokees of North Carolina into a small pamphlet and sold that as a way to raise money for the Kephart family.
In fact, one of the kids later was peddling The Cherokees of North Carolina every year when he went down to western North Carolina, and selling it. And that book is still in print, too. You can buy it. Yes. Hi, Gene.
AUDIENCE: How come there's a Horace Kephart stone in the Ithaca City Cemetery?
JANET MCCUE: That's a good question, isn't it? Thank you, Claudia, for pointing it out to me. But it truly is amazing to me. I mean, many people ask, how could you like a man who left his wife and kids and self-medicated with alcohol and drugs? It's a good question. But I figure if Laura could forgive this guy, I certainly have to forgive this guy.
And Laura died in the '50s. And before she died-- she was, like, 94 years old, and she's writing to somebody in North Carolina asking why isn't there a marker on my husband's tomb yet? And she said money was gathered for that, and why is there no marker?
The attorney that she wrote to said, we'll get right to it, ma'am. But when she died, she was cremated, and she wanted to be buried with Horace. And there was no more room at the cemetery in Bryson City for her. And I often think-- I like to think-- that Kephart's family members scattered some of her ashes on the tombstone in Bryson City. But in the 1970s, 1971 or '72, the Kephart kids, I guess, finally gave up. Her ashes were stored at-- what's the funeral home downtown? Bangs. Yeah. Her ashes were stored there for almost 20 years.
And finally the kids probably gave up and said, we need to do something with mom's ashes. And so they buried her in the Ithaca Cemetery. But they put Horace's name and Laura's name. I think it was definitely a tribute to her because she wanted to be buried beside her husband. Just sort of amazing love story.
Any other questions? Yes, Evelyn.
AUDIENCE: In your research that you did, if there's one person that you came across, you were introduced to and would love to know more about, who would that be?
JANET MCCUE: JB Anderson. Well, besides JB Anderson. Oh, there are so many interesting people. Another one is IK Stearns. IK Stearns-- we mentioned him in the prologue as somebody that Kephart was perhaps of a father figure for him.
And to me, he was another one of these amazing characters I would have loved to have talked to. I actually met his grandson in Pennsylvania. But Stearns was an amazing friend to Kephart. He was not the original executor of Kephart's estate. Somebody else was, and that person you know didn't do a lot in terms of settling Kephart's debts.
Kephart died in 1931 after visiting the bootlegger and died in an automobile accident with Fiswoode Tarleton, which is why I had to talk to Fred about who Fiswoode Tarleton was. But he had debts. He was never a wealthy man. And the original executor of the state did little to erase those debts. It was also the Depression, so it wasn't an easy time for anybody.
When he died, IK Stearns was put in charge of settling the estate. His letters to Laura were incredible. I mean, he's the one who thought of, well, let's republish The Cherokees and you can get some money. He settled the estate. He kept all of Kephart's things, waiting for a museum to be built. He stored them in his house. He stored them in an abandoned jail cell. He stored them in an old bank building. He stored them all over to try and keep all this stuff together. And a lot of it is at Western Carolina University because of his work. I would've loved to have talked to him.
His own his own father had left. And he writes that Kephart-- you read stories to my son, Joe, and Joe was like one of your kids, or I was like one of your kids. So I would have enjoyed talking to IK Stearns.
There are people that are mysterious, like Margaret Gooch. I would love to talk to her. She married a man who was much older than she, and on their return from their honeymoon, Mr. Gooch-- her name was Margaret Gooch when she married-- Mr. Gooch was killed, was shot on the train returning from their honeymoon. Now that's an interesting story. Well, what happened there? And so there are lots of people that I'll probably die doing research on Kephart's life because you realize there are lots of little threads that you'd still like to follow up and fill in the blanks on.
Yep. Oh, good to see you.
AUDIENCE: Did Kephart ever live in Cullowhee or have a connection to Western Carolina?
JANET MCCUE: Well, he lived in Bryson City, which is not too far from Cullowhee. But no. He was in Dillsboro initially, but then Bryson City. But he certainly did a lot of traveling throughout the Smokies region. I'm not sure what when the school was founded. It was probably just a small--
AUDIENCE: It was tiny when I lived there.
JANET MCCUE: Oh, did you live there, too?
AUDIENCE: Yeah. Early '50s.
JANET MCCUE: Did Michael know that? Well, it's a beautiful, absolutely beautiful area.
AUDIENCE: It was founded 1889.
JANET MCCUE: 1889.
AUDIENCE: Because I graduated on the Centennial.
AUDIENCE: But it was very small, I'm told.
JANET MCCUE: Yeah, it's probably a teachers college.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, it was Teachers College. Western Carolina Teachers' College.
JANET MCCUE: Well, I very much appreciate everybody coming today. Thank you.
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Horace Kephart, a Cornell graduate student in the 1880s and later a Yale librarian, evolved into an enigmatic woodsman, author, and activist instrumental in establishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Appalachian Trail that runs through it. In a Chats in the Stacks talk given at Mann Library, Janet McCue discusses “Back of Beyond: A Horace Kephart Biography” (Great Smoky Mountains Association), which she co-authored with George Ellison and which garnered the 2019 Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award.
The biography is a culmination of decades of scholarship and painstaking research using collections at Cornell and beyond. The book chronicles Kephart’s conservation advocacy and its enduring impact on the land he loved, while also telling the multifaceted, personal story of Kephart, a man full of contradictions.