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Online Exhibit: Hall Cabin: Skunk Attack

A Midnight Invasion into Hall Cabin

"Our cabin on the Smokies. Altitude 4,800 ft. The room with window is in Tenn.; the other in N.C. Nearest house in N.C. 5 miles, & 2000 ft. below; in Tenn., 8 miles; to the westward. On clear days the mts. & valleys for over 100 miles in every direction are visible from this point, with no sign of cultivation save in Tenn. The cabin is frequently in or above the clouds. Clingman Dome & several other mts. higher than Mt. Washington are our neighbors. All peaks covered with dense forest save a few `balds' of 10 or 15 acres. Trees on summit are battle-scarred; but those on lower slopes & coves are 100 to 150 x 6 to 9 ft."

Kephart added the following account to the 1916 edition of Camping and Woodcraft as part of the chapter "Pests of the Woods." In the first edition, this chapter focused exclusively on insects and arachnids. Here, the skunk is one of the select mammals to enter the ranks of Kephart's woodland pests.


Another notoriously fearless pest is the skunk. It will turn tail quickly enough, but nothing on earth will make it run. If a skunk takes it into his head to raid your camp he will step right in without any precautions whatever. Then he will nose through all of your possessions, walk over you if you be in his way, and forty men cannot intimidate him.

Once, when I was spending the summer in a herders' hut, on a summit of the Smoky Mountains, a skunk burrowed under the cabin wall and came up through the earthen floor. It was about midnight. My two companions slept in a pole bunk against the wall, and I had an army cot in the middle of the room. It was cold enough for an all-night fire on the hearth.

I awoke with the uneasy feeling that some intruder was moving about in the darkness. There was no noise, and my first thought was of rattlesnakes, which were numerous in that region. I sat up and lit the lantern, which hung over my head. One glance was enough. "Boys," I warned in a stage whisper, "for the love of God, don't breathe; there's a skunk at the foot of my bed!"

The animal was not in the least disconcerted by the light, but proceeded leisurely to inspect the premises. It went under my cot and nosed around there for five mortal minutes, while I lay rigid as a corpse.

Then Doc sneezed. I heard Andy groan from under his blanket: "You damn fool: now we'll get it!"

But we didn't. Madame Polecat waddled to their bunk, and I had a vision of two fellows sweating blood.

Then she moved over to the grub chest, found some excelsior lying beside it, and deliberately went to work on making a nest.

An hour passed. I simply had to take a smoke. My tobacco was on a shelf right over the skunk. I risked all, arose very quietly, reached over the beast, got my tobacco, and retired like a ghost to the other end of the cabin to warm myself at the fire. We were prisoners; for the only door was a clapboard affair on wooden hinges that skreeked like a dry axle.

The visitor, having made its bed, did not yet feel like turning in, but decided to find out what for a bare-legged, white-faced critter I was, anyhow. It came straight over to the fireplace and sniffed my toes. The other boys offered all sorts of advice, and I talked brimstone back at them - we had found that pussy didn't care a hang for human speech so long as it was gently modulated.

That was a most amiable female of her species. True, she investigated all our property that was within reach, but she respected it, and finally she cuddled up in the excelsior, quite satisfied with her new home.

To cut an awfully long story short, the polecat held us spellbound until daybreak. Then she crawled out through her burrow, and we instantly fled through our skreeky door. Doc had a shotgun in his hand and murder in his heart. Not being well posted on skunk reflexes, he stepped up within ten feet and blew the animal's head clean off by a simultaneous discharge of both barrels. Did that headless skunk retaliate? It did, brethren, it did!

- Camping and Woodcraft, Second Edition, Volume 1, pages 260-261.

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