“I’m Your Huckleberry” – Old South Origins of a Pop Culture Iconic Line
Huckleberry is more than just a poor southern relation to the blueberry or the name of a Mark Twain character.
A number of episodes of the interesting and unexpectedly entertaining late 1950s television program Yancy Derringer can be viewed on the internet. Episode one of that series finds the title character returning from the Civil War to his plantation home somewhere along the Mississippi between Natchez and New Orleans. Although he is a Confederate veteran, the Union reconstruction administrator of the City of New Orleans recruits him as a secret agent to assist in the suppression of the criminal gangs infesting the Crescent City. “I’m your huckleberry,” says Derringer, upon being convinced to take the job. That phrase, perhaps, is better known from its use by Doc Holiday in Val Kilmer’s portrayal of that Georgia dentist in the 1993 movie classic, Tombstone.
“Huckleberry,” in 19th century southern slang, simply meant “man” or “fellow” – something on the order of “regular joe.” To say, “I’m your huckleberry,” simply meant “I’m the one you need,” “I can do the job,” or “I’m the man you are looking for” – that sort of thing.
Another southern colloquialism used the huckleberry to show the superiority or one person or thing to another by comparing the same with a persimmon, such as “Joe’s a huckleberry above Bill’s persimmon,” meaning, Joe’s a bit better than Bill in whatever area the comparison is being made.
Mark Twain’s choice of “Huckleberry” for one of his most sympathetic and enduring characters may well have been a reference to one or both of those usages of the little purple fruit.
Finally, the late actor Roy Atwell, who was no southerner at all, once wrote that “huckleberry pie is a pleasing way to die.” But that’s another story.
James T. McCafferty is a lawyer and award-winning writer who grew up in the Mississippi Delta and now resides in McComb. He is the author of many magazine and newspaper articles, two children’s books about Delta bear hunter Holt Collier, and the full-length The Bear Hunter: The Life and Times of Robert Eager Bobo in the Canebrakes of the Old South. For more information see his website: www.canebrakes.com.
copyright 2017 James T. McCafferty