When I first moved to Western North Carolina almost 16 years ago, I knew I needed to be educated about the area. I went to Malaprops Bookstore in Asheville and asked what I should read as a start.
The clerk suggested two books: Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart and a much darker book, Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area by Harry M. Caudill. I read them both in short order.
Horace Kephart (1862-1931) was a librarian, writer, and outdoorsman who moved to Western North Carolina in 1904. He’s credited with being an important influence in the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If his name comes up more often than other influential voices, it’s because his books are still read today and his descendants keep his name and his contributions alive.
Libby Kephart Hargrave, Horace’s great-granddaughter, is a tireless force in making sure that Horace Kephart isn’t forgotten.
She created the Horace Kephart Foundation and now has produced a documentary Horace Kephart: His Life and Legacy which premiered today at Western Carolina University.
Lots of park supporters were at the premiere, including local legislators, Great Smoky Mountain Association staff and board members, outdoor folks and classic campers. I looked up the latter but just got references to camper vans. So I assume these are people who camp the old-fashioned way, like Kephart did.
I’m not going to recount Kephart’s many achievements or summarize the documentary. But I was impressed by the personal and loving way that Libby portrayed her great-grandfather. Though he left his wife and six children to find his sanity in the mountains, Libby has always talked about how important Horace’s family was to him. The documentary also spends time on his wife, Laura.
I was also impressed by the national figures in the video including Dayton Duncan and Ken Burnes. producers of the documentary National Park: America’s Best Idea. Libby also interviewed park personnel and other authors.
How can a family go back so many generations?
Libby found photographs and writings from many extended family members. How did all those photographs of Horace Kephart’s parents pop up? Who stashed them for all those years? Did they know one of their children was going to be famous a hundred years later?
If you missed the premiere, you’ll be able to buy the video online when it’s ready for distribution. In the meantime, you can ponder how many generations you can trace back in your family. Me – just one.