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Back of Beyond: by George Ellison and Janet McCue

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In December 1903, Horace Kephart resigned – under duress - his position at the Saint Louis Mercantile Library.  Soon thereafter, his wife, Laura, and their six children - left without any financial support - moved to Ithaca, New York, to live with her parents. Then Kephart left for Dayton, Ohio, where his parents lived.  From there he traveled by himself to Dillsboro, North Carolina, in August of 1904. He lived the rest of his life in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains. In the thirteen years he had served as a librarian in St. Louis, he had taken frequent camping trips and written on the subject. In the Smokies, he continued writing on the subject in periodicals, and published Camping and Woodcraft, the definitive book on the subject at the time, in 1906. Camp Cookery followed in 1910 and Sporting Firearms in 1912. In 1913 he published Our Southern Highlanders, a distinctively male report on the life of mountain people that complemented Emma Bell Miles’ The Spirit of the Mountains (1905).  He prominently championed the idea of a National Park in the Smokies and helped establish the route of the Appalachian Trail in the area. On April 2, 1931, he was killed in an automobile accident in Bryson City, North Carolina. “This long-awaited biography of Horace Kephart is so well written and informative that one reads it with the pleasure of a riveting novel and an admiration reserved for the finest scholarship. Back of Beyond is a triumph.” ~Ron Rash. “With affection and candor, McCue and Ellison reveal an intimate knowledge of Kephart’s ancestry, education, marriage, and career, his place in American literature and history, and his part in the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” ~Robert Morgan. “This meticulously researched and carefully considered book is a great contribution to the history and culture of the Southern Appalachians.” ~Charles Frazier. Although George Ellison came to the Smokies drama-free, perhaps nobody has lived a life that parallels that of Horace Kephart as closely as he has in this generation. Ellison hunts wildflowers unarmed, in contrast to Kephart who wrote extensively on hunting and firearms, but Ellison lives simply on property that adjoins the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and writes for periodicals, leads wildflower walks and has published several books, illustrated by his artist wife, Elizabeth. Since 1976, when Ellison wrote the introduction to the University of Tennessee Press edition of Our Southern Highlanders, he has been considered a Kephart expert. Like Kephart, Ellison’s co-author, Janet McCue, is a former Library Director, in Ithaca, no less, where Kephart was a student, worked in a library, and met his wife, the townie, Laura White Mack.  McCue has subsequently been a free-lance writer and researcher, much like Kephart, and has previously written about him. This book won the Thomas Wolfe Literary Award as the most outstanding book about Western North Carolina published in 2019.

 Gatlinburg, Tennessee, 2019. 460 pages with an Index, Bibliography, a poem “Horace Kephart” by Robert Morgan, and an Introduction by Dan Pierce. Trade paperback.