Charles “Huckleberry Charlie” Sherman, born on Feb. 15, 1842, in Watertown was a conspicuous figure of the north country, with a reputation that continues to intrigue local historians, including his own chapter in the book, "Colorful Characters of Northern New York" by David Shampine.
Huckleberry Charlie made his money (and earned his nickname) picking and selling huckleberries. He claimed that the huckleberries he picked on Pine Plains, which is now Fort Drum, were the best there were.
Huckleberry Charlie had a penchant for brightly-colored clothes that were given to him by merchants in the city who donated out-of-season clothes to him at his request, which contributed to his eccentric look. Huckleberry Charlie also sold newspapers and other wares from his wagon, singing and playing his banjo when he wasn’t busy making sales.
The Watertown Daily Times wrote frequently of the self-appointed "wandering minstrel," during his life. His eccentric personality was well-known. Various stories relay tales of him entertaining students at Watertown High School, aggravating military personnel during war games and "accosting" a wealthy millionaire.
The large collection of articles through the Watertown Daily Times history prove the north country's appreciation for news of "Huckleberry Cha…
A Sept. 14, 1915, story in the Times mentions the encounter Huckleberry Charlie had with the visiting wealthy businessman Frank W. Woolworth, a north country native who created the five-and-dime stores. Huckleberry Charlie accosted the millionaire, it was said, for the 50 cents Charlie claimed was owed him from their school days. Apparently amused, Woolworth agreed to pay him the money.
In another story, Huckleberry Charlie interrupted maneuvers at Pine Camp in 1910. He was a familiar figure at every regimental headquarters. In one exercise, Huckleberry Charlie observed the "Blues" advancing in secret upon the "Reds." He called out to the Red team of the approach, and ruined the attack, to the consternation of officials for the Blue team, who noted his interference in their day's report.
While most articles mentioned his amusing personality, some especially focused on his appearance and attire.
An article from Sept. 29, 1910, focused on the attire of Huckleberry Charlie, who appeared up on Public Square with a new, bright red suit "patterned somewhat after the style of those worn by band masters and lion tamers." White stripes decorated the legs and coat. He carried a cane and wore a red cap with a white visor "pulled to a level with his tilted up nose." In the same article, they noted a "turkey-red" hat in the style of young boys worn by him days ago.
“Of medium height, but thin, straight as an arrow and lanky,” an article from 1921 describes, “‘Huckleberry Charlie’ was one of the most colorful characters the North Country has ever known. And his apt and witty sayings as well as his florid and sometimes flaming attire are still indelibly impressed upon the memory of many of the older residents.”
The newspaper also credited him for his detailed knowledge of local history, giving "figures and dates with no hesitation" as to the history of older buildings in Watertown and Great Bend. And although he made an odd impression based on his appearance and manner, the newspaper warned readers not to cross him:
Huckleberry Charlie had a long local pedigree to add to his unique personality dating back to the early settlers of the area.
His great-grandfather was Dr. Abel Sherman, a physician, farmer and the first sheriff of Jefferson County. His great-grandmother, the wife of Dr. Abel Sherman, was Susan Hall, the adopted daughter of Roswell Woodruff, an early Jefferson County pioneer. Huckleberry Charlie's father, Eli P. Sherman, was a wealthy Wall Street commission merchant. Notably, his uncle was John A. Sherman, owner of the old Washington Hall, who bequeathed the building to the YMCA.
Huckleberry Charlie was married to Della Palmer Sherman for nearly 50 years. After the death of her husband, Della Palmer Sherman lived with her granddaughter, Mrs. Frank Bullis of Great Bend, until she died at age 88. She was buried in Sunnyside Cemetery in Great Bend, where her husband was buried.
When Huckleberry Charlie died around age 79, his funeral was packed with locals who thought of him fondly. Although reports of Huckleberry Charlie have died down since his time, reported stories of his adventures continue to surface throughout the history of the Watertown Daily Times a hundred years later.