Back to Homepage of Horace Kephart: Revealing an Enigma

Online Exhibit: Great Smoky Mountains: Medlin, NC

Medlin North Carolina and Kephart's Cabin.

Horace Kephart arrived at Medlin on Hazel Creek, Swain County, in early November 1904. Here he obtained permission to live in an abandoned cabin at the nearby Everett Copper Mine where mining operations had stalled under litigation. He lived here, with some absences such as summers at Hall Cabin, for three years. As with his few months of living near Dillsboro, North Carolina, he immediately began to write down his observations about the natural environment, his activities, and his new neighbors.

Kephart also developed an interest in the local mining industry, later adding notes and clippings on the topic to his journals. Industrial mining operations such as that at the copper mines were later contrasted with the individual search for hidden minerals in his novel Smoky Mountain Magic that incorporated many of his western North Carolina experiences. Far more of a nonfiction writer, Kephart's novel remains unpublished.

Packing Trunk, summer sled, and store in Medlin.Kephart traveled to both the cities of Europe and the cabins of Appalachia during his lifetime. In any case where some form of transportation was available, he packed his belongings in steamer trunks. When he arrived at Medlin, North Carolina, an ox drawn summer sled carried his trunk from Granville Calhoun's store.

From the 1921 edition of Our Southern Highlanders, pages 29-31:

When I went south into the mountains I was seeking a Back of Beyond. This for more reasons than one. With an inborn taste for the wild and romantic, I yearned for a strange land and a people that had the charm of originality. Again, I had a passion for early American history; and, in Far Appalachia, it seemed that I might realize the past in the present, seeing with my own eyes what life must have been to my pioneer ancestors of a century or two ago. Besides, I wanted to enjoy a free life in the open air, the thrill of exploring new ground, the joys of the chase, and the man's game of matching my woodcraft against the force of nature, with no help from servants or hired guides.

So, casting about for a biding place that would fill such needs, I picked out the upper settlement of Hazel Creek, far up under the lee of those Smoky Mountains that I had learned so little about. On the edge of this settlement, scant two miles from the post office of Medlin, there was a copper mine, long disused on account of litigation, and I got permission to occupy one of its abandoned cabins.

A mountain settlement consists of all who get their mail at the same place. Ours was made up of forty-two households (about two hundred souls) scattered over an area eight miles long by two miles wide. These are air-line measurements. All roads and trails "wiggled and wingled around" so that some families were several miles from a neighbor. Fifteen homes had no wagon road, and could be reached by no vehicle other than a narrow sled. Quill Rose had not even a sledpath, but journeyed full five miles by trail to the nearest wagon road.

Medlin itself comprised two little stores built of rough planks and bearing no signs, a corn mill, and four dwellings. A mile and a half away was the log schoolhouse, which, once or twice a month, served also as a church. Scattered about the settlement were seven tiny tub-mills for grinding corn, some of them mere open sheds with a capacity of about a bushel a day. Most of the dwellings were built of logs. Two or three, only, were weatherboarded frame houses and attained the dignity of about a story and a half.

All about us was the forest primeval, where roamed some sparse herds of cattle, razorback hogs, and the wild beasts. Speckled trout were in all the streams. Bears sometimes raided the fields, and wildcats were a common nuisance. Our settlement was a mere slash in the vast woodland that encompassed it.

Bob Barnett, fiends, and the Everett Copper Mine.

Soon after arriving in Medlin, Kephart developed a friendship with Bob Barnett who stayed in the foreman's house of the mine. Throughout his writings, Kephart mentioned Bob Barnett, usually referred to as simply "Bob", and his family and the influence that they had on his life in North Carolina. Mrs. Barnett was credited for her culinary skills in Kephart's book Camp Cookery. Bob was described as a source of "wisdom" and outdoor experiences upon which he was able to draw and learn from, and which helped him hone his own advice.

Kephart mentioned his friend in the July 1921 All Outdoors "Roving with Kephart": "One day last fall I had a visit from my old partner, Bob Barnett, and his wife. He is the big, fat Bob who figures in the books 'Camping and Woodcraft' and 'Our Southern Highlanders.' He came, years ago, to the old mine site where I'd been living alone with the bobcats and hoot-owls, and became caretaker for the company that had possession. It was an abandoned place -- that is, no one else lived near there -- and I welcomed a neighbor. Soon I shifted quarters to his house. We lived together, in various necks of the woods, for several years. Bob now is at Aquone, N.C., on the upper Nantahala, where he keeps open house for all comers."

Likewise, Kephart also moved from Medlin, eventually settling in the Swain county seat of Bryson City, North Carolina. But the people and experiences of Medlin, North Carolina, remained an influential part of his writing career for the remainder of his life.

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