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."