Considered one of the fathers of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, writer Horace Kephart passionately advocated for the creation of the national park and wrote numerous articles and books revealing the Smokies’ intrinsic value to the rest of America.
A successful St. Louis librarian, Kephart’s world fell apart in 1903-1904 when his drinking spiraled out of control and his wife and six children left him and moved to New York. He sought refuge in the Smoky Mountains, hoping to heal his mental and physical illnesses by simple living in communion with nature.
Settling in the Hazel Creek area of what would later become Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Kephart developed an acute connection with the land and a strong kinship with its people. He had previously written magazine articles about camping and hunting and collected these in his first book, Camping and Woodcraft: A Guidebook for Those Who Travel in the Wilderness, first published in 1906 and an enduring classic today. He published several other books on the same subjects, then authored Our Southern Highlanders, one of the country’s first comprehensive introductions to the cloistered communities of Appalachia.
As momentum for a national park developed in opposition to threats from timber companies, Kephart met photographer George Masa, and the duo campaigned for the park through words and visuals that helped illustrate the significance of this woodland treasure. Together, they generated dozens of articles that helped build funds and approvals for the park. They also worked tirelessly to map the area and plot the route of the Appalachian Trail.
When Kephart died in an auto accident in 1931, the official establishment of the park by congressional charter was still three years away, but Kephart knew it had been approved and that the land would be protected for others to enjoy. Today, the park remembers his legacy with Mount Kephart, a 6,217-foot peak within the park dedicated in Kephart’s name two months before his death.