A recent donation of Horace Kephart’s personal correspondence, photographs and other belongings will become part of the new “Horace Kephart and Laura Mack Kephart Family Collection” at Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library.
“Kephart himself has been something of a mystery, and this collection will offer one of the first glimpses of him as a person,” said George Frizzell, head of Special Collections at Hunter Library.
An iconic figure of Western North Carolina history and culture, Kephart penned the classic “Our Southern Highlanders” and helped spearhead the movement to establish Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Materials in WCU’s existing Horace Kephart Collection, one of the most heavily used among the library’s Special Collections, include maps, reference journals, drafts and other items primarily linked to Kephart’s work.
The approximately 700 items in the new collection from the Kephart family go on to reveal more about his interests and who he was as a “family man,” said Kephart’s greatgranddaughter Libby Kephart Hargrave, in announcing the gift Friday, Sept. 28, at Hunter Library.
“These items help complete his life story,” said Hargrave.
Among the artifacts is a Christmas card from George Masa with whom Kephart worked to develop what would become the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Depicting a cat, the card dates to 1930, the last Christmas before Kephart’s death.
In addition, there are items that appeared to be of personal significance to Kephart including a copy of “Robinson Crusoe” that matches the description Kephart gave of the copy he was given at age 7 and was the first book he ever owned.
The collection includes a charter and roster of the Missouri Sharpshooters, a group that Kephart helped found and that volunteered to assist with the Spanish-American War. Along with it is a target with bullet holes as well as a handwritten note about shooting in windy conditions, distance and the type of gun.
The bulk of the new materials are personal letters, including those Kephart exchanged with his wife and his children from whom he lived apart after coming to Western North Carolina.
“There’s an intimacy in his correspondence,” said Hargrave. “He was not as estranged as some think he was. He loved his family. Their marriage was unconventional, but, for them, it worked. They were devoted to each other.”
George Ellison, co-author of a biography of Kephart expected to be published in 2014, said he admitted to feeling a little overwhelmed by the quantity of the materials in the donation but described them also as enlightening and fun to work with.
A Florida resident, Hargrave said items in the donation were so special to the family that she would take them with her during hurricane evacuations. She said she is glad now to entrust them to WCU to “keep this treasure available, safe and respected,” she said.
Dana M. Sally, dean of library services at WCU, said the library is honored to receive the donation and noted that the materials truly add a new dimension to the history and biography of Kephart.
“This is a philanthropy of a very special and unique type, and is truly priceless,” said Sally.
The Horace Kephart and Laura Mack Kephart Family Collection is in the process of being catalogued and placed in protective enclosures. The materials are expected to be accessible to the public in early 2013. WCU will explore digitizing the collection, which could include around 2,500 images, to build on Kephart materials already available online at www.wcu.edu/library/digitalcollections/kephart/.