History of Huckleberries

If you do your research, you can find references to the huckleberry back as far as the 17th century.

In the article, Huckleberries – History of Huckleberries, I found the following information: 

Evidence has been found the the huckleberry actually got its name from a simple mistake. Early American colonist, upon encountering the native American berry, misidentified it as the European blueberry known as the “hurtleberry,” by which name it was called until around 1670 it was corrupted to become know as the “huckleberry.”

Lewis and Clark encountered huckleberries and talked about them in their journals:

In the Journals of Lewis and Clark, they wrote of the tribes west of the Rocky Mountains using dried berries extensively in 1806 and 1806. Captain Meriwether Lewis on reaching the Shoshone Tribe (also known as the Snake Nation, occupied areas both east and west of the Rocky Mountains) and the Great Divide, 15 August 1805:

“This morning I arose very early and as hungry as a wolf. I had eaten nothing yesterday except one scant meal of the flour and berries, except the dried cakes of berries, which did not appear to satisfy my appetite as they appeared to do those of my Indian friends. I found on inquire of McNeal that we had only about two pounds of flour remaining. This I directed him to divide into two equal parts and to cook the one half this morning in a kind of pudding with the berries as he had done yesterday, and reserve the balance for the evening. On this new-fashioned pudding four of us breakfasted, giving a pretty good allowance also to the chief, who declared it the best thing he had tasted for a long time. . .”

Native Americans were very familiar with the huckleberry:

Northwest tribes made special combs of wood or salmon backbones to strip huckleberries off the bushes. They dried the berries in the sun or smoked them and then mashed them into cakes and wrapped these in leaves or bark for storage.

Huckleberries became part of the culture in the early 1900s:

Between 1900 to 1925 families took working vacations where they traveled into the mountains to pick huckleberry (known as hucks) for the winter. During the 1930s through the 1940s, large camps were set in northern Montana where the fire of 1910 had burned. NOTE: Forest fires can enhance huckleberry habitat by allowing more light onto the forest floor. Also, fires release more nutrients into the soil, producing ashy soils upon which huckleberries thrive. The picking was so great that much of western Montana’s population converged on this area and set up huckleberry camps. The Native Americans on one side of the road, with as many as five hundred tipi lodges, and on the other side of the road would be the encampments of other Montanans. The camps might last a few days, a week, or as much as two months, depending on the crop and the inclinations of the family. It was said the big huckleberry camps had a boomtown atmosphere, much like the gold mining towns of the West. Those years produced boxcar-loads of huckleberries.

Huckleberry outings not only provided settlers with easily available nutritious, but also offered young people a legitimate courting opportunity. Moreover, huckleberry gathering provided a unique opportunity for white settlers to interact with local tribes.

The following is from Montana Historical Society interview transcript with Edna G. Cox McCann on an early settler, Edna McCann of Trout Creek, Montanta:

“And then huckleberry season we always would put in, well, we’d make a kind of picnic out of it. We’d take three or four days, get enough huckleberries for winter and make it kind of a picnic out of it too . . . We’d go to Silver Butte, that was a good place for huckleberries then or go up Trout Creek, either place. You know, the Indians that’d come down from the (Flathead) Reservation, there’d be a whole big bunch of them’d come at a time and camp for a week. Up on silver butte picking huckleberries. I always talked to ’em. Always did and i always got along good with them. Always got along good – some of them I would even recognize when they’d come back the next year . . . They had their favorite spots and they camped and not one every bothered anyone else, but the mountains were full of them . . . and that’s something you never see anymore. I don’t know if they even come down after huckleberries anymore. I never see ’em.”History of Huckleberries

 

If you are interested in more information on the history of huckleberries, you might want to check out this resource:  http://www.treesearch.fs.fed.us/pubs/22152

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