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“I’m Your Huckle Bearer?”

“I’m Your Huckle Bearer?”
August 26
11:33 2015

If you have watched the 1993 movie Tombstone one scene may be stuck in your head. It’s when Doc Holliday confronts Johnny Ringo and says “I’m your huckleberry!”

What did he mean by that? And did he really say that?

There are two versions of what Val Kilmer’s Holliday actually said in the movie – and they both make sense.

Did Kilmer really say “I’m your huckle bearer?”


Val Kilmer

If so, what, you might wonder, is a huckle bearer?

In the South of the mid to late 1800’s a huckle bearer was the equivalent of a pallbearer. A handle on a casket was called a huckle.

Holliday, the gun fighting dentist, was raised in a gentile Georgia home, where he would have been aware of such a phrase.

Thus, Doc Holliday may have been saying that he’d be to bury Ringo. Since they were about to get into a gunfight, this makes perfect sense.

The lingo in the Old West was often colorful, and many of the common sayings might make no sense in today’s verbiage.

For example, if a cowboy said you were “throwing too much dust,” he was calling you a braggart. On the other hand, if he said you had “more smoke that a wet wood fire,” he was saying you were smart.

Or, a brave man might be “as gritty as aigs rolled in sand” or knew “how to die standing up.” If you pulled someone’s “picket pin,” it meant you’d killed him.

A liar was a fella that could “color up a story redder’n a Navajo blanket.”

But what did “I’m your huckleberry mean?”

In the Old West being a huckleberry meant you were game, up for anything. It also meant that you were the one to bring trouble to your opponent.

According to “I’m your huckleberry” is the rough equivalent of saying “I’m the man you’re looking for.”

The saying came from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn character.


Doc Holliday

Wait, you say!

Everybody knows that “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was published in 1884 – three years after the events in Tombstone that led to the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

You are correct – and definitely have more smoke than a wet wood fire.

However, Huckleberry Finn made his first appearance in Tom Sawyer – which was published in 1876, five years before the OK Corral fracas.

Huck Finn, as you may recall, was always getting into some kind of trouble.

So, Kilmer’s Holliday may have been telling Ringo that was game, ready for anything Ringo had in mind. Or he may have simply been warning Ringo that he’d bring more trouble than Ringo could handle.

The iconic scene with Kilmer almost didn’t happen.

Originally screenwriter Kevin Jarre, Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner were planning to work on the movie together. But Costner thought the film should focus primarily on Wyatt Earp and decided to make his own movie.

Using his considerable clout at the time Costner got most major studios to refuse to distribute Russell’s Tombstone.

Only the Walt Disney Studio was willing to do it – but it had one problem. Russell and Jarre wanted Willem Dafoe to play Doc Holliday. That was a no-go as far as Disney was concerned.

Dafoe had recently appeared in the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ, which Disney did not want associated with its brand.

That brought in second choice Val Kilmer.

So what did Kilmer say?

In the actual script it is written as “huckleberry,” and the movie merchandise also uses that phrase.

Still, it could have been huckle bearer …



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