Mike Fink

(Copyright: Bob Dyer, Songwright Pub. Inc.)
Side 2, Band 3.

Dave: guitar
Cathy: banjo
Sd: guitar

The legend of this hell-raising frontier braggart is an American classic and familiar to anyone interested in the folklore of the Mississippi River system. Stories about Mike Fink first appeared in print in 1828, only five years after his death, and remained popular until the Civil War. Interest in the legend was revived in the 1920's and 30's, and hopefully sob Dyer will renew again the interest with his song.

Bob says the impetus for the song came while preparing a presentation on song and creative writing for a group of 4th graders near St. Louis in 1982. In their Missouri history text, Bob ran across a brief version of the Mike Fink legend and an inspiring picture of Mike riding a tornado. Bob later began to wonder whether Mike Fink was the best role model for grade school children.

Bob, who has recorded the song on his own record, River of the Big Canoes, first became acquainted with the legend through the works of his poet-mentor, John Neihardt, "The Song of Three Friends," in his Cycle of the West. Two books, Walter Blair's Mike Fink: King of the Mississippi Keelboatmen (New York, 1933) and Franklin J. Meine's Half Norse Half Alligator: The Growth of the Mike Fink Legend (Chicago, 1956) are especially informative. (DP)

Well, my daddy was a bear in the Allegheny Mountains
And my mother was a 'gator in the Ohio.
I was born full-growed at the forks of the river
And I cut my teeth on a catfish bone.

Oh, my name is Mike Fink, I'm a keelboat poler,
I'm a Salt River roarer and I eat live coals .
I'm a half-alligator and I ride tornaders,
And I can out-feather, out-jump, out-hop, out-skip,
Throw down and lick any man on the river.

Well, I poled the Ohio and I poled the Mississippi
And I poled the Missouri when she's choked with snags.
I poled on the wilds and the salts of the Kentucky
And I never met a man that I couldn't out-brag.

Well, Betsy is my shooting iron, she shouts like the thunder
And she flashes like the lightning and she kicks like a mule.
I can clip an Indian scalp, knock it cleaner than a whistle;
I can knock a tin cup off the head of a fool.

Well, Carpenter's a name that I guess you've heard tell of;
I taught that critter everything that he knowed.
But he done me dirt on the Yellowstone River
And I crossed his eyes with a musket ball.

Well, some say I died on the Yellowstone River
Or was shot by a man by the name of Talbot.
But if you want to know the truth about what really happened,
You're gonna have to come knocking on the devil's door.

© 1986, Folk Legacy Records, Inc.