Rebelsoul--You pretty much have the picture as I see it. Kephart was a miserable money manager and he did indeed freeload on the mountain folks--in various ways. They saved him when he first showed up in 1904, nurtured him all through the ensuing 27 years, provided the cemetery plot where he is buried, settled his estate and his bills (he died owing money), bought him a suit of clothes when he was to speak to an august group on behalf of establishing the Park, and much more. Laura (his abandoned wife) was constantly importuning him for money, and according to no less than four different people I interviewed who knew him reasonably to very well, every time he got a letter form her he went on a week-long drunk. Amazingly, today's descendants maintain she was a great inspiration to his literary endeavors.
In the revised edition of Our Southern Highlanders,
a full 40 percent of which is devoted to moonshine in one way or another, it is obvious (and extant directions from his NY publisher bear this out) that he turned to sensationalism to sell books.
He did have a knack for making close friends, although a lot of local folks turned against him once the revised edition of his book appeared. Jack Coburn, probably the area's wealthiest man at the time, was quite close to him, as was the Japanese-born photographer George Masa, local druggist Kelly Bennett, I. K Stearns (who handled his estate after Coburn was killed in a car wreck) and a few others. The common folks though, people like my father, had little use for him.
One thing I've always found strange is that while Kephart wrote a great deal about hunting and guns, if he had much of anything to say about mountain fishing I've never come across it. Yet he spent time with folks like Granville Calhoun, Mark Cathey, and Sam Hunnicutt, anglers (and hunters) all. It's surprisign, given his love of living in the backcountry, his considerable knowledge of camp cookery (he wrote a book in the subject), and his interest in living off the land.