Huckleberry QueenMarch is Women’s History Month. And Marshall County is full of exceptional women. Join us as our new series explores some of their invaluable contributions.
In 1875, a circus acrobat, dubbed the “Woman with the Iron Jaw,” took Marshall County by storm. Mary Helms would go on to become a local legend, the Huckleberry Queen. She was tough, self-reliant and often lived outside her era’s moral code. Local newspapers, as well as those from Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Chicago, covered her “brash behavior,” multiple marriages and run-ins with authorities. Yet she was friends with Walkerton’s “Hummer, the preacher.” Stories circulated of her saving drowning men and providing medicine for sick women. At this time historically, women were hard-pressed to be self-sufficient, both socially and financially. There were few avenues to earn a respectable living, and what work was available generally paid very little. Marriage often was the only option. Helms herself actually married twice locally, was rumored to have been married both before and after living in Marshall County, and even obtained licenses for marriages that were never realized, perhaps for financial gain. In 1879 her life was chronicled by Tyner neighbor, actor Adelbert Knott. “The Queen of the Huckleberry Marsh” is written as a first-person, tell-all tale, but it exposes some of the day’s double-standards and paints a vivid portrait of how raw life could be on the Indiana frontier. Each year, hundreds of people, mainly women and children, would flock to the 2,000-acre marsh south and west of Tyner, eager for the income provided picking berries, despite the heat, dirt, grueling hours and dangers. They lived in crime-ridden encampments, boom towns erected to provide necessities, but also entertainments, enticing workers to squander their hard-earned wages. Helms lived her life within this system, but also transcended it, challenging gender and societal norms by sheer force of personality. To learn more, stop by the MCHS gift shop and pick up a copy of “Queen of the Huckleberry Marsh” in celebration of Women’s History Month!