Hunter Library donation reveals more about personal life of Horace Kephart


From the weathered copy of “Robinson Crusoe” believed to be the first book Horace Kephart ever owned to a Christmas card from George Masa dated 1930 – the last Christmas before Kephart’s death – the artifacts in a recent donation to Hunter Library are deeply personal. They offer new insight into the iconic Western North Carolina figure who penned the classic “Our Southern Highlanders” and with Masa helped spearhead the movement to establish Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “Kephart himself has been something of a mystery, and this new collection will offer one of the first glimpses of him as a person,” said George Frizzell ’77 MA ’81, head of Special Collections at Hunter Library.

Libby Kephart Hargrave, great-granddaughter of Horace Kephart, and her husband, John, hold up a charter of the Missouri Sharpshooters and a target that are part of a recent donation to Special Collections at Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library. The couple visited the yearlong exhibit “Horace Kephart in the Great Smoky Mountains” at WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center (pictured here) after announcing the donation in September.

WCU’s existing Horace Kephart Collection, which features maps, reference journals, drafts and other items primarily linked to Kephart’s work, has been one of the most sought-out from the library’s Special Collections. Now with the approximately 700 recently donated items from the Kephart family, the library will create a new collection to be available in early 2013 called the “Horace Kephart and Laura Mack Kephart Family Collection.”

The pieces reveal more about Kephart’s interests and who he was as a “family man,” said Kephart’s great-granddaughter Libby Kephart Hargrave, in announcing the gift Friday, Sept. 28, at Hunter Library. 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 was glad to entrust them to WCU to “keep this treasure available, safe and respected,” she said. “These items help complete his life story.”

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. With it is a target with bullet holes as well as a handwritten note about windy conditions for shooting, distance to the target and type of gun. The bulk of the new materials are personal letters, including those Kephart exchanged with his wife and his children, from whom who 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.”

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. 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/.