Back to Homepage of Horace Kephart: Revealing an Enigma

Online Exhibit: Dick's Creek: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

Photographs from 1904 Baptist Association Meeting in the Cherokee Birdtown.

One of the groups in western North Carolina that caught Kephart's attention was the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians located primarily on Qualla Boundary, near Bryson City, North Carolina.

Among the articles the Kephart wrote concerning the Cherokee Indians was a 1919 three-part series in Outing entitled "The Strange Story of the Eastern Cherokees." This series the basis of the 1936 posthumous publication, The Cherokees of the Smoky Mountains Another article, "The Eastern Cherokees," appeared in All Outdoors in 1918. Kephart's publications and interest concerning Native Americans reached beyond the Cherokee Indians. In 1915 he edited Outing Publishing Company's Captives Among the Indians: First-hand Narratives of Indian Wars, Customs, Tortures, and Habits of Life in Colonial Times.

Kephart's research journals further show a fascination with the subject. One research journal focuses almost exclusively on the perceived characteristics of Native Americans as part of his work comparing city and frontier lifestyles. Kephart seemed, at times, to be enamored with Cherokee history, using such words as "romantic" to describe it. He also appeared to incorporate the continuance of the Cherokees in western North Carolina with a belief that he had discovered a "final frontier" as one that would have been known by Daniel Boone.

Contrasting with this romanticized view, Kephart's observations and photographs show the members of the Eastern Band as contemporary Americans. As early as 1904 Kephart visited Qualla and took several pictures of a Baptist association meeting at Birdtown, one of the administrative units of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. He often made passing comments on the Cherokees. In one case while on a trip to the Sugarlands of Tennessee, Kephart encountered a Cherokee veteran of World War I who spoke a few words of French learned during his military service.

Writing in the early 20th Century, Kephart regularly uses terminology in connection with the Cherokee Indians that is now recognized as offensive. This includes a caption in his personal album as well as references in his published work. His fascination and friendships with Cherokee Indians suggests this use reflects more the conventions of his times than personal insensitivity.

Kephart continued his observations of the Cherokee and his personal work to master what he believed was a primitive lifestyle. In his first chapter of Woodcraft, Kephart reports that on one occasion Will Tahlahlah was teaching him the Cherokee language. A white woman came upon the lesson and informed the teacher "You needn't teach him anything; he's more of an Indian than you are." This well illustrates the conflict between the perception Kephart longed to discover and Cherokee culture of the 20th century that he observed.

From Camping and Woodcraft, Volume II, pages 13-14:

"From the autumn of 1904 to the winter of 1906 I lived, most of the time, alone in a little cabin on the Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains, surrounded by one of the finest primeval forests in the world. My few neighbors were born backwoodsmen. Most of them dwelt in log cabins of one or two rooms, roofed with clapboards riven with a froe, and heated by hardwood logs in wide stone fireplaces. Many had no cooking-stoves, but baked on the hearth and fried their meat over the embers.

Nearly every man in the settlement was a skilled axeman and a crack shot. Some of them still used home-made muzzle-loading rifles with barrels over four feet long. Some of the women still worked at home-made spinning-wheels and looms. Coonskins and ginseng passed as currency at the little wayside stores. Our manner of life was not essentially changed from that of the old colonial frontier.

To complete this historic setting, we had for neighbors the Eastern Band of Cherokees, who still hold a bit of their ancient patrimony, on the Okona Lufty. These Indians, while classed as civilized, have by no means forgotten all their aboriginal arts. You may find them, even now, betimes, slipping like shadows through the forest, killing small game with cane blow-guns, much longer than themselves, and small arrows with thistle-down wrapped round the butts so as to fit the bore.

To one coming from cities, it was a strange environment, almost as though he had been carried back, asleep, upon the wings of time, and had awakened in the eighteenth century, to meet Daniel Boone in flesh and blood.

In such a situation it was natural, nay imperative, that one should pick up and practice certain arts long lost and forgotten by civilized communities but quite essential in our backwoods way of living. I began, to be sure, with the advantage of experience gained on many hunting and camping trips in other lands; but in this new field I had to make shift in a different way, and fashion many appliances from materials found on the spot. The forest itself was not only my hunting-ground but my workshop and my garden.

Into this novel and fascinating game I entered with keenest zest, and soon was going even `farther back' than the native woodsmen themselves. I gathered, cooked, and ate (with certain qualms, be it confessed, but never with serious mishap) a great variety of wild plants that country folk in general do not know to be edible. I learned better ways of dressing and keeping game and fish, and worked out odd makeshifts in cooking with rude utensils, or with none at all. I tested the fuel values and other qualities of a great many kinds of wood and bark, made leather and rawhide from game that fell to my rifle, and became more or less adept in other backwoods handicrafts, seeking not novelties but practical results."

Return to Camp Toco Gallery.
View Next Camp Toco Page.