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Mike Fincke born 1770 died 18 23 Finck described himself as half horse half alligator and half snapping turtle. He worked keel boats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. This lend him this heritage this people a series of radio programs tracing in word and music the footprints of America the turns we took the tales we spread narratives letters diaries and songs have been adapted from primary source materials by Professor Robert E. Gard director of the Wisconsin idea if the programs were produced a WHV in the University of Wisconsin Board national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation.
Today's program Mike and the Ohio River. The keel boat the representative's river craft a free steamboat days was a good sized boat 60 to 70 feet long and built on a regular model with a keel running from bow to stern. It had 15 to 18 feet breadth of beam and three or four feet depth of hold and its ordinary draft was from 20 to 30 inches. It was built in accordance with the practice of approved ship craft and was a good stance vessel. Heel boats were generally built in Pittsburgh at a cost of two to three thousand dollars for carrying freight. The keel boat was fitted with what was called a cargo box which occupied the entire body of the boat accepting about 12 feet at each end. It rose some four or
five feet above the deck. On special occasions when these boats were used for passenger traffic lights on expeditions of discovery or exploration they were fitted up with cabins and made very comfortable passenger boats. The keel Bookman's work on the river was making a keel boat go upstream. Upstream that's what I said. Flat boats. Now they were chopped up for lumber when they drifted to their stopping place but a keel boat had a keel and rode high in the water just so it could go up the river as well as down after they drifted down to New Orleans. The keel boat men unloaded their boats then took on new cargoes and upstream passengers. Then they went upstream. There's no secret about the way they got those heavy boats to go up the rivers against the current. They used their muscle and that's why a killer ate
four pounds of bacon a day besides some venison bear meat fire big potatoes and hokey. That's why any boatman worth his bacon licked everybody you could get to fight a ate and fought that way so he could get enough power to lick the river for licking the river was all a whopper of a job. Besides he liked to eat and fight.
Please man or the models from which the stage borrows it's roaring Ralph Stackpole was chock full of fight and fond of the women. They were extravagant boasters whose desperate bravery was ever ready to redeem their roistering challenges. The man who braggart like would boast of his ability to out run out jump knock down and drag out more men than any other cuts from the Roman south to the mighty Mississippi would brave untold dangers in defense of a comrade and would fight to the death against any odds no matter how desperate. If only duty friendship or affection called him into the breach. Their courage was the God given quality of the hero. They're quite bizarre ways and expressions the overflowing of two exuberant animal spirits. They were the Western Gaskins whose strength and vitality must find expression in words less like the over charged boiler without a safety valve. They're very light heartedness might
endanger them. Their life was hard and full of excesses but like other necessary evils they failed what would otherwise have been avoided in the economy of their day and generation. And when the wizard motor steam arose to take their place they vanished as completely as the frozen tracery of the frost work beneath the ardent glances of the Golden Sun. Mike Fincke The last of the fraternity was born in Pittsburgh and like most of the rising generation of his day his sole ambition was to become a keel boatman. He became noted along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers as one of the most dexterous of his class. It was when the Indians went to the Allegheny River had ceased to be amusing. And where in Pittsburgh had become rather too civilized to be interesting that Mike Fincke started his first trip on a keel boat. The day started off with a spell rowing men sat up there in the waist of the boat and skimmed their oars over the water. Then they sank their oars deep into the river stood up and pulled
so hard that the handles banned. They did this over and over at a smart lick and after an hour they were all pretty much of a froth ship all ours yelled the captain. Looks to me like the next thing we'll do will be some bushwhacking said Jade knuckles. How do you bushwhacked my gas. Where did you just grab hold of those bushes along the shore and drag the boat along that way. And sure enough after a short rest they bushwhacked awhile and then they ran out of bushes. And then we're over a sand bar man your poems. Mike knew how to poll done it before they got great strong long poles and took their post on the running boards that ran the length of the boat half the men on the port side half on the starboard. What they did was set their poles at the BOL of the boat. They've put the sockets against their shoulders. Then they started to push for all they were worth. After they had walked to the stern and
pushing this way all the while they hurried back to the bomb and did the whole thing over again. After an hour or two of this it came to a place where the water was too fast for oars and too deep for pools. What do we do know. Mike asked. Cordell said Jabe fixed the rope to the mast top and after that was done the captain called out and I'll Waddle ashore many ways and step lively. So all they went ashore and Mike found that cord Delling meant nothing but pulling that big boat along with a rope with twenty men all tugging like fury. They scrambled over the rocks and through the water dragging the boat in her cargo. A few hours of that and the killers were able to sleep fairly sound at night. Of course it wasn't this hard all the way back from New Orleans to Pittsburgh. Sometimes when there was wind enough they sailed a boat everybody took things easy but a good share of the time. The only way to get a keel boat upriver was to row or pull or
Bushwhacker or Kordell or along and that was work sure as sunrise. For months it took to get her from New Orleans to Pittsburgh four years there after Mike Fincke lived the life of a boatman swaggering through the streets of bustling river towns in his costume of buckskins and blankets drinking revue lots of whisky loving the women of New Orleans or Natchez under the hill playing really good practical jokes making spectacular shots with his rifle fighting giants of the rivers and between orgies on shore where a harrowing trips up and down turbulent streams during which he risked his life daily sweating and swearing as he and his comrades pounded their craft through the river currents. Bowman dives to all of them and saying Charge on ends. Oh dance to this song like they're going to
run a lot of your deficiencies are just going to speak to us. It's song like and I want to go home with you on about on and off. No not a river. The story is told of a clergyman from the East traveling down the Ohio River who was anxious to learn something about Mike Fincke. Somebody told him that the pilot of the boat on which he was traveling had been acquainted with Mike. The clergyman approached him and said Do you know anything about Mike Fincke. Yes said the pilot knew him like a brother. Can you tell me some particular incident of his life.
Well I don't know yet. Yes I can. He ate a buffalo robe once ate a buffalo robe certainly a buffalo robe with hair on. What did you do that for. Why you see Mike Fincke drank so much whiskey that he destroyed the coating of his stomach and the doctor told him that before he could get well he'd need a new coat for it. Mike thought thing over and said. When he had a new coat for his stomach he'd have wanted to stand the whiskey and he made up his mind that a buffalo robe with a hair on it was just a thing. And so he sat down swallowed it. He could drink any amount of whiskey after that never so much as wink. Fact now as true as your stand in that. When two or more boats met on the river or tied up in port it was the custom for the rival crews to adjourn to some convenient spot and pair off
at fisticuffs until all hands were satisfied or the proper grade of a fighter's powers established in these combats. Mike's gigantic strength made him a formidable competitor weighing as he did one hundred and eighty pounds without an ounce of superfluous flesh. His talk was that of the regular Salt River Runner and was seasoned with a rough sort of humor that gained for its possessor the reputation of a wit and of this he was very proud. It was his custom when he had given utterance to what he considered a joke to lead the laugh at his own wit and woe to the man who was so dull of comprehension that he couldn't see the point or joined in the boisterous laughter. Mike was telling jokes one day in the grog shop and all of the drinkers laughed heartily uproariously at his yarns all save one man a little dried up fellow whose pensive face suggested he's contemplating death and eternity. Mike at last walked over to him. See here Mister these yarns I've been telling is funny and you stand there as glum as a dead catfish on a sand bar I tell
snorters for folks to laugh at me good humored way. And by God I don't let no man make light of him. So the little man asked and sank back into his gloomy contemplation. Mike back at the bar told another yarn and the company dutifully howled but the little man sternly watched by Mike looked positively tearful. Mike stamped across the floor. Whoop. I am it is a common I'm a Salt River roller and I'm chock full of fight but in the middle of his boat. Mike was surprised for the weazened mourners suddenly leapt into the air and as his body swooped downward his fist smacked Mike below the ear and a killer fell sprawling. Is that so. Said his opponent and he lay down as if to rest. Mike staggered to his feet blood in his eye roaring with anger. But as he came forward the little man doubled into a tangle of flying feet and clawing fists.
Mike went into a whirl of flying arms and legs and emerged with a scratched face and a sinking in his stomach where a swift kick had landed angrier than ever. He flopped on the mat again and again against a torrent of claws and leaping boots he was able to do nothing. Four times more he tried in vain to seize her to strike his rival and each time Mike looked more as if calamity and desolation had struck him. STRANGER. Mike panted at last I am free to own I can't do nothing with you. You're tougher to Chawton a buckskin. Is that so. Listen to me Ned Taylor sheriff of this county and if you and your crew don't get the hell out of here in ten minutes I'll arrest a mess of you. Five is enough said Mike according to the tale. You're a snag a riffle in a sawyer all in one. And the people who handed it to you maintained that the sheriff resumed his gloomy contemplation and said.
Is that so. I'm Chris Young. From my home. Someone come a long way from home. Barring me along with me those things the tongue of. Daish. Just a. Little taller a go in. Every day my son and when we say thanks
the will come. The Ohio River is mountain born and valley fed it gathers the little tributaries of its two formative and its southern affluence from the heights and up lands it gathers them from the ravines and the valleys. The sources of the small streams are as varied as all the mountain silhouettes. They are collected drop by drop in the rain caverns of the highest peaks lower down the mountainside where the swelling ridges widen the gathering of the waters begins the brawling Brooks fall together singing of the cliffs they have left and the danger has passed and now the chorus grows loud and full for the arching forest aisles echo and re-echo they sound as the foaming glittering waves rush over the rocks down to where noise and glitter are
lost in the stream that tranquility glides through the long narrow stretches of emerald tinted Meadows. The polls of the Ohio River at Louisville present little that is attractive or alarming to one not familiar with the river navigation. They're simply the rapids of an inclined plane whose main channel is zigzag and rocky over which the water in a low stage boils and foams on its with descent from the upper to the lower level. But these falls were held in awe by the early boatman of the river who knew that a single mistake of the helmsmen or pilot would result in their craft being dashed to pieces on the surrounding rocks and their own lives placed in great jeopardy. Consequently they never approached the falls without much anxiety and apprehension. Mike Fincke on one occasion stood at the helm of his boat preparing to pass the rapids along the deck of the vessel with their poles and sweets and their hands were ranged the crew ready to
obey his slightest command while the passengers were in the cabin below awaiting in much anxiety the moment which would place them in comparative safety or dash them upon the rocks and leave them struggling with the rushing waters. Mike shouted instructions as the boat now shot into the current and began to advance directly toward the first little whirlpool of the rapids with a gradually increasing velocity rather than right but hard over Iraq not ready boys. Every one of your post. Frank noted with an experienced eye like Bubba a commotion of the waters indicating the narrow channel through which his boat must be guided while he stood by the helm like a Hercules with every nerve braced ready for any emergency. All right ahead are. Far back a step. As he spoke the boat touched the rapids trembled for a moment in every timber and then darted forward with the most frightful celerity through the many windings of that difficult channel.
Now was the period of intense excitement and breathless suspense as on which shot the craft with terrible velocity now plunging to all appearance directly upon a rock. And just as the more timid and inexperienced were about to utter a cry of fear and despair yielding to the strong hand an unerring eye of the gallant steersman and darting away in another direction apparently to produce the same sad catastrophe but ending in the same harmless manner. On She dashes amid the roar and foam of the boiling waters every plank in timber groaning and creaking and trembling like a frightened thing of life on on the she rushes casting the sparkling spray from her beautiful sides and prowl about every tongue aboard her is mute every eye fixed intently upon the roaring waters and every heart beating wildly. On on cheap countries in fury like to the will deliver one of the mighty deep while at the helm stands one calm and collected to steady eye and iron arms still to guide her right. Ahm ahm still on that rock she strikes yet. No
no she's past it. And now And now with the bounders of joy she leapt into the deep calm waters once more and glide smoothly forward throwing the silvery particles from her prowl while a similar Taney a shout from the excited boatman announced that all is safe. This is never going over that same spot with that remember it all I miss him said class it means to have a couple of times or so just to keep the devil away cure. Well Bart what all our knowledge and a whole lot of stuff back me the whisky on Barry. Hey Mike now gave orders to have the boat run into the shore during which operation most of the passengers came on deck learning that he was about to exhibit his skill as a marksman and quitting her at once the whole party some eight or ten persons headed by think himself with his long rifle lying carelessly across his left arm proceeded to select a convenient spot for deciding the wager. Thirty yards were paced off and the boy carpenter a
lad of fourteen advanced to the father extremity placed a tin cup on his head and looked Mike coolly in the eye blaze away Mr. Gray. Sure yeah we are all free you know that's true as gospel by as Frank spoke he threw back his right foot deliberately raised his rifle to his eye and glanced along the barrel. It was now a moment of painful suspense to all save the parties most directly interested think in carpenter. Neither of whom manifested a single sign of doubt or hesitation among the rest however many of whom had previously seen this daring feat performed. There was not an unblemished face while some of the passengers gave decided evidence of trepidation. Every eye now became fixed upon the boy. Every lip was parted in every breath so still that the dropping of a leaf might have been distinctly heard while over each crept an indescribable thrill of awe as that long rifle lay poised
and pointed motionless as a rock ready to speed forth its leaden messenger perchance on a mission of death. A moment there now was a painful almost heart sickening suspense. Then a crack and the cup spun away bored through the precise center. It was some years later and in a similar circumstance that Mike Fincke met his end. Mike was killed in a scrimmage. He had refused several good offers on the steamboats. He said he couldn't bear the hissing of steam and he wanted room to throw his pole. He went to the Missouri and about a year since was shooting the tin cup when he'd caught too heavy. He elevated to low and shot his companion carpenter through the head. A friend of the deceased who was present suspecting foul play shocked Mike through the heart before he had time to reload his rifle.
Well that's one of the many accounts of Mike's death. Here's another one written just a few years after the event in 1822 Mike and his two friends carpenter in Talbot engaged in St. Louis with Henry and Ashley to go up to Missouri with him in the threefold capacity of boatman trappers and hunters. The first year a company of about 60 ascended to size the mouth of the Yellowstone River where they built a fort for the purposes of trade and security. From this place small detachments of men 10 or 12 in a company were sent out to hunt and trap on the tributary streams of the Missouri and Yellowstone. Mike and his two friends and nine others were sent to the Musselshell River a tributary of the Yellowstone when the winter set in. Mike and company return to a place near the mouth of the Yellowstone and prefer to remain out of the fort they dug a hole or caves in the bluff bank of the river for a winter home in which they resided during the winter. This proved a warm and commodious habitation
protecting the inmate's from winds and snow. Here Mike and his friend carpenter quarreled a deadly quarrel. The cause of which is not certainly known but was thought to have been caused by a rivalry for the good graces of a squaw. The quarrel was smothered for the time by the entire position of mutual friends on the return of spring. The party revisited the fort where Mike and carpenter over a cup of whiskey revived the recollection of their past quarrel. I made a treaty of peace which was to be solemn not by their usual trial of shooting the cup of whiskey from off each other's head as their custom was. This was at once the test of mutual reconciliation and renewed confidence. A question remained to be settled who should have the first shot to determine this Mike proposed to sky a copper with
carpenter that is to throw up a coal mine. This was done and Mike won the first shot. Carpenter seemed to be fully aware of Mike's unforgiving temper and treacherous intent but he declared that he was sure Mike would kill him. But Carpenter scorned life too much to purchase it by a breach of his solemn compact in refusing to stand the test. Accordingly he prepared to die. He bequeath his gun shot but out to him powder horn his belt pistols and wages to tell bit in case he should be killed. They went to the fatal plane and whilst Mike loaded his rifle and picked his flint carpenter filled his tin cup with whiskey to the brim and without changing his features he placed it on his head as a target for Mike to shoot at. Mike leveled his rifle at the head a carpenter at a distance of 60 yards. After drawing a bead he took down his rifle from his face and
smilingly said hold your noddle steady carpenter and don't spill the whiskey as I shall want some presently. He again raised cocked is peace and in an instant carpenter fell and expired without a groan. Mike's ball had penetrated is for a head in the center about an inch and a half above the eye. Mike coolly set down his rifle in applying the muzzle to his mouth blew the smoke out of the touch without saying a word. Keeping his eye steadily on the fallen body of Carpenter his first words were carpenter if you spilled the whisky he was then told that he had killed carpenter. It's all an accident said Mike for I took a fair bead on the black spot of the cup as I ever took on a squirrel's II. How did it happen. He then cursed the gun the powder the bullets and finally
himself. This catastrophe in a country where the strong arm of the law cannot reach this catastrophe passed off for an accident. And Mike was permitted to go at large under the belief that Carpenter's death was the result of contingency. But Carpenter had a fast friend in Talbot who only waited a fair opportunity to revenge his death. No opportunity offered for some months after until one day Mike in a fit of gasconade ing declared to tell but that he did kill a carpenter on purpose and that he was glad of it. Talbot instantly drew from his build a pistol which had belonged to Carpenter and shot Mike through the heart. Mike fell to the ground and expired without a word. Thus ended the last of the boatman.
This lend this heritage this people a series of radio programs tracing in Word end music the footprints of America the turns we took the tales we spread in narratives letters diaries and songs have been adapted from primary source materials by Professor Robert E. Gard director of the Wisconsin idea theater programs were produced at W.H. any University of Wisconsin for national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation. Today's program makes me and the Ohio River. Much of the narrative was drawn from the writings of Colonel Frank triplet. Music by contemporary production by Ralph Johnson.
This land, this heritage, this people
Mike Fink & the Ohio River
Producing Organization
University of Wisconsin
WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Other Description
For series info, see Item 3351. This prog.: Mike Fink & the Ohio River. Narratives about Fink from a number of sources including Col. Frank Triplett's Conquering the Wilderness, written in 1883; songs include The Lovely Ohio and Shawnee Town.
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Producing Organization: University of Wisconsin
Producing Organization: WHA (Radio station : Madison, Wis.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-17-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:32
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Chicago: “This land, this heritage, this people; Mike Fink & the Ohio River,” 1968-04-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 23, 2021,
MLA: “This land, this heritage, this people; Mike Fink & the Ohio River.” 1968-04-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 23, 2021. <>.
APA: This land, this heritage, this people; Mike Fink & the Ohio River. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from