As a historian I have the tendency to read, and not just read, but to really dive deep into a topic. The more I grew to love history, the more I wanted to know about my own Appalachian mountain community. Over the years everything from the Great Depression, tobacco farming, the creation of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and essays by other history professors have gathered on my bookshelves.
One such book is titled Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart. Mr. Kephart’s classic study of the southern Appalachia’s touches on a lot of subjects that are not so unfamiliar to our northwestern part of North Carolina. He was forty-two when he first moved to the Great Smoky Mountains in 1903, and between 1904 and 1913 he secreted himself away to author this beautiful book.
Having grown up in Alleghany County, I too feel secreted away, hidden in a world where putting yourself in the shoes of ancestors helps to keep their stories alive for the next generation. And although we may travel from our close-knit community, in so many ways we often carry their secrets, our heritage, with us.
One quote from Kephart can sum up my feelings best for these mountains, and our history here in Appalachia.
“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.”
Source: Our Southern Highlanders, Kephart, Horace; page 29-30, 1976, The University of Tennessee Press