History

The Truth About the Meaning of Doc Holliday’s Line I’m Your Huckleberry

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The movie “Tombstone” came out in 1993, but even all these years later, one line from the film stands out. The phrase “I’m your huckleberry,” spoken by Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in the film, can be seen on t-shirts and in memes everywhere.

You might be surprised to learn that Doc Holliday actually spoke the line in real life too. Hollywood wasn’t taking liberties with the truth this time. The team creating Tombstone worked hard to keep things as authentic as they could.

But what does the phrase “I’m your huckleberry” actually mean? Why would Doc Holliday say it?

Holliday says, “I’m your huckleberry” at two points in the film, both when speaking to Johnny Ringo. The first time he says the phrase is when Ringo confronts Wyatt Earp in the street. Holliday gets involved, getting up out of his barber chair and saying the fabled line “I’m your huckleberry.”

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Photo: @chrisfloresfoto via Twenty20

When Doc Holliday says the phrase, he has his hand on one holstered pistol, and he has another weapon ready to fire behind his back. Holliday carries a nickel Single Action Army Quickdraw, along with a Colt Lightning. Like Holliday, Ringo also carries a nickel Single Action Army Quickdraw. For more up-to-date firearms, as well as classics, check out Guns.com.

Obviously, the phrase “I’m your huckleberry” wasn’t meant as a friendly greeting. If your friends greet you this way, you might want to consider getting new friends.

Holliday says “I’m your huckleberry” again when he meets Ringo in the clearing. He shoots Ringo dead after saying it, using a pistol. In the film, Doc Holliday also had a “street howitzer,” a Meteor 10-gauge side-by-side shotgun, which he carried to the OK Corral. Apparently, in real life, Doc had a Colt Double. But that’s a minor discrepancy. Guns.com sells a wide variety of shotguns, which you can see for yourself at this link, and you’ll find there’s nothing better for home-defense or duck-hunting season in the Lone Star State.

There are several intriguing theories about what Holliday meant by “I’m your huckleberry.” For instance, during medieval times, a knight coming to the rescue of a damsel would receive a garland made of huckleberries. The knight would ride into battle with the garland draped over his lance.  Being a Southern gentleman, Doc would’ve known this bit of medieval lore, since the South glorified knights and chivalry. So when he’s saying, “I’ll be your huckleberry,” he could be offering to act as Wyatt Earp’s champion.

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Photo: @calyxnaquelphotography via Twenty20

However, there are a few issues with this theory. In the film, Holliday doesn’t seem to be addressing Earp directly when he says the phrase for the first time. Instead, he‘s looking at Johnny Ringo. The second time Holliday says it, Earp isn’t even in the scene! So why would Holliday be saying that he’s Earp’s champion? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The phrase may have been based on Mark Twain’s classic character Huckleberry Finn. Huck was a character in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Huckleberry Finn always found himself getting into trouble, but he kept a cool head and managed to save the day. Tom Sawyer was popular in Doc Holliday’s time, so the phrase could’ve been a literary reference.

But this explanation doesn’t seem likely. While Doc was probably familiar with the book, dropping a literary reference doesn’t seem appropriate for the situation. A gunfight isn’t the best place to show that you’re well-read.

Of course, Doc Holliday might’ve avoided a full-on gunfight altogether if he’d had a good rifle. Instead of taking a chance on getting shot, he could’ve dropped Johnny Ringo from 50 yards away. While Holliday didn’t have a rifle, the Winchester Models 1873 and 1876 are prominent in the film. Guns.com also has great rifles for hunting and sport, from classic Old West-style weapons to modern classics.

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Photo: @shanti via Twenty20

Some folks think that Holliday may have said something else in real life. He might’ve said, “I’m your huckle bearer.” In the South, a huckle was a casket handle. A huckle bearer would be the person carrying a coffin, essentially a pallbearer.

According to this theory, what Holliday should have said in the film is, “I’m your huckle bearer.” The theory goes that Val Kilmer accidentally said huckleberry instead, and the line stuck. There are a couple of problems with that explanation. First, no official copy of the script has ever been seen with the words “huckle bearer” used. Second, Val Kilmer maintains that the line written in the script was huckleberry, and Kilmer even titled his autobiography I’m Your Huckleberry.

So what’s the truth about Holliday’s famous catch-phrase? Here’s our best explanation for the meaning of the term.

Another Southern slang usage of huckleberry was “the right person for the job.” In both instances of Holliday using the phrase in the film, Johnny Ringo is hoping to spark violence. What Holliday is saying to Johnny Ringo is that if he’s looking for trouble, Holliday’s the guy to give it to him.

If you watch the rest of the film, you know that Holliday is telling the truth. Doc Holliday is nothing but trouble for Johnny Ringo. Don’t feel too sorry for Johnny, though—he had it coming.

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Photo: @aluke324 via Twenty20

No matter what Doc Holliday said in “Tombstone,” the film was a lot of fun, and it offered a riveting look at the Old West. If you enjoy vintage firearms or the best of modern-day rifles, shotguns, and pistols, check out Guns.com. At Guns.com, you can find firearms for all your needs, whether they be hunting, self-protection, or a piece of Old West history to hang on your wall. Guns.com is your one-stop shop for firearms, ammo, and gear. A trustworthy source, Guns.com works within federal regulations to make your online gun buying experience stress-free and easy. No hassle, no headaches; just great deals from the knowledgeable, friendly Guns.com team.

No matter what, Guns.com will always be your huckleberry.