Horace Kephart held much in common with President Theodore Roosevelt:
Appreciation of the progressive movement that followed the push
for industrial development, concern about the best implementation
of Social Darwinism, and a passion for the outdoors and a search
for a lost sense of barbarism. As a result, it is hardly surprising
that Kephart became enthralled with a 1901 administrative report
from the Department of Agriculture and accompanying endorsement
by Roosevelt in transmitting the report to Congress for action.
Promoted by national business leaders, the report summarized environmental
characteristics and concerns of the southern Appalachian region
and proposed the purchase of 4 million acres of privately owned
land to be turned into a "public forest reserve." This
was intended to help control waterways that had their headwaters
in the mountains, as well as provide both timber and mineral resources
and income for industrial leaders that in time would repay the government
for this investment.
Kephart used this report and its urgent rescue call in preparation
for what became a lifetime of work in the mountains of western North
Carolina. He even cut out several photographic plates from his personal
copy and pasted them into his personal album where they can still
be found among Kephart own photographs of the people and places
of the region.
From the 1921 edition of Our Southern Highlanders, pages
The Southern Highlands themselves are a mysterious realm. When
I prepared, eight years ago, for my first sojourn in the Great Smoky
Mountains, which form the master chain of the Appalachian system,
I could find in no library a guide to that region. The most diligent
research failed to discover so much as a magazine article, written
within this generation, that described the land and its people.
Nay, there was not even a novel or a story that showed intimate
local knowledge. Had I been going to Teneriffe or Timbuctu, the
libraries would have furnished information a-plenty; but about this
housetop of eastern America they were strangely silent; it was terra
On the map I could see that the Southern Appalachians cover
an area much larger than New England, and that they are nearer the
center of our population than any other mountains that deserve the
name. Why, then, so little known? Quaintly there came to mind those
lines familiar to my boyhood: "Get you up this way southward,
and go up into the mountain; and see the land, what it is; and the
people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few
or many; and what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be
good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether
in tents or strongholds; and what the land is, whether it be fat
or lean, whether there be wood therein or not."
In that dustiest room of a great library where "pub. docs."
are stored, I unearthed a government report on forestry that gave,
at last, a clear idea of the lay of the land. And here was news.
We are wont to think of the South as a low country with sultry climate;
yet its mountain chains stretch uninterruptedly southwestward from
Virginia to Alabama, 650 miles in an air line. They spread over
parts of eight contiguous States, and cover an area somewhat larger
than England and Scotland, or about the same as that of the Alps.
In short, the greatest mountain system of eastern America is massed
in our Southland. In its upper zone one sleeps under blankets year
In all the region north of Virginia and east of the Black Hills
of Dakota there is but one summit (Mount Washington in New Hampshire)
that reaches 6,000 feet above sea level. And there are only a dozen
that exceed 5,000 feet. By contrast, south of the Potomac there
are forty-six peaks and forty-one miles of the dividing ridges,
that rise above 6,000 feet, besides 288 mountains and some 300 miles
of divide that stand more than 5,000 feet above the sea. In North
Carolina alone the mountains cover 6,000 square miles, with an average
elevation of 2,700 feet, and with twenty-one peaks that overtop
I repeated to myself: "Why, then, so little known?"
The Alps and the Rockies, the Pyrennees and the Harz are more familiar
to the American People, in print and picture, if not by actual visit,
than are the Black, the Balsams, and the Great Smoky Mountains.
It is true that summer tourists flock to Asheville and Toxaway,
Linville and Highlands, passing their time at modern hotels and
motoring along a few macadamed roads, but what do they see of the
billowy wilderness that conceals most of the native homes? Glimpses
from afar. What do they learn of the real mountaineer? Hearsay.
For, mark you, nine-tenths of the Appalachian population are sequestered
folk. The typical, the average mountain man prefers his native hills
and his primitive ancient ways.