Mike Fink

Mike Fink (1770–1823) In American folklore, a legendary keelboat man, the strongest ever. Mike Fink spent most of his time on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, but he was actually born near Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh). His nicknames were “Snag” on the Mississippi and “Snapping Turtle” on the Ohio. The stories that sprang up around him were a rich part of a growing form of humorous American folklore. Fink was called the king of the keelboaters, one of those men who guided rafts, flatboats, and keelboats down the rivers. He was particularly famous for his brawls, boasts, jokes, and deadly marksmanship. Even his gun had a nickname, “Bang-All,” and he was well known for shooting, winning many local competitions. As entertainment, he and his friends often shot cups of whiskey from the tops of each other’s heads. Once he shot the tails from eight baby pigs on shore, some 40 or 50 yards away. Davy Crockett described the river man as “half horse and half alligator,” a tribute to his hardiness and strength. Fink introduced himself in taverns by saying,

“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, halfbrother 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!”

He was proud of the red feather he wore in his cap, signifying his victory over every strong man up and down the river. Fink died at the hands of one of his companions in 1822 while scouting, trapping, and rafting in the Rocky Mountains as a result of an argument over a chère amie, as Mike called his many romantic interests. The story of Mike Fink first appeared in print in 1821 and was soon spread orally. Fink is often linked with Davy Crockett in printed almanacs. He has become a representative of the 19th-century folk hero described by Richard Dorson as “Ring-tailed Roarers, bullies, brawlers, and daredevils.”


Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow-Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante

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