Huckleberries - History of Huckleberries
© copyright 2004 by Linda Stradley - United States Copyright TX 5-900-517- All rights reserved. This web site may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission and appropriate credit given. If you quote any of the history information contained below for research in writing a magazine or newspaper article, school work or college research, and/or television show production, you must give a reference to the author, Linda Stradley, and to the web site What's Cooking America.
The huckleberry is a main food source for a wide range of animals including the deer, birds, rodents, insects, and the most well-known - black and grizzly bears. Huckleberries are one of the grizzly bear’s favorite foods, consisting of up to 1/3 of their sustenance. Bears often travel great distances to find them, as the berries are one of their major later summer and fall foods. If you do go huckleberry picking, be aware that you may be in some bear's favorite patch.
Huckleberries have been a staple of life for Northwest and Rocky Mountain Native American tribes for thousands of years. 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.
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.
There are special areas in western Montana that are notorious for huckleberries and have the reputation for producing more berries than any other area.
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 huckleberry has achieved something of a cult following in Montana and
some communities even have huckleberry festivals every year. The small northwestern Montana town of Trout Creek has held a
Huckleberry Festival for the last 30 years.
Trout Creek is the official "Huckleberry Capital of Montana" and home to the
premier huckleberry festival in the inland Northwest. Trout Creek was named
the official huckleberry capital of Montana in the 1980s. The "Great Burn,"
the legendary fire of 1910, scoured much of this region and left prime
huckleberry habitat in its wake. Like other shrubs and underbrush, berry
bushes thrive when sections of the forest canopy fall to fire or other
A Social History of Wild Huckleberry Harvesting in the Pacific Northwest, by Rebecca T. Richard and Susan J. Alexander, Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-657. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.
The Journals of Lewis and Clark, edited by Bernard DeVoto, 1953.