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Mike Fink

Mike Fink, called "king of the keelboaters", (1770(?) - 1823) was a semi-legendary brawler and river-boatman who exemplified the tough and hard-drinking men who ran barges up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

The historical Mike Fink was allegedly born around 1770 in Fort Pitt, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When he began his career in navigation, he became notorious, both for his practical jokes, and for his willingness to fight anyone who was not amused. He and his friends were supposed to have amused themselves by shooting cups of whiskey from each other's heads.

Besides imagined feats making part of the legend of Mike Fink, it may have also been woven from two (or more) men with the same name. Mike Fink signed up as one of Ashley's Hundred and formed a part of the band that built Ft. Henry[?]. If this man had been the one born at Fort Pitt about 1770, he would have been at least 50 years old. Such an advanced age in that group of men just out of their teens would have been remarked on. (Hugh Glass[?] was called Old Hugh for being in his early 40s.) But no journal mentions Fink's advanced age so it must have been a younger Mike Fink who joined Ashley's group.

Davy Crockett is supposed to have described him as "half horse and half alligator." Fink is supposed to have described himself with this monologue: Whoo-oop! I'm the original iron-jawed, brass-mounted, copper-bellied corpse-maker from the wilds of Arkansas! Look at me! I'm the man they call Sudden Death and General Desolation! Sired by a hurricane, dam'd by an earthquake, half-brother to the cholera, nearly related to the smallpox on the mother's side! Cast your eye on me, gentlemen! And lay low and hold your breath, for I'm 'bout to turn myself loose! This traditional boast would appear to be at odds with the received lore that has him born in Pittsburgh.

Fink was supposed to have worn a red feather in his cap to signal his defeat of every strong man up and down the river. He is also supposed to have died in the Rocky Mountains on a trip scouting, rafting, and trapping, in an argument over a "cher ami" (sic), suggesting either that his French was weak, or that he had a side not mentioned in the legends. [1] (http://www.sru.edu/depts/library/imc/FolkTales/fink.htm)

Mike Fink, as a figure of American folklore, seems neglected today compared to other folk heroes who were his rough contemporaries; he is perhaps one of the least likeable characters in American or any other nation's folklore.

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