Happy Birthday Kep!

Today marks Horace Kephart’s 147th birthday–September 8, 1862, in East Salem, Pennsylvania. One hundred forty-seven is a blah number, not marking a decade, or a half-century, or any of the artificial bookends we assign to chronology. However, when you’re that old, it counts, because even if you’re famous, you could surely fade in the memory of people who might otherwise give a damn.

But now we happily have an effort by his family to rehabilitate and commemorate The Old Woodsman. Who knows where this will lead, but it’ll be interesting. Earlier this summer, on May 1, the Kephart family hosted the first-ever Kephart Day in Kephart’s home town of Bryson City, North Carolina. The mayor proclaimed May 1 “Horace Kephart Day,” lending the proper legitimacy.

Organized by Kep’s great-granddaughter Laura Kephart Hargrave and other family folks along with the local chamber of commerce, Kephart Day gathered an overflowing roomful of relatives and Kephart pilgrims for talks by Kephart writer and Smokies historian George Ellison along with a host of other presenters, including Brianne Coons Carter, who gave a paper on her great-great-grandfather as a conservationist. George Ellison (www.georgeellison.com/) is one of the two definitive Kephart biographers, and his introduction to the 1976 University of Tennessee Press edition of Our Southern Highlanders is the source of much of our knowledge about Kephart. The book is still in print.

To quote from the Swain County Chamber of Commerce announcement: (www.horacekephart.com/Kephart%20Day%20Document.pdf)

“The day will begin with a service at the author’s grave in Bryson City Cemetery. In the afternoon, Kephart devotees will gather at The Historic Calhoun House Hotel for a program hosted by owner Luke Hyde and organized by the Swain County Chamber of Commerce. Libby Kephart Hargrave will read selections from her great-grandfather’s works. There will also be a presentation by Park officials, and historic papers and artifacts will be displayed by Kephart scholar George Ellison and representatives of Western Carolina University.”

I attended the celebration, and thanks to George Ellison’s invitation had a small part in the proceedings, along with my colleague Janet McCue of Cornell University. The two of us are particularly keen about Kephart’s life as a librarian.

I’ve been to Bryson City before, but walking across the Tuckasegee River bridge and gazing at the back rooms above Bennett’s Drug Store, overlooking the river, where Kep had his office from about 1910 until his death in 1931, is evocative every time.

2009 also marks the 75th anniversary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so the chamber of commerce had a stake in helping organize Kephart Day. Bryson City has been a bit slow in celebrating one of its more famous citizens, perhaps because while Kephart was well-loved among segments of the community and a member of the city council, he was also known as a binge drinker and thought to be a neglectful husband and father. “Horace Kephart was a celebrated citizen of Bryson City,” the chamber representative noted at the gravesite, as quoted in the Smoky Mountain Times on May 7 (www.thesmokymountaintimes.com/articles/2009/05/07/news/news02.txt). “Although in the past, he might not have seen the recognition he deserved, we plan on rectifying that in the future.”

Kephart’s work is recognized as instrumental in convincing Congress, the Park Service, the states of Tennessee and North Carolina, local governments, landowners, and residents of the value of a national park in the Smokies.

Dale Ditmanson, park superintendent, said Kephart helped save the forests of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee.

“Change impacted Kephart’s world,” Ditmanson said, as reported in the Smoky Mountain Times on May 7. “He lived to see the lumber companies invade the Smokies and start to ruin the forests he so treasured.

“Beginning in the mid-20s, Mr. Kephart took a leadership role in a growing movement to preserve the Great Smokies as a national park. He turned his gift of eloquence in written word to detailing a compelling rationale for preserving the Great Smokies.”

Not an easy job, and Kephart died before the park was finally approved. But he has a mountain named after him, the park is now the most-visited in the national park system, and the forests were rescued before they could be totally decimated. The park superintendent also implied at his gravesite talk that the Park Service now recognizes the cultural damage done to the local population, as well as to the forests, by the clearcutting practices of the early 20th Century.

Several Kephart students were missing, including  John Christopher Bowers and Martin W. Maxwell, each of whom wrote Master’s theses  on Kephart, and conspicuously absent from the proceedings was Jim Casada (www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com/) . Casada and Ellison are our two pre-eminent Kephart scholars. Casada wrote the introduction to the 1988 University of Tennessee Press edition of Camping and Woodcraft, which remains in print. Casada believes, and from the evidence he relates he can’t be blamed for feeling as he does, that he has been badly treated by members of the family. They, and others, feel Casada has vastly over-emphasized Kephart’s failings as father and husband, and overly dwelt on his alcoholism. Casada grew up in Bryson City and has inteviewed and written perhaps more than anyone else about Kephart. He feels that he, as an historian, is providing an accurate portrait of the man his father knew, even if it means presenting details the family would prefer to overlook. Where is the balance? Perhaps it will be clearer in the future, but history is no guide in these matters.

During the Kephart Day event I talked on the phone with Jim Casada, who was coincidentally in Bryson City caring for his father at the time of the gathering. I tried to convince him his scholarship would provide a leavening presence. Libby Kephart Hargrave assured me that he would be welcome. I could not convince Casada of that. He maintains he was initially interested in participating, but the chamber of commerce wouldn’t return his calls. There may be many reasons for this, but it is conceivable that he was considered unwelcome by someone. Perhaps if the event is repeated, he and others could be convinced it would be important to have him there. I very much hope that will be the case. I think that at this remove from Kephart’s time, the family is reconciled to Kephart’s failings–who has none?- and can deal with celebrating the man as he was. Perhaps this is a time in which human frailties are considered more leniently, but I’m no sociologist.

Perhaps  next year in Bryson City,  Casada and Ellison, Libby and the Kephart clan, and the other relatives and Kephart pilgrims can all gather for beers at Jimmy Mac’s.  If it worked for Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Sgt James Crowley, and President Obama (did it?), it might be a breakthrough here. A spirited, civil discussion would be of high interest, and a different point of view on some of these issues can help to avoid lionization.

It was a grand gathering. Presentations by interesting people who know a lot about Kephart, hiking in the Smokies, playing bagpipes in the cemetery, drinking vino in the evenings and chatting with Kephart descendents and fellow fans on the front porch of the Calhoun House Hotel. . . .  Jim, hope to see you there next year!

A Kephart Day webpage was developed at http://www.horacekephart.com, but a follow-up report with details of Kephart Day has not yet appeared at that site.


A quiet moment: the 78th anniversary of The Old Woodsman’s funeral

Seventy-eight years ago today, April 5, 1931,  locals and guests packed into the Bryson City, N.C. High School auditorium for Horace Kephart’s funeral.  The New York Times reported on April 6, “All the seats in the auditorium of the public school were taken. Hundreds stood outside.”  George Ellison’s marvelous introduction to the University of Tennessee Press edition of  Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders notes, “His wife, two sons, and a grandson were in attendance.” Kephart and his wife Laura had been estranged since 1903,but Ellison writes “certainly there was an understanding of real substance between them that was maintained for the remainder of their lives.”

The sad gathering followed Kephart’s death in a highway accident. Ellison describes the event: “On April 2, 1931, at the age of sixty-eight, Horace Kephart was killed in an automobile accident near Bryson City. A friend, the Georgia writer Fiswoode Tarleton, who was staying with Kephart for a few weeks, was also killed. They had hired a taxi to take them to a bootlegger’s and were on the way back to Bryson City when the driver lost control of the car in a curve.” The New York Times described it as a “moonlight sightseeing ride.”

Wasn’t even much of a curve, really, just a gentle arc in the flat highway, and a bridge across a creek, and a thigh-high stone wall with which the car collided and overturned.  There was speculation the hired driver had downed a noggin of moonshine before starting the trip back to Bryson City.

The New York Times story on the accident listed Mr. Tarleton first, then Kephart, since Tarleton was a 1928 O. Henry Prize winner and apparently a hotter property. Publishers’ Weekly also reported on the death in its April 18 edition, “Kephart had written many books on adventure, camping and the out-door life, besides Our Southern Highlanders, a volume which attracted much attention.”

I have not found a mention in Library Journal, but American Rifleman noted his passing. His contributions to librarianship had been forgotten, but his writings about firearms were still recognized.

The Horace Kephart Troop, Boy Scouts of America, Bryson City, North Carolina, erected a stone in his memory to mark his last permanent camp in the Smoky Mountains above Bryson City.  They wasted no time. The stone was placed only 57 days after Kephart’s death.

A bronze plaque is mounted on a large, lichen-covered boulder to mark his grave in the Bryson City Cemetery. A photo is shown at the “And Now, Horace Kephart” posting in this blog. The plaque reads:

Horace Kephart, 1862-1931
Scholar, author, outdoorsman
He loved his neighbors and pictured them in
“Our Southern Highlanders”
His vision helped to create The Great Smoky Mountains National Park

While he may have loved his neighbors, the feeling was apparently not universally mutual. Old-timers thereabouts reported feeling that some of the mountain folk felt stereotyped and patronized in Kephart’s accounts. On the other hand, in Jim Casada’s collection of primary Kephart material, I have seen a letter to Kephart from the Bryson City Women’s Club thanking him in glowing terms for his taking the time to meet with them.

In any case, a moment of quiet to remember the Old Woodsman’s last days. He lived to the age of 68. Not bad, really, though not quite his Biblical quota.  But he apparently didn’t suffer from any terrible illness, and his demise was quick and, we hope, painless: a broken neck was thought to be the cause of death.  He left a vast number of readers who thought well of him. Although his family life appeared to be complex and strained, he was loved.  What more could we want for ourselves?

Kephart was fond of the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, perhaps especially so of Kidnapped. The following passage appears in Stevenson’s A Christmas Sermon. It seems a worthy goal for humans, and it reminds me of what I like to think about Kephart.  The reference to “. . . make, upon the whole, a family happier for his presence,” will seem ironic to those who take a dark view of Kephart’s carrying out of his family responsibilities. But in any case we really don’t know what goes on in other families, and we can’t presume to know much about the complicated nature of Kephart’s relationships.

To be honest
to be kind
to earn a little and
spend a little less
to make, upon the whole,
a family happier for his presence,
to renounce when that shall be necessary
and not be embittered,
to keep a few friends,
but these without capitulation-
above all, on the same grim condition,
to keep friends with himself-
here is a task for all that
a man has of fortitude and delicacy.

Published in: on April 6, 2008 at 12:08 am  Comments (1)  
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The first tool: Kephart on outdoor knives

Knives, it is said, were humankind’s first tool, if “tool” is defined as something you have to fabricate, rather than just picking up a chunk of tree and whacking something with it. Given the niche knives occupy in human culture, it’s not surprising that they are still of keen interest to outdoors people (and cooks,), and that endless varieties of knives have been developed over human history.

Humans were probably debating the virtues of different blade shapes and handle since they sat at the mouths of their caves in the sunny South of France and knapped flint to make blades to peel the hides off their food supply. They likely argued about where the best flint came from, and whether blades should be pointy or broad. Thus it still is. Broad blades are better for spreading peanut butter.  Visit http://www.bladeforums.com/forums and you’ll have a clue about the endless fascination many people find in knives.

People who spend time in the outdoors have their personal favorite knives, and the subject is debated vigorously. Outdoor writers are happy and tell you which are best, and why. Kephart was no exception. In the 1906 first edition of his The Book of Camping and Woodcraft from Outing Publishing Company, he wrote (in the chapter on “Personal Kits,” pages 28-29):

“On the subject of hunting knives I am tempted to be diffuse. In my green and callow days (perhaps not yet over) I tried nearly everything in the knife line from a shoemaker’s skiver to a machete, and I had knives made to order. The conventional hunting knife is, or was until quite recently, of the familiar dime-novel pattern invented by Colonel Bowie. Such a knife is too thick and clumsy to whittle with, much too thick for a good skinning knife, and too sharply pointed to cook and eat with. It is always tempered too hard. When put to the rough service for which it is supposed to be intended, as in cutting through the ossified false ribs of an old buck, it is an even bet that out will come a nick as big as a saw-tooth…. Such a knife is designed expressly for stabbing, which is about the very last thing that a woodsman ever has occasion to do, our lamented grandmothers notwithstanding.

“A camper has use for a common-sense sheath-knife, sometimes for dressing big game, but oftener for such homely work as cutting sticks, slicing bacon, and frying ‘spuds.’ For such purposes a rather thin, broad-pointed blade is required, and it need not be over four or five inches long. Nothing is gained by a longer blade, and it would be in one’s way every time he sat down. Such a knife, bearing the marks of hard usage, lies before me. Its blade and handle are each 4 1/2 inches long, the blade being 1 inch wide, 1/8 inch thick on the back, broad pointed, and continued through the handle as a hasp and riveted to it. It is tempered hard enough to cut green hardwood sticks, but soft enough so that when it strikes a knot or bone it will, if anything, turn rather than nick; then a whetstone puts it in order….” He goes on to describe, in equal detail, the handle, the guard, and the sheath. And more on the jackknife, or folding knife. And yet more on hatchets (“The notion that a heavy hunting knife can do the work of a hatchet is a delusion.” (The emphasis is mine.) Then he goes on to discuss the proper whetstone.

In the 1906 edition he could not recommend a particular commercial knife, knowing of none, but later on he found one, and described and drew it in his journal. The drawing appears to be a Marble’s model called the “Ideal,” designed by Webster Marble in 1900, or less likely Marble’s “Expert” which appeared in Marble’s 1906 catalog. There were many versions of each model. Webster Marble’s company is back in business, and the “Ideal” is again available after 50 years. It appears on their webpage at http://www.marblescutlery.com/cutlery/ideal.html. The “Expert” no longer appears in the Marble’s online catalog, but images of both knives are offered at http://www.jaysknives.com/marblesknives_1.htm.

In the 1917 Macmillan edition of Camping and Woodcraft Kephart found a knife he could recommend, again a Marble’s. “For years I used knives of my own design,” he wrote, “because there was nothing on the market that met my notion of what a sensible, practical sheath knife should be; but we have it now in the knife here shown…. It is of the right size (4 1/2-inch blade), the right shape, and the proper thinness.” The knife shown in his drawing is the distinct Marble’s Woodcraft, designed by Webster Marble and described in Outer’s Book in 1914, and included in Marble’s 1915 catalog. It is again being marketed by Marbles (http://www.marblescutlery.com/cutlery/woodcraft.html).

It appears that Kephart was a Marble’s fan.

George Washington Sears, who wrote under the pen name “Nessmuk,” and to whom Kephart dedicated Camping and Woodcraft, also had opinions on outdoor knives. In Chapter II of his Woodcraft and Camping, a re-edited Dover edition of Nessmuk’s 1920 Woodcraft, he writes, “A word as to knife, or knives. These are of prime necessity, and should be of the best, both as to shape and temper. The ‘bowies’ and ‘hunting knives’ usually kept on sale, are thick, clumsy affairs, with a sort of ridge along the middle of the blade, murderous-looking, but of little use…. [The preferred knife] is thin in the blade, and handy for skinning, cutting meat, or eating with….” An old image of Nessmuk’s unique knife, along with his folding knife and the Nessmuk hatchet, and further information about the man himself, can be found at http://www.oldjimbo.com/survival/racquette/nessmukbydale.html. Various versions of these knives are readily available for purchase on the web.

Published in: on December 14, 2007 at 9:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Did Hemingway read Kephart?

This blog is supposedly devoted to American outdoor literature written between the Civil War and the Great Depression, and particularly to Horace Kephart (1862-1931). But occasionally we stray. Even to fiction. There’s just so much good stuff out there.

I was cooling my heels at the clinic the other day, and found, nesting beneath old golfing magazines, a tattered paperback copy of Hemingway’s 1952 novella, The Old Man and the Sea. It was his last major piece of fiction published during his lifetime, and earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. Heady stuff. He was the toast of the town then for sure.

Like most readers, I last read it in high school, so if you’re interested, you’ll find a bit about the plot at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Old_Man_and_the_Sea. In a sentence, it’s a great story about an epic struggle between an old fisherman and a giant marlin, and addresses all the timeless literary themes. For flavor, here’s the opening paragraph:

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like a flag of permanent defeat.”

The book struck a chord with the world’s readers, and was translated into the major languages including Russian (the Soviets apparently liked him, as they liked Jack London). The 35 entries in the Library of Congress catalog (http://catalog.loc.gov/) also include a recording of a symphonic poem from Prague based on the book, and a 1958 Warner Brothers movie starring Spencer Tracy (mixed reviews, http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1070233-old_man_and_the_sea/).

This edition from the clinic is a good example of mergers and acquisitions in the publishing game. Published by Scribner in 1952 (and dedicated to “Charlie Scribner and to Max Perkins”), the title page of my little paperback notes “A Scribner Classic, Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company.” These were all independent publishers at one time, but apparently they bought each other up. The copyright was renewed in 1980 by Ernest’s widow Mary Hemingway.

Hemingway suffered from depression in his later years. In 1961, in his Sun Valley home,  he shot himself , with, it was said, his favorite shotgun. You can see my own personal favorite photo of him at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Hemingway.

I like to think Hemingway read Kephart. Hemingway was born in 1899, and would have been a boy when Kephart flourished, publishing books and magazine articles on topics that might have interested a boy: camping, hunting, guns and shooting, caving, fire-building, life in the great outdoors. Did their karmic paths cross? No doubt in my mind. But then, conjecture is always more fun than fact, eh?

Published in: on December 13, 2007 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Old Woodsman’s turkey stuffing

In honor of Thanksgiving, I give you Horace Kephart’s simple woodsman’s recipe for turkey stuffing. Of course, those who are actually preparing dinner today are hopefully beyond needing a recipe and will be sitting at the table, well stuffed themselves by this time, maybe having pumpkin pie.

But there are a host of people who, having dinner at a friend’s table today, will have their own turkey at home, maybe secretly, in the coming days. This is for you.

The following is verbatim from the 1910 second edition of Kephart’s Camp Cookery, Outing Publishing Co. It appears unchanged in the “Camp Cookery” chapter  in the current University of Tennessee Press reissue of the Macmillan 1917 edition of Camping and Woodcraft.

Here goes:

Stuffing for turkey

1. If chestnuts are procurable, roast a quart of them, remove shells, and mash.

Add a teaspoon of salt, and some pepper. Mix well together, and stuff the bird with them.

2. Chop some fat salt pork very fine; soak stale bread or crackers in hot water, mash smooth, and mix with the chopped pork. Season with salt, pepper, sage, and chopped onion. No game bird save the wild turkey should be stuffed, unless you deliberately wish to disguise the natural flavor.

That’s it, an old-time, minimal approach to stuffing.

The funny thing is that when I read the recipe, I thought it was one recipe with with two steps, using (if you have them) chestnuts AND salt pork. And I thought it must be a very rare editing error that Kephart would have you stuff the turkey in the first step, then go on to mix the rest of the recipe and do what with it?

I pointed out this apparent error to my wife and her friend Margaret, with whom she happened to be on the phone this afternoon. When they stopped laughing, they explained to me that Kephart was giving us two different recipes, and it was unlikely, nowadays at least, that a cook would mix chestnuts with salt pork. If you have chestnuts, do recipe #1. If not, use recipe #2 with salt pork.

Kep’s got several recipes for cooking the turkey: roasted (“Suspend the fowl before a high bed of hardwood coals….”) and boiled. Who boils a turkey now? We deep fry them in fat. So much better for us.

Published in: on November 23, 2007 at 12:23 am  Comments (3)  
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Lead levels, violent crimes, and Kephart: a connect?

Tetraethyl lead is an extremely toxic substance that, in minute quantities, improves the efficiency and performance of internal combustion engines. From “Tetraethyl Lead,” http://heritage.dupont.com/floater/fl_tel/floater.shtml

Good for engines it may have been (eliminates piston knock), but research has strongly shown that even small levels of lead, especially in children, can result in lowered intelligence and impulsive and agressive behavior.

In an article called “Criminal Element” in the Oct. 21 New York Times Magazine, writer Jascha Hoffman cites a paper by Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, just published in the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy. Reyes, and other researchers, studied data which suggest a link between the sharp drop in Americans’ blood levels of lead after the Clean Air Act mandated lead-free gasoline in the 1970’s and ’80’s, and a drop in criminal behavior rates, particularly violent crime. Was getting the lead out of gasoline a factor in the drop in crime? It might be, according to what Hoffman calls a “new environmental theory of criminal behavior.”

Reyes, an economist at Amherst College, says the answer to the question of why crime declined so sharply in the early 1990’s, when experts anticipated a huge crime wave, “lies in the cleanup of a toxic chemical that affected nearly everyone in the United States for most of the last century.”

According to global statistics, Hoffman writes, “Crime rates around the world are just starting to respond to the removal of lead from gasoline and paint.”

I recall seeing, in 1950s issues of popular magazines like Life, full-page advertisements from, I think,  the Ethyl Company, extolling the virtues of lead in gasoline. The ads featured happy, smiling families, motoring along in their new Oldsmobiles through the tranquil countryside, with purring engines and tanks full of leaded gas.

There are, of course, sceptics.

So what’s the connection with Kephart?

OK, I’m reaching here. But in the 1916 edition of his Camping and Woodcraft, perhaps Kephart had premonitions of what modern industrial life foretold for human health. Quoting (but not citing, unfortunately) William Morris from his The Earthly Paradise, Kephart wrote:

“…Basking and sporting in the great clean out-of-doors, one could, for the blessed interval,

Forget six counties overhung with smoke,
Forget the snorting steam and piston-stroke,
Forget the spreading of the hideous town.”

Published in: on October 29, 2007 at 7:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Why read Kephart? Who cares?

camping-cover.jpgHorace Kephart died in 1931. A long time ago. Why would anyone still be interested in another dead white guy woodsman writer? A guy who liked to go camping and loafing in the woods with his friends, roast a wild turkey stuffed with chestnuts before a high bank of hardwood coals, and have a noggin or two of the local ‘shine?

Well, first, he’s just fun to read. Kephart is an engaging, sympathetic writer with an often elegant style, a love of detail, and a dry sense of humor. These attributes set him apart from many writers of his time and of ours, for that matter.

And we read him because the subject matter is still interesting. Not everyone likes to browse through old back issues of Field and Stream and Outdoor Life in the library, just to see how it was to fly fish for trout with a split-bamboo rod rather than space station graphite carbon-fiber, or sleep in a canvas tent in a blanket roll. But there’s something to be said for looking back at simpler times in the woods, and a cadre of devotees identify with their great-grandfathers’ experiences. Even if Kephart’s advice in some cases is dated , the fundamentals are sound and timeless (“Ideal outfitting is to have what we want, when we want it, and never to be bothered with anything else.”)

Camping and Woodcraft still appears regularly in the “must-have” lists of survivalists of all stripes:

“Kephart’s book is the real old-timer’s bible and, even though most of the equipment mentioned is obsolete, it is still among the first outdoorsmanship books one ought to own.” —Notes from a survival sage, http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/Survive1.html

We read him to share his attractive vision of what we could think of as “the ideal life” of the vacation camper, roaming the forests, free from the daily grind of a job, and with “unrestrained liberty of action, and the proud self-reliance of one who is absolutely his own master, free to follow his bent in his own way. . . .” His themes are contemporary–and perhaps even more relevant today than they were in his own time. His “Visions of green fields and far-rolling hills, of tall forests and cool, swift-flowing streams” especially resonate today, because the fields and forests and streams are disappearing, and you’ll need permits to ramble in what’s left.

His work gives us a perspective on a bygone era of the outdoors, when a hiker could build a campfire and cut balsam boughs for a bed with no concern for decimating the forest (there weren’t enough hikers to make a dent). Kephart appreciated the value of being not just capable but comfortable in the woods. And for the historical outdoor gear-head, his books and articles provide a fascinating view of the evolution of outdoor gear.

Kephart wrote more than books and articles about camping and woodcraft. His book about his neighbors in the Southern Appalachians, Our Southern Highlanders, for example, is still in print. And for those in my profession, librarianship, who are interested in the arcane history of our discipline, his writings on being a librarian in the last decade of the 19th Century are a rich glimpse into our past.

And Kephart is a Man of Mystery. Seventy-five years after his death, he is still a mysterious figure. He was not especially forthcoming about himself, and not a great deal has been written about him, given his prominence in his day. The closest thing he wrote to an autobiography is a four-page article that appeared in the North Carolina Library Bulletin in 1922, in which he teasingly sketched his life with a few broad strokes, and ends the piece by writing, “. . . Much . . . has been left out. . . . The best stories are those that are never told.”

How different from our age, when we routinely blog our innermost thoughts for a potential audience of how many millions, and all the evidence of this solitary unveiling of our souls could disappear in a random rush of wayward electrons.

Published in: on October 22, 2007 at 6:17 am  Comments (2)  

Captain Kenealy’s 1899 recipe for moose ragout

Horace Kephart wrote once that he hated cooking, but he felt someone had to write a cookbook about outdoor cookery, so he did it. His Camp Cookery was published in 1910 by Outing Publishing Company.

I myself haven’t hunted moose in years, but since we’re in the late stages of moose hunting season and there may be cooks open to new recipes, I offer up the following not-so-new recipe from Kephart’s book, page 60 of the second edition, 1910. Kephart attributes the recipe to a Captain Kenealy, author of Yachting Wrinkles, Outing Publishing Co., 1899. I haven’t tried it on moose, but it sure works with beef, and it has a distinctly great-grandmotherly air to it. It was not uncommon to use sugar in dishes such as this, and Captain Kenealy suggests the use of the turnip, a root now generally neglected though luckily still obtainable at our local produce counter.

“Stewing is an admireable way of making palatable coarse and tough pieces of meat, but it requires the knack, like all other culinary processes. Have a hot fry-pan ready, cut the meat up into small squares and put it (without any dripping or fat) into the pan. Let it brown well, adding a small quantity of granulated sugar and sliced onions to taste. Cook until the onions are tender and well colored. Then empty the fry-pan into a stew-pan and add boiling water to cover the meat, and let it simmer gently for two or three hours. Flavor with salt, pepper, sweet herbs, curry powder or what you will. The result will be a savory dish of tender meat, called by the French a ragout. It is easy to prepare in this way. Do not boil it furiously as is sometimes done, or it will become tough. This dish may be thickened with browned flour, and vegetables may be added–turnips, carrots, celery, etc., cut into small pieces and browned with the meat. The sugar improves the flavor fastly. The only condiments actually necessary are pepper and salt. Other flavorings are luxuries.”

Thank you, Captain Kenealy. If someone has some moose to to spare, I’d give this a try to share. Bon appetit!

Incidentally, Camp Cookery is now available in a reprint edition from Algrove Publishing Ltd, 2003, ISBN 1-894572-71-8.

And now, Horace Kephart


Since the point of this blog is Horace Kephart, that old librarian, naturalist,  and writer about the outdoors, here’s a bit about Himself.

Horace Kephart (1862-1931), called by a critic of his time “The Dean of American Campers,” was one of the best-loved writers of that exuberant era of American outdoor writing between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Great Depression. Besides Kephart, those writers include, among others,George Washington Sears (writing as Nessmuk),  Daniel Carter Beard, Ernest Seton-Thompson, Stewart Edward White, Albert Bigelow Paine, Warren Miller, William Long, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Kephart’s first book, The Book of Camping and Woodcraft, published by Outing Publishing Company in 1906, has apparently never been out of print and is, according to Jim Casada, one of the ten best-selling sporting books of all time. Casada is a modern outdoor writer and one of Kephart’s two major biographers. The other is North Carolina writer and naturalist George Ellison.

What has long been forgotten about Kephart is that he was a busy young librarian during the final decade of the 19th Century, and a rising star in his profession. A series of personal emotional disasters brought that career to an end, but he recovered to live a second career during the last half of his life as a well-known and much loved outdoor writer and conservationist.

Kephart was born in Pennsylvania, of pioneer Swiss stock. The Civil War was raging. His father Isaiah served as a chaplain with the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry. Like many veterans, after that war he wanted to get away, to start a new life. In those days, that meant going West, and West he went in 1867 with his wife Mary, and young Horace. They settled in Iowa, where, Kephart wrote, “It was before the day of fences, and for a year or so there was little to be seen from our front door but a sea of grass waving to the horizon.”

Horace was an only child, and a lonely one, but he was lucky. He had an attentive mother who encouraged his imagination: “My mother taught me to read. When I was seven, and could read almost anything, she gave me my first book, dear old Robinson Crusoe. ” In view of his later life, Crusoe may have molded the man.

Kephart’s family returned to Pennsylvania in 1876, and he graduated from Lebanon Valley College in 1879. He spent twenty years in the library profession, beginning at Cornell University, then at Rutgers and Yale University libraries, in  Europe, and culminating as director of the St. Louis Mercantile Library from 1890 to 1903.  Kephart published regularly in Library Journal on a variety of topics of interest to librarians of the day, including ink and paper, glue, bookbinding, library ethics, and cataloging and classification of library materials. At St. Louis he not only built an extraordinary collection of Western Americana literature but he also “re-engineered” the library—developing the staff and services to meet the changing needs of its patrons, and adopting new library technologies such as the Library of Congress printed catalog card subscription service.

An 1890 article called “Being a Librarian,” which Kephart published in Library Journal and in Harper’s Weekly, has been turned into a one-act play for voices by the author of this blog. Permission to stage the play is available upon application to the Center. The script is available at http://www.faculty.uaf.edu/ffdjs1

He was also publishing articles in the outdoor magazines about military history, woodcraft, shooting, camping, spelunking, and other outdoor topics.

An engaging account of life in St. Louis can be found in a typescript at the St. Louis Mercantile Library by Kephart’s eldest son Leonard. titled “An Experienced Generation.” Leonard described family life as warm and comfortable, with Father coming home each evening, researching his articles, and puttering about in his study. But increasing emotional problems, perhaps exacerbated by alcohol and the demands of family life, led to a “nervous breakdown” and the disintegration of his professional and family life in 1904. His wife Laura (born Laura Mack) and their six children left St. Louis to return to New York State, and they did not live together as a family again, at least not for any significant period of time.

Following his breakdown Kephart retreated to the wilderness of the Great Smoky Mountains. He was 41 years old.  There he set up a backwoods camp and began supporting himself by writing books and hundreds of articles for popular sporting magazines such as Arms and the Man, American Rifleman, Forest and Stream, Field and Stream, Sports Afield, Recreation, Outing, and Shooting and Fishing.

In the course of this new career he became one of the best-known of his generation among those who read about camping, shooting, and the outdoors, and who shared his conviction, popular then as now, in the spiritual renewal offered by wilderness.

The Book of Camping and Woodcraft has a dizzying history of editions and printings. It was a standard of its day in outdoor literature, and is considered a classic of the genre: practical, well-written, expert, and penned with more than a hint of wry humor. Kephart was an avid proponent of “going light,” and included in his book tables of weights of food and equipment–to the ounce. He was one of those light-weight equipment gurus whose line extends from the long-distance canoeist J. MacGregor and explorer Dr. Frederick Cook, whose wife sewed him a gossamer-weight silk tent for his 1906 trip to Mt. McKinley,  to Colin Fletcher’s Complete Walker and other contemporary writers.

In 1913 Kephart published Our Southern Highlanders, which also remains in print and which was among the first popular ethnographic studies of the people of the Southern Appalachians. At the time of its publication it was called “The finest regional study yet written by an American.”

Camping and Woodcraft found a ready audience in the U.S. and Britain, in an era when outdoor recreation was of intense interest, and Kephart, like his mentor and earlier outdoor writer Nessmuk (George Washington Sears, 1821-1890 ) was an advocate of going to the woods for spiritual refreshment from the rigors of civilized life. “To many a city man,” he wrote as the first sentence of Camping and Woodcraft, “there comes a time when the great town wearies him. He hates its sights and smells and clangor. Every duty is a task and every caller is a bore. There come visions of green fields and far-rolling hills, of tall forests and cool, swift-flowing streams.” Kephart dedicated his Camping and Woodcraft “To the shade of Nessmuk in the happy hunting ground.”

He also wrote books on camp cookery and sporting firearms for Outing Publishing Company, and edited that company’s Outing Adventure Library. These can be found at your library or through interlibrary loan, and in the used-book market at  http://www.abebooks.com/ . The titles themselves are a chronicle of the the era’s popular taste for exploration and adventuring:

The Cherokee of the Smoky Mountains: A little band that has stood against the white tide for three hundred years

Castaways and Crusoes: Tales of survivors of shipwrecks…

Captives among the Indians

First through the Grand Canyon: Being the record of the pioneer expedition of the Colorado River in 1869-70

Hunting in the Yellowstone, or on the trail of the wapiti with Texas Jack in the land of the gysers

Adrift in the Arctic ice pack, from the history of the first U.S. Grinnell expedition in search of Sir John Franklin…

In the Old West as it was in the days of Kit Carson and the “Mountain Men”

The Gold Hunters: a first-hand picture of life in the California Mining Camps in the early  ’50s

Watching the devastating effects of wholesale logging on the people and landscape of his beloved Smoky Mountains, Kephart became an ardent conservationist. In the last decade of his life, he worked tirelessly to bring Great Smoky Mountains National Park into being. He lived long enough to anticipate the establishment of the park in 1934. Several weeks before his death in 1931 in a car accident near Bryson City, North Carolina, the United States Geographic Board named one of the highest peaks in the Smokies “Mount Kephart.” It is one of the two first peaks named after a living person by the U.S. government. The memorial plaque at his last campsite in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was erected by the Horace Kephart Troop, Boy Scouts of America.

In-depth biographical material can be found in George Ellison’s introduction to the University of Tennessee Press edition of Our Southern Highlanders and Jim Casada’s introduction to Camping and Woodcraft, also from University of Tennessee Press.

Kephart’s archives, including his notebooks, correspondence,  typescripts, artifacts, and realia, are collected at Hunter Library Special Collections and at the Mountain Heritage Center at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC.  A rich source of material, especially relating to Kephart’s career as a librarian, is archived at the St. Louis Mercantile Library. A fabulous online collection of photographs and other materials at Western Carolina University,  called Horace Kephart: Revealing an Enigma,  is available at http://www.wcu.edu/library/digitalcoll/kephart/index.htm.

Published in: on October 1, 2007 at 9:28 pm  Comments (1)