The great Horace Kephart, “Dean of American Camping,” died on this day in 1931


Horace Kephart, dean of American camping. My daughter and I collaborated on this commemorative doodle. I did the pen and ink and graphite sketch. She supplied the glue-on eyes.

The “Dean of American Camping,” Horace Kephart,” died in a car wreck on this day in 1931. Though he was brought up in rural Iowa, he found his life’s calling in the wilds of North Carolina. After leaving behind a promising career as a librarian, he moved out to the woods and completed his masterwork, Camping And Woodcraft, which is still in print today (and very popular. To this day, Kephart’s recipe for cooker building continues to save me from humiliation and abject hunger in campgrounds from coast to coast.) My favorite edition of the book is available through the Great Smoky Mountains Association, with a useful and thought-provoking introduction that serves as a mini-biography of Kephart, with special emphasis on his life, his philosophy and impact. More than just a masterful camper, Kephart was a wonderful prose stylist; his book is written in an informal, knowing, chatty tone that will make you believe he is sitting right beside you by the fire, warming his hobnail boots. Kephart has had an oversized impact on my writing life as well as my camping life; in fact, he was a major influence on my new book, Under The Stars, a personal exploration of American camping history. One of my chapters, “Acts of Transmission,” is dedicated solely to Mr. Kephart. Fans and family members keep his memory alive in the annual Horace Kephart Days celebration and Great Smoky Mountains Rendezvous. (This year’s celebration will be held May 26-28 in Lakemont, Georgia). RIP, Horace Kephart. Someday by the fireside …

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