Inducted in 2010
Mike Fink was the king of the keelboat men. More than any other individual, he personified the flatboat and keelboat era, and his tremendous skill set a standard for leadership in the frontier age of rivers.
Fink was born around 1770 in Pittsburgh and, while still a teenager, became a scout in the Indian wars. The event which thrust him onto the frontier was when a treacherous man married Fink’s fiancé under false pretenses and then caused her death.
At 180 lb. and just under six feet tall, he was an enormously strong man, able to control wayward keelboat men and marauding thieves. He was an expert marksman, and with his rifle, Bang All, could outshoot almost any competitor.
When the steamboat was introduced to the western rivers, Fink’s profession was threatened. He enlisted with the famed Ashley and Henry expedition, captaining one of the two keelboats to ascend the river to start what became the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. He became a trapper and trader in the land of the Crows and Blackfeet. In 1823, he was killed at the mouth of the Yellowstone River, ending the career of the most far reaching and adventuresome keelboat man of all time.
Mike Fink’s deeds were repeated and celebrated around frontier campfires and recorded in national newspapers. His exploits were as legendary as his habits questionable. But his river skill was widely respected and undisputable. Called the “snapping turtle” and “half man and half alligator,” Fink was known as a pilot who could nearly always get his cargo through. More than that, he became legend in our nation’s folk lore and his story is part of our nation’s history.