Back to Homepage of Horace Kephart: Revealing an Enigma

Online Exhibit: Great Smoky Mountains: Our Southern Highlanders

Method outline for Our Southern Highlanders, inkwell, and desk.

Our Southern Highlanders did not emerge as a single work. As Horace Kephart committed himself to a full time writing career, he carefully chose publication patterns that would maximize profits. This involved magazine articles that were later collected into books with those books being later expanded into new editions. In September 1905, Kephart began publishing material based on his observations of life in the Smoky Mountains. This five part series in Field and Stream was titled "The Mountain Moonshiner." In 1912 Kephart commenced a six part magazine article series called "The Southern Highlander." Already Kephart was working on a book incorporating these articles that he tentatively titled Highland Dixie. Ultimately Outing Publishing released the book in 1913 with the title Our Southern Highlanders.

In writing to editor Albert Britt about the forthcoming book, Kephart explained his social and economic agenda to create change through the publication. His discussion also reveals many of the social standards of the day that were also incorporated into the published text. Here he refers to the people he is observing as a distinct race with unflattering characterizations, and described himself as the most able sociologist to lead them into the industrialized progressive society that is coming. He also make it clear that he people he is writing about will not appreciate his efforts, though suggests that future generations will understand his actions.

Soon after the dawn of prohibition, the second edition of Our Southern Highlanders published in 1922 further emphasized local moonshine manufacture and the new legal issues surrounding its use in three additional chapters: "The Snake-Stick Man," "A Raid in the Sugarlands," and "The Killing of Hol Rose." All three chapters recount adventures and events surrounding law enforcement personnel sent to shut down local alcohol production. While Kephart does report the unfortunate death of officer Hol Rose, he carefully avoided disclosing the identity of the "Snake-Stick Man" who was sent primarily to enforce prohibition among the Eastern Cherokees. Kephart reports assisting officers through his understanding of local people, culture and terrain.

With his own training as a librarian, Kephart methodically incorporated new disciplines such as sociology to create this book that remains a classic work of Appalachian culture. Academics have long ago moved away from the ideas of Social Darwinism that led Kephart to conclude that his neighbors represented a distinct and biologically problematic race, and the idea that isolation largely shaped Appalachian culture has long been abandoned by most Appalachian scholars. But Kephart's dedication to detail and observation continues to make the book useful for cultural study. Likewise his research journals continue to be used, and has even led to the posthumous publication Smoky Mountain Voices: A Lexicon of Southern Appalachian Speech Based on the Research of Horace Kephart edited by Harold Farwell, Jr. and Karl Nicholas in 1993.

Our Southern Highlanders remains popular today through publication by two different publishers. Kephart included an outline for his method at the beginning of his first research journal for the book. Here he emphasized the need to create human interest in the book. His use of anecdotes, dialects, and specific individuals created delightful stories that continue to entertain far beyond the social issues of early 20th century America and the life of the author.

Kephart to Albert Britt, August 21, 1912.

Bryson City, N.C.
August 21, 1912.
Mr. Albert Britt, Editor,
Outing Magazine, New York.

Dear Mr. Britt:

I think the four remaining chapters of Highland Dixie that you wish for the Magazine should be on the following topics:--

1. Domestic Life.

2. Social Life

3. Clan Organization and Feuds

4. The Future of Appalachia

The last of these chapters would sketch the present undeveloped resources of the country, and the mighty change that power development and local manufactures, already underway, will affect within the next five years -- a change not only economic but social, the like of which our country has not yet seen.

Since these four topics demand fuller treatment in the book than magazine articles can compass, I must work out the details first. Hence I will only guarantee to send you one magazine article every thirty days, dating from August 15.

The book should not be limited to less than 100,000 words; for less than that could not do the subject justice, nor would a smaller work be satisfactory here in the South, where the right kind of one is bound to have a larger sale than you are likely to anticipate.

Sincerely yours,

Kephart to Albert Britt, August 26, 1912, page 1.
Kephart to Albert Britt, August 26, 1912, page 2.
Kephart to Albert Britt, August 26, 1912, page 3.

Bryson City, N.C.
August 26, 1912.
Mr. Albert Britt, Editor,
Outing Magazine, New York.

Dear Mr. Britt:

Yes: the chapter I. that I sent you is to open the magazine series, just as it stands. In the book it is to be followed by other chapters omitted in the magazine; but there will be no loss of sequence to the magazine readers.

I am glad that you like what you have seen of the stuff. This much I may say, perhaps, with due modesty: that I know of no other writer who has lived so long and so intimately with the real mountaineers as I have, or who has been admitted so deeply into their confidence. They are an extremely suspicious and secretive people, who, from feral instinct, hide from outsiders their real character, and are as cunning as any wild things in covering their tracks. The hospitality with which they admit a stranger is perfectly true and perfectly charming; but their slyness and vindictiveness are equally true and anything else than charming.

When first I went among them, there was a bee in my Stetson. We had plenty of stories and descriptions of the Kentucky and Tennessee foothillers, but none of the Carolinians of the high Unakas. Virgin ground! And I had no doubt but that a six-months' tour would equip me to deal with all aspects of their lives and character. My first impressions reassured me. The mountaineers seemed a primitive, picturesque people, open minded, straightforward, easily understood,. A night's lodging in a one-room cabin, check by jowl with all the family (aye, back to back and toe to toe) revealed even the intimacies of their daily lives. What could be easier than to sketch so directly from nature itself?

Well, the six months passed, and I was not so sure. Did I understand this strange race, after all? A year, two years, three. I was among them as one of themselves, participating in all their ways, studying them at guarded and at unguarded moments, under all sorts of strain. Their hardships were my hardships; their pleasures were mine too. Yet was I more than dubious as to my ability, my right, to portray their character.

Eight years have gone. I have been their physician, their scribe, their picket, their witness in court. I do know them, as no man can, of my class, who has not decivilized himself, for a long time, purposely and willingly. As no man can who lives among them merely as teacher or preacher or merchant or boss. How easy to picture only the sunny, the idyllic side of their lives! How tempting to shun the dark and fearsome aspects! But would that be truth? To the world at large I have a duty, too - not that of attorney holding a brief for the mountain people, but of a judge who has seen and heard both sides.

And if I pursue my topic with the calm impartiality of a sociologist, to whom all aspects of life are equally interesting, equally worthy of record, will they my friends of the coves and hillsides, with they understand? They will not.

Maybe their children will; and for them I assume the burden. For here is a race of great capabilities for good or evil. The mountaineers are face to face with a might change. They must accept it, and adapt themselves to utterly strange conditions, or they are a doomed people. As they stand, to-day, the primitive virtue are theirs (so rare in this age as almost to outshine, in my eyes, the tiara of civilization); but the primitive vices are theirs, too, and who so denies or palliates the fact is no true friend of the mountaineers, well-meaning missionaries who go among this folk are shocked and scandalized at what seems to them hopeless perversity and race deterioration. It is nothing of the sort. There are reasons for the worst that we find here: it is a natural sequence of isolation, and no more hopeless than the same features of life in the Scotch Highlands two centuries ago. The big outside world has a tender duty, an exquisitely delicate task, to educate our backward kinsmen and fit them for a new social order. But how can it avoid crushing the mountaineers, as it crushed the Indians, unless it be warned and informed by men who not only know the facts but will take the responsibility to speak out and tell the truth?

Little more than a hint of this will appear in my magazine articles; for there is no room there. But in the book itself I feel bound to go farther than telling a mere traveler's tale. As for me, I shall waste no space in preaching. "Portray the struggle, and you will write no tracts."

But I must get to the postoffice. My August check has not yet come, and this is the 26th. Ask them to get busy, please.

Sincerely yours,

Return to Smoky Mountains Exhibit Page
View next Smoky Mountains Exhibit Page.