‘My name is Mike Fink!’ was the curt reply

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 26, 2016

He was the most famous of the keelboatmen, who plied the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for two decades until they and their watercraft were displaced by steamboats.

Mike Fink, by William Gropper (1897-1977), from the series ‘American Folk Heroes.’

Born near Pittsburgh, PA (at the headwaters of the Ohio River), around 1770, Mike Fink —‘Miche Phinck,’ as he learned to spell it from his French Canadian parents—gained notoriety as a marksman and an Indian scout in the Ohio River Valley before settling into keelboating.

He took up boating around 1785 and rose in the trade. Fink mastered the difficult business of keelboating—poling, rowing, sailing, and cordelling (pulling via a rope winch) keelboats upstream for hundreds of miles against strong river currents.

By the early 1800s, he owned and captained two boats headquartered at Wheeling, WV. Working his way west, Fink’s career paralleled that of American expansion into the Mississippi Valley.

Fink’s trickster exploits captured the American imagination, and provided plenty of fodder for tall tales that took on a colorful life of their own.  A typical example is “Mike Fink and the Sheep,” penned in 1852 (roughly 29 years after Fink’s death) by Ben Casseday, a Louisville, KY journalist and newspaper editor:

“His practical jokes, for so he and his associates called their predations on the inhabitants of the shores along which they passed, were always characterized by a boldness of design and a sagacity of execution that showed no mean talent on Mike’s part. One of the most ingenious of these tricks, and one which affords a fair idea of the spirit of them all, is told as follows:

“-Passing slowly down the river, Mike observed a very large and beautiful flock of sheep grazing on the shore, and being in want of fresh provisions, but scorning to buy them, Mike hit upon the following expedient. He noticed that there was an eddy near to the shore, and, as it was about dusk, he landed his boat in the eddy and tied her fast. In his cargo there were sonic bladders of scotch-snuff.

“Mike opened one of these and taking out a handful of the contents, he went ashore and, catching five or six of the sheep, rubbed their faces very thoroughly with the snuff. He then returned to his boat and sent one of his men in a great hurry to the sheep-owner’s house to tell him that he ‘had better come down and see what was the matter with his sheep.’

“Upon coming down hastily in answer to Mike’s summons the gentleman saw a portion of his flock very singularly affected; leaping, bleating, rubbing their noses against the ground and against each other, and performing all manner of undignified and unsheeplike antics. The gentleman was sorely puzzled and demanded of Mike ‘if he knew what was the matter with the sheep.’

“YOU don’t know?” answered Mike very gravely.

“I do not,” replied the gentleman.

“Did you ever hear of the black murrain?” asked Mike in a confidential whisper.

“Yes,” said the sheep owner in a terrified reply.

“Well, that’s it” said Mike. “All the sheep upriver’s got it dreadful. Dyin’ like rotten dogs- hundreds a day.”

“You don’t say so,” answered the victim, “and is there no cure for it?”

“Only one as I knows on,” was the reply. “You see the murrain’s dreadful catchin’, and ef you don’t git them away as is got it, they’ll kill the whole flock. Better shoot ‘em right-off; they’ve got to die anyway.”

“But no man could single out the infected sheep and shoot them from among the flock,” said the gentleman.

“My name’s Mike Fink!” was the curt reply. And it was answer enough. The gentleman begged Mike to shoot the infected sheep and throw them into the river. This was exactly what Mike wanted, but he pretended to resist.

“It mought be a mistake,” he said; “they’ll may be git well. He didn’t like to shoot manny’s sheep on his own say so. He’d better go an’ ask some of the neighbors ef it was the murrain sure ‘nuf.”

“The gentleman insisted, and Mike modestly resisted, until finally he was promised a couple of gallons of old Peach Brandy if be would comply. His scruples thus finally overcome, Mike shot the sheep, threw them into the eddy and got the brandy. After dark, the men jumped into the water, hauled the sheep aboard, and by daylight had them neatly packed away and were gliding merrily down the stream.”

sources: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/sw/fink2.html



4 Responses

  • Granny Sue says:

    hey Dave,

    I was talking about Mike Fink all summer for children’s library programs–the theme this year was Make a Splash, so I traveled creeks and rivers from my home to the ocean and told stories about each one along the way. Mike Fink, of course, starred in the Ohio River/Mississippi River section of the program. This is a great story here.

  • robert dewalt says:


    Just a question. Is there a source for Mike Fink’s supposed French Canadian background? The standard scholarly treatment of the Fink legend– Blair and Meine, U of Chicago P, 1956– states on page 1: “It has been assumed that his parents were Scotch-Irish, as were many people in the settlement[Fort Pitt], but there is a strong liklihood that they belonged to the Pennsylvania German contingent.” Nowhere in the many published tales collected in Meine and Blair is Fink’s ethnicity stated, and French ancestry is probably the least likely possibility , given the demographics of Western Pennsylvnia after the fall of Fort Duquesne and the withdrawal of the French to Detroit. The settlers of the area after the French and Indian War were largely Scotch-Irish, English and Pennsylvania “Dutch,” that is, German.

  • Dave Tabler says:

    Blair and Meine quote an 1829 article by one Timothy Flint titled “The Last of the Boatman” in which Flint explains Fink’s spelling of his name. “He had but little knowledge of letters,” says Flint, “especially of their sounds and powers, as his orthography was very bad, and he usually spelled his name Miche Phinck, whilst his father spelled his with an F.” In other words Fink spelled his name that way not because of French Canadian roots, but simply because he was a poor speller.

    The reference I used that stated Fink was French Canadian was an MNBC article at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5581029/ns/news-the_mighty_miss. The article has no byline, and does not cite ITS sources. Not a very strong citation to use for my own article, I admit!

  • robert dewalt says:

    Thanks for the clarifiation, Dave, and more generally for a very enjoyable and informative site. My own (half-serious) belief re Fink– Pennsylvania German of Swiss origin. Note his penchant for shooting things off people’s heads a la William Tell! Happy New Year.

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Woman has no greater claim to the rights of the ballot

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 25, 2016

“Bullets and ballots are not companions;” said Lizzie French in a famous 1912 speech to the Tenneesee Bar Association, “but ballots in the hands of people are supposed to be a substitute for bullets in the hands of hired agents…Thanks be to God that in giving women the crown of motherhood he made her the giver not the taker of life. Woman has no greater claim to the rights of the ballot than she is a producer not a destroyer of life.”

Elizabeth Crozier French, born this date in 1851, was at the time the recently elected president of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association, Inc. When the first woman in Tennessee history to address the organization took the podium, she delivered what many scholars believe today was one of her greatest messages stating her position on the state’s law forbidding women from voting. French was never one to sit still, and knew her best strategy as president of the state’s suffrage organization would be to take her message straight to the Tennessee Bar Association.

Elizabeth Crozier FrenchAs the daughter of an attorney and an out-spoken leader in the women’s movement, French wasn’t at all intimidated by the men seated in front of her. Her speech was put into the record of the Tennessee Bar Association as an “Address on Women’s Rights” and became a much quoted theme in the South’s growing number of suffrage groups. French continued her work in Knoxville founding and serving as president of the Knoxville Equal Suffrage Society and becoming a leading member of the National Women’s Party.

From this speech forward, French began her all-out fight to see that the Susan B. Anthony Amendment – now more than 30 years old and regarded as a dead piece of legislation in Congress – was added to the United States Constitution.

The bill and the labors of women like Lizzie Crozier French were having some impact on women’s rights in America. Some states had begun giving women greater control over their property, a few had made divorce easier for those in abusive relationships, and women were slowly gaining access to the courts in their ability to sue for damages.

Finally on August 25, 1919, Tennessee certified the ratification becoming the 36th state and making the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution the law of the land giving women the right to vote.

Lizzie C. French and the Suffragists across America cheered passage of the 19th Amendment, and French joined women across Tennessee in casting their first votes that following November. In addition, French went on to help found the Knoxville chapter of the League of Women Voters.

Lizzie C. French remained an active member of the Knoxville community and made a bid for City Council in 1923, but was defeated. Three years later the 75-year-old Lizzie C. French traveled to Washington, D.C. to help the National Women’s Party furnish a room in honor of the Tennessee suffragists and also secure introduction of a bill in Congress to benefit working women in America. On May 14, 1926, while still in Washington, D.C., the Tennessean quietly passed away.

Her body was returned to her hometown in Knoxville where she was laid to rest in the City’s Old Gray Cemetery – leaving behind a legacy that is still felt to this day.

Source: www.tennesseehistory.com/class/LizzieCroz.htm

Lizzie+French Tennessee+Equal+Suffrage+Association Knoxville+TN suffragists appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

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The Red Neck Army marches to Blair Mountain

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 24, 2016

The Battle of Blair Mountain marked a turning point in the national movement to better the conditions of working people by demanding the legalization of unions. It was the largest armed labor confrontation in U.S. history, and it began on August 24, 1921.

The highway historical marker erected last April by the state of West Virginia in front of the United Mine Workers headquarters in downtown Charleston honoring him claims organizer Bill Blizzard had mobilized 7,000 striking miners; other estimates place the figure as high as 13,000.

West Virginia coal operators did all they could to oppose unionism. The main problem was that mine workers were forced to sign legally binding “yellow-dog” contracts (upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court) under which miners pledged not to join a union or risked forfeiting their jobs as well as the right to live in company housing. In exchange they were paid next to nothing, had no freedom of speech or assembly, and were killed with impunity by mine guards and local politicos in an atmosphere akin to a third-world dictatorship.

By the summer of 1921 the “Red Neck Army” was outraged over the years of brutality and lawless exploitation. And so the miners picked up their Winchesters and gathered at Marmet (near Charleston) that summer morning, and from there began marching on Logan and Mingo counties — the last two non-union counties in West Virginia.

State Police and Mine Guards in the Trenches on Blair MountainBlair Mountain, a 1,600-acre ridge located to the southwest, stood between the Armed March and their destination. About three hundred deputies and mine guards, under Sheriff Don Chafin, waited for the marchers in fortified positions in a fifteen-mile-long battle line along the crest, commanding the high passes. The coal companies paid Chafin some $32,000 per year to keep the UMW out of Logan County.

Frank Keeney, president of UMW District 17, met with Governor John J. Cornwell and General J. H. Bandholtz, and Federal troops were promised to the region. Keeney set out on the road to try and head off this violent confrontation.

“I’ve told you men God knows how many times that any time you want to do battle against Don Chafin and his thugs I’ll be right there in the front lines with you. I’ve been there before and you know it. But this time you’ve got more than Don Chafin against you. You’ve got more than the governor of West Virginia against you [boos]. You’ve got the government of the United States against you!

“Now I’m telling you for your own good and for the good of the cause, you’ve got to do it. Break up this march. Go home. Get back to your jobs. You’ve got Uncle Sam on your side now, and he won’t let you down. You can fight the government of West Virginia, but by God you can’t fight the government of the United States.”

The appeal worked. The men grumbled but began to head home. Trains began arriving to take the miners home. It looked like a showdown wouldn’t happen after all.

Then a rumor spread among the miners: They are shooting women and children at Sharples!

What had happened was that heedless of the truce between General Bandholtz and the governor, Chapin and his men had crept down from Blair Mountain intent on arresting the ringleaders of the miners. A shootout erupted and several miners were killed before Chapin and his men were driven off.

The miners returned to their march and the battle was on.

The following day the miners made a major push on the front line.

“Logan County deputies were driven down the hillside in a skirmish with an armed force from the other side of Spruce Fork Ridge, Captain I. G. Hollingsworth reported at 7 o’clock. Heavy fighting continued on two other sectors of the line during the afternoon and evening.

“‘We intend to hold our lines with all the power at our command,’ Colonel W. E. Eubanks [commanding officer of the militia] said. ‘We have 1,200 men in the line and fighting is continuing in the Blair sector and along Crooked Creek.'”

The battle raged for nearly a week. Chafin called in reinforcements from other counties, and even offered prisoners freedom if they fought for the non-union defenders.

By August 30 the defenders had massed themselves at Craddock Fork of Hewett Creek and felt they were about to break through. At that point Chafin began contracting private airplane pilots at $100 a day to fly over the miners and drop homemade bombs on them.

The bombing was largely ineffective, but it made the event interesting enough that newspapers from around the country began sending war correspondents.

Several times the miners nearly broke through the defenses, but were driven back each time. Eventually President Harding intervened with a declaration of martial law, and sent 2,000 U.S. Army troops armed with poison gas. He also sent a fleet of bombers commanded by General Billy Mitchell, but they were never used except to drop a couple bombs in a demonstration of military potential.

The federal troops met with Bill Blizzard and gave the presidential order to desist. Blizzard spread the word and then high-tailed it out of there. The rest of the miners hid their guns on the side of the mountain and headed for home. It was no longer an army, just a bunch of tired and dirty men trying to get home. The undeclared civil war was over.

The union had suffered a crushing defeat. Between 20 and 50 people had been killed in the battle on both sides. An unknown number had been wounded, probably in the hundreds.

Blizzard and some of his colleagues were indicted for treason, but later acquitted during a trial in a Harper’s Ferry courtroom. UMW organizing efforts in southern WV were halted until 1933.

Sources: The Battle of Blair Mountain, by Robert Shogan, Westview Press, 2004

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Bald is beautiful

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 23, 2016

Ah, southern Appalachian ‘balds,’ those curious subalpine meadows. From northern Georgia to southwestern Virginia, there are scores of such grassy peaks sprinkled along the Appalachian mountain chain. They are an enigma, being largely devoid of trees and other woody vegetation where one would normally expect to see a continuation of the surrounding forest.

In places, these balds are expansive, measured in the hundreds of acres. Elsewhere they are tiny summit caps. Some 90 are cloaked in grasses and sedges. These so-called grass balds are especially rich in botanical finds.

Researchers have looked for evidence of bald creation through climatic factors related to the Wisconsin glaciation and the effects of mega-fauna during the last ice age. Wood bison, deer, and other native grazers also contributed to keeping the balds cleared.

Native Americans probably used the balds as hunting areas and lookouts and may have used fire to maintain them, says Kristine Johnson, supervisory forester and vegetation management specialist for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Cherokee name for Gregory Bald was “Tsistu’yi,” or “Rabbit Place.” According to tribal lore, the chief of all rabbits— known simply as the Great Rabbit— lived at the summit. The rabbit, considered by the Cherokee to be sly and mischievous, was a key figure in tribal legends, showing the importance the tribe placed upon the mountain.

Cades Cove and Gregory Bald. Albert Gordon ‘Dutch’ Roth(1890-1974) photographed Cades Cove with Gregory Bald looming behind it on August 23, 1936.

Gregory Bald, famous for its wealth of hybrid azaleas (some azalea hybrids occur only here), is located about five miles south of Cades Cove. Its grassy slopes sustain a variety of rare and endangered wildflowers, native grasses, and a rare, dwarf willow.
Gregory Bald was documented by the region’s earliest white explorers in the Davenport survey of 1821, which covered the area now comprising GSMNP. The mountain was listed by Arnold Guyot in his 1856 survey of the Smokies, although Guyot gave it the name “Great Bald’s Central Peak”, and measured its elevation at 4,922 feet.

In the Smokies, as well as other areas, farmers would drive their livestock to the highest balds in the summer. Livestock thus avoided ‘milk sickness’ that resulted when they consumed low elevation plants. This also freed up lower fields, such as Cades Cove, to be used for crops.

The name “Gregory Bald” was given to the mountain by Cades Cove residents in honor of Russell Gregory (1805-1864), a prominent Cades Cove settler. Gregory used the mountain to graze cattle during the spring and summer, when the fields in the cove were needed for growing crops. He lived atop the mountain during this part of the year in a circular stone house near the mountain’s summit (the house is no longer standing).

Today, maintenance of the balds is sometimes the only reason that some of these balds still exist. The origin of balds remains a mystery, and balds management issues are continually debated.

Sources: www.state.tn.us/environment/tn_consv/archive/roane.htm

Gregory+Bald Appalachian+balds Tsistu’yi Cades+Cove Russell+Gregory appalachia +appalachia+history appalachian+culture history+of+appalachia

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The granddaddy of Alabama family reunions

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 22, 2016

There are a few things that can be said about Kennamer Cove that probably cannot be said truthfully about any other community in the state.

There have been only two murders in the Cove, which occurred ninety years ago. I am sure there has never been a divorce case in court in the whole 130 years since Hans Kennamer, with a large family of children, settled among the Indians. Hans Kennamer and some of the five generations of his descendants are buried in Pisgah Cemetery, which is in sight of the D.A.R. school located on the brow of Gunter’s Mountain.

John R. Kennamer (1873-1952)
From The Progressive Age, August 22, 1929

Granddaddy of reunions in state
by Boone Aiken
The Birmingham News, page 13
Tuesday, Sept. 5,1972

AUBURN There are family reunions and more family reunions in Alabama, particularly around this time of the year, but how many can claim their very own cove, complete with a pavilion in case of rain or a too enthusiastic sun?

Furthermore how many have their very own museum? Or a commercial picture postcard with their name and a picture of the ancestral home site?

No one knows exactly how many Kennamers there are today but at last count in 1942 there were 2,400 families.

John R. Kennamer, Sr.John R. Kennamer, Sr. (1873-1952) organized the first Kennamer family reunion.

On Aug. 21, Kennamers, from as far away as Oklahoma and “cousins by the dozens” gathered again at the Pisgah Church in Kennamer’s Cove in Marshall County for the 44th annual reunion.

Earl Kennamer, Auburn University extension wildlife specialist, recalls when the first reunion was held he rode in style in the rumble seat of the family car from Selma to Kennamer’s Cove. He also reports the huge picnic basket of food beside him arrived intact at the Aug. 15, 1929 affair, but his friends rather doubt this astounding bit of information.

At that time more Kennamers arrived by buggy and wagon than by automobile, he said.

Always there has been a good crowd on hand whether the reunion was held on Thursday, Saturday or Sunday. One of the smallest occurred in 1942 when only 350 persons attended due to war conditions, lack of transportation and Kennamers in the armed services.

The Kennamer clan proudly announces its annual reunion is held “rain or shine, war or peace, depression or inflation, hot or cold, Republican or Democrat, pollution or smog, mini or maxi, hair or bald.”

They report their membership is made up of “farmers, preachers, teachers, merchants, students, retirees, secretaries, lawyers, housewives, beauticians, radio announcers, contractors, doctors, salesmen, bankers, druggists, and what-have-you.”

A famous family member is Dr. Rexford Kennamer Hollywood, physician to Elizabeth Taylor and Gary Cooper.

In 1965 a concrete block structure, 10’x30′ was built to house family mementoes. Included are pictures of pioneer families, old family Bibles, family records, a 150-year-old quilt, a 50-year-old baby dress and arrow heads.

Although no one knows just how many persons actually showed up Sunday at the pavilion in Kennamer Cove Earl Kennamer, vice president of the Kennamer Family, Inc. said estimates between 500-1,000.

All with well-filled picnic baskets, of course.

Kennamer Cove, ALModern day view of Kennamer Cove.

Minutes from the 1st Kennamer Family Reunion

On August 15th, 1929, six miles south of Woodville, at Pisgah Church, in Kennamer Cove, was held the first Kennamer Family Reunion.

By actual count five hundred Kennamers and their kinfolks assembled. Many members of this large family from a distance were present to enjoy the day, a day long to be remembered by all present.

The morning was given over to meeting and greeting each other in social conversation.

At the noon hour was taken in enjoying an old time picnic dinner. There was enough food to feed a crowd three times as large. It is generally agreed that the day of miracles has passed, but when I saw some of the baskets of food taken up, after every one had eaten, I involuntarily thought of the Savior feeding the five thousand, and the baskets remaining.

In the afternoon many short speeches were made to the great delight of all. First on the program, was our genial editor, Hon. J. S. Benson, who kept the audience in laughter by his funny and appropriate stories. He was followed by Federal Judge Franklin Elmore Kennamer, of Tulsa, Okla., who made the principal speech of the day. He made a strong plea for the sanctity of the home, reverence to God, and obedience to Constitutional Government. Next Mr. D. P. Woodall, postmaster at Hillsboro, Ala., made an interesting speech. Dr. L. G. Kennamer, of Richmond, Ky., made a short and very appropriate speech.

Mr. P. H. Woodall, of Columbus City made a stirring appeal to the young folks to live for God and the Church. He was followed by Hon. T. J. Kennamer, U. S. Marshall of Birmingham, Ala., and in a happy speech. The last speaker on the program was Hon. Chas. B. Kennamer, District Attorney of Guntersville, Ala. It is needless to say that he made a good one. He said the majority of persons convicted by the courts are young educated men, and stressed the great need or moral training in the schools. That the colleges were not now giving this training as they should.

All speakers urged the parents to train their children in matters right or wrong and to learn obedience to parents and reverence to God.

The occasion was such a success that it was unanimously voted to hold another reunion next year.

sources: www.docftp.com/pdf/komab3-A+FAMILY+IN+REUNION


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