Apicultura Wiki

Occasionally, may be seen on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers singularly hearty-looking men, who would puzzle a stranger, as to-their history and age. Their bodies always exhibit a powerful development of muscle and bone; their cheeks are prominent, and you would pronounce them men enjoying perfect health in middle life, were it not for their heads, which, if not entirely bald, will be but sparsely covered with steel-gray hair.

Another peculiarity about this people is, that they have a singular knowledge of all the places on the river; every bar and bend is spoken of with precision and familiarity; every town is recollected before it was half as large as the present, or, "when it was no town at all." Innumerable places are marked out by them, where once was an Indian fight, or a rendezvous of robbers.

The manner, the language, and the dress of these individuals are all characteristic of sterling common sense - the manner modest yet full of self-reliance - the language strong and forcible, from superiority of mind, rather than from education - the dress studied for comfort, rather than fashion - on the whole, you become attached to them and court their society. The good humor - the frankness - the practical sense - the reminiscences - the powerful frame - all indicate a character, at the present day anomalous; and such, indeed, is the case, for your acquaintance will be one of the few remaining people now spoken of as the "Last of the keel- boatmen."

Thirty years ago the navigation of the Western waters was confined to this class of men; the obstacles presented to the pursuit of commerce in those swift- running and wayward waters had to be overcome by physical force alone; the navigator's arm grew strong as he guided his rude craft past the "snag" and "sawyer," or kept it off the no less dreaded "bar."

Besides all this, the deep forests that covered the river banks concealed the wily Indian, who gloated over the shedding of blood. The qualities of the frontier warrior, therefore, associated themselves with those of the boatman, while these men would, when at home, drop both these characters in that of cultivator of the soil.

It is no wonder, then, that they were brave, hardy, and open-handed men: their whole lives were a round of manly excitement; they were, when most natural, hyperbolical in thought and in deed, if compared with any other class of men. Their bravery and chivalrous deeds were performed without a herald to proclaim them to the world - they were the mere incidents of a border life, considered too common to attract attention, or outlive the time of a passing wonder. Death has nearly destroyed the men, and obscurity is fast obliterating the record of their deeds; but a few examples still exist, as if to justify the truth of these wonderful exploits, now almost wholly confined to tradition.

Among the flat-boatmen there were none who gained more notoriety than Mike Fink. His name is still remembered along the whole of the Ohio, as a man who excelled his fellows in every thing, - particularly in his rifle-shot, which was acknowledged to be unsurpassed. Probably no man ever lived, who could compete with Mike in the latter accomplishment. Strong as Hercules, free from all nervous excitement, possessed of perfect health, and familiar with his weapon from childhood; he raised the rifle to his eye, and, having once taken sight, it was as firmly fixed as if buried in a rock.

The rifle was Mike's pride, and he rejoiced on all occasions where he could bring it into use, whether it was turned against the beast of prey or the more savage Indian: and in his day, the last named was the common foe with whom Mike and his associates had to contend.

On the occasion when we would particularly introduce Mike to the reader, he had bound himself for a while to the pursuits of trade, until a voyage from the head-waters of the Ohio, and down the Mississippi, could be completed. Heretofore he had kept himself exclusively to the Ohio, but a liberal reward, and some curiosity, prompted him to extend his business character beyond his ordinary habits and inclinations.

In the accomplishment of this object, he lolled carelessly over the big "sweep" that guided the "flat" on which he officiated; - the current of the river bore the boat swiftly along, and made his labor light. Wild and uncultivated as Mike appeared, he loved nature, and had a soul that sometimes felt, while admiring it, an exalted enthusiasm.

The beautiful Ohio was his favorite stream. From where it runs no stronger than a gentle rivulet, to where it mixes with the muddy Mississippi, Mike was as familiar with its meanderings, as a child could be with those of a flower-garden. He could not help noticing with sorrow the desecrating hand of improvement as he passed along, and half soliloquizing, and half addressing his companions, he broke forth:

"I knew these parts afore a squatter's axe had blazed a tree; 'twasn't then pulling a - sweep to get a living but pulling the trigger, did the business. Those were times to see; - a man might call himself lucky then.

"What's the use of improvements?

"When did cutting down trees make deer plenty?

"Who ever found wild buffalo, or a brave Indian, in a city? Where's the fun, the frolicking the fighting? Gone! Gone!

"The rifle won't make a man a living now - he must turn mule and work. If forests continue this way to be used up, I may yet be smothered in a settlement. Boys, this 'ere life won't do. I'll stick to the broadhorn 'cordin' to contract; but once done with it, I'm off for a frolic. If the Choctas or Cherokees on the Massissip don't give us a brush as we pass along, I shall grow as poor as a starved wolf in a pitfall.

"I must, to live peaceably, point my rifle at something more dangerous than varmint. Six months and no fight, would spire me worse than a 'tack of rheumatism."

Mike ceased speaking. The then beautiful village of Louisville appeared in sight; the labor of landing the boat occupied his attention-the bustle and confusion that followed such an incident ensued; and Mike was his own master by law, until his employers ceased trafficking, and again required his services.

At the time we write of, a great many renegade Indians lived about the settlements, which is still the case in the extreme southwest. These Indians are generally the most degraded of their tribe - outcasts, who, for crime or dissipation, are no longer allowed to associate with their people; they live by hunting or stealing, and spend, in the towns, their precarious gains in intoxication.

Among the throng that crowded on the flat-boat on his arrival, were a number of these unfortunate beings, they were influenced by no other motive than that of loitering round in idle speculation at what was going on.

Mike was attracted towards them at sight; and as he was idle, and consequently in the situation that is deemed most favorable to mischief it struck him that it was a good opportunity to have a little sport at the Indians' expense.

Without ceremony, he gave a terrific war-whoop; and then mixing the language of the aborigines and his own together, he went on savage fashion, and bragged of his triumphs and victories on the war-path, with all the seeming earnestness of a real "brave." Nor were taunting words spared to exasperate the poor creatures, who, while perfectly helpless, listened to the tales of their own greatness, and their own shame, until wound up to the highest pitch of impotent exasperation. Mike's companions joined in; thoughtless boys caught the spirit of the affair; and the Indians were goaded until they, in turn made battle with their tongues.

Then commenced a system of running against them, pulling off their blankets, joined with a thousand other indignities; finally the Indians made a precipitate retreat ashore, amid the hooting and jeering of a thoughtless crowd which considered them as poor devils, destitute of both feeling and humanity.

Among this band of outcasts was a Cherokee, who bore the name of Proud Joe; what his real cognomen was, no one knew, for he was taciturn, haughty - and, in spite of his poverty and his maimer of life, won the name we have mentioned. His face was expressive of talent, but it was furrowed by the most terrible habits of drunkenness. That he was a superior Indian was admitted and it was also understood that he was banished from his mountain home, his tribe being then numerous and powerful, for some great crime. He was always looked up to by his companions, and managed, however intoxicated he might be, to sustain a singularly proud bearing, which did not even depart from him while prostrate on the ground.

Joe was careless of his person and habits - in this respect he was behind his fellows; but one ornament of his, was attended to with a care which would have done honor to him if still surrounded by his people, and amid his native woods. Joe still wore, with Indian dignity, his scalplock; he ornamented it with taste, and cherished it, as report said, until some Indian messenger of vengeance should tear it from his head, as expiatory of his numerous grimes. Mike had noticed this peculiarity; and, reaching out his hand, plucked from the revered scalplock a hawk's feather.

The Indian glared horribly on Mike as he consummated the insult, snatched the feather from his hand, then shaking his clenched fist in the air, as if calling on heaven for revenge retreated with his friends.

Mike saw that he had roused the soul of the savage, and he marvelled wonderfully that so much resentment should be exhibited; and as an earnest to Proud Joe that the wrong he had done him should not rest unrevenged, he swore that he would cut the scalplock off close to his head, the first convenient opportunity, and then he thought no more about it.

The morning following the arrival of the boat at Louisville was occupied in making preparations to pursue the voyage down the river. Nearly every thing was completed, and Mike had taken his favorite place at the sweep, when looking up the river bank, he beheld at some distance Joe and his companions, and perceived, from their gesticulations, that they were making him the subject of conversation.

Mike thought instantly of several ways in which he could show them altogether, a fair fight, and then whip them with ease; he also reflected with what extreme satisfaction he would enter into the spirit of the arrangement and other matters to him equally pleasing - when all the Indians disappeared, save Joe himself, who stood at times viewing Mike in moody silence, and then staring round at passing objects.

From the peculiarity of Joe's position to Mike, who was below him, his head and the upper part of his body were relieved boldly against the sky, and in one of his movements, he brought his profile face to view. The prominent scalp-lock and its adornments seemed to be more striking than ever, and again roused the pugnacity of Mike Fink; in an instant he raised his rifle, always loaded and at command brought it to his eye, and, before he could be prevented, drew sight upon Proud Joe, and fired. The ball whistled loud and shrill, and Joe, springing his whole length into the air, fell upon the ground.

The cold-blooded murder was noticed by fifty persons at least, and there arose from the crowd a universal cry of horror and indignation at the bloody deed Mike, himself, seemed to be much astonished, and in an instant reloaded his rifle, and as a number of white persons rushed towards the boat, Mike threw aside his coat, and, taking his powder-horn between his teeth, leaped, rifle in hand, into the Ohio, and commenced swimming for the opposite shore.

Some bold spirits determined that Mike should not so easily escape, and jumping into the only skiff at command, pulled swiftly after him. Mike watched their movements until they came within a hundred yards of him, then turning in the water, he supported himself by his feet alone, and raised his deadly rifle to his eye. Its muzzle, if it spoke hostilely, was as certain to send a messenger of death through one or more of his pursuers, as if it were lightning, and they knew it; they dropped their oars, and silently returned to the shore. Mike waved his hand towards the little village of Louisville, and again pursued his way.

The time consumed by the firing of Mike's rifle, the pursuit, and the abandonment of it, required less time, than we have taken to give the details; and in that time, to the astonishment of the gaping crowd around Joe, they saw him rising with a bewildered air; a moment more - he recovered his senses and stood up - at his feet lay his scalp-lock!

The ball had cut it clear from his head; the cord around the root, in which were placed feathers and other ornaments, still held it together; the concussion had merely stunned its owner; farther - he had escaped all bodily harm! A cry of exultation rose at the last evidence of the skill of Mike Fink - the exhibition of a shot that established his claim, indisputably, to the eminence he ever afterwards held - that of the unrivalled marksman of all the flatboatmen of the western waters.

Proud Joe had received many insults. He looked upon himself as a degraded, worthless being - and the ignominy heaped upon him he never, except by reply, resented; but this last insult was like seizing the lion by the mane, or a Roman senator by the beard - it roused the slumbering demon within, and made him again thirst to resent his wrongs, with an intensity of emotion that can only be felt by an Indian. His eye glared upon the jeering crowd like a fiend; his chest swelled and heaved until it seemed that he must suffocate.

No one noticed this emotion. All were intent upon the exploit that had so singularly deprived Joe of his war-lock; and, smothering his wrath, he retreated to his associates with a consuming fire at his vitals. He was a different being from what he had been an hour before; and with that desperate resolution which a man stakes his all, he swore, by the Great Spirit of his , forefathers, that he would be revenged.

An hour after the disappearance of Joe, both he and Mike Fink were forgotten. The flatboat, which the latter had deserted, was got under way, and dashing through the rapids in the river opposite Louisville, wended on its course. As is customary when night sets in, the boat was securely fastened in some little bend or bay in the shore, where it remained until early morn.

Long before the sun had fairly risen, the boat was again pushed into the stream, and it passed through a valley presenting the greatest possible beauty and freshness of landscape that the mind can conceive.

It was spring, and a thousand tints of green developed themselves in the half-formed foliage and bursting buds. The beautiful mallard skimmed across the water, ignorant of the danger of the white man's approach; the splendid spoon-bill decked the shallow places near the shore, while myriads of singing birds filled the air with their unwritten songs. Page 174

In the far reaches down the river, there occasionally might be seen a bear stepping along the ground as if dainty of its feet; and, snuffing the intruder on his wild home, he would retreat into the woods.

To enliven all this, and give the picture the look of humanity, there was also seen, struggling with the floating mists, a column of blue smoke, which came from a fire built on a projecting point of land, around which the current swept rapidly, hurrying past every thing that floated on the river. The eye of the boatmen saw the advantage which the situation of the place rendered to those on shore, to annoy and attack; and as wandering Indians, even in those days, did not hesitate to rob, there was much speculation as to what reception the boat would receive from the builders of the fire.

The rifles were all loaded, to be prepared for any kind of reception, and the loss of Mike Fink was lamented, as the prospect of a fight presented itself, where he could use with effect his terrible rifle. The boat in the mean time swept round the point; but instead of an enemy, there lay, in a profound sleep, Mike Fink, with his feet toasting at the fire, his pillow was a huge bear that had been shot on the day previous, while, scattered in profusion around him, were several deer and wild turkeys.

Mike had not been idle. After selecting a place most eligible for noticing the passing boat, he had spent his time in hunting, - and was surrounded by trophies of his prowess. The scene that he presented was worthy of the time and the man, and would have thrown Landseer into a delirium of joy, could he have witnessed it. The boat, owing to the swiftness of the current, passed Mike's resting-place, although it was pulled strongly to the shore. As Mike's companions came opposite to him, they raised a shout, half exultation at meeting him, and half to alarm him with the idea that Joe's friends were upon him. Mike, at the sound, sprang to his feet, rifle in hand, and as he looked around, he raised it to his eyes, and by the time that he discovered the boat, he was ready to fire.

"Down with your shooting-iron, you wild critter," shorted one of the boatmen.

Mike dropped the piece, and gave a loud halloo, which echoed among the solitudes like a piece of artillery. The meeting between Mike and his fellows was characteristic They joked, and jibed him with their rough wit, and he parried it off with a most creditable ingenuity. Mike soon learned the extent of his rifle-shot - but he seemed perfectly indifferent to the fact that Proud Joe was not dead.

The only sentiment he uttered, was regret that he did not fire at the vagabond's head, for if he hadn't hit it, why, he said that he would have made the first bad shot in twenty years. The dead game was carried on board of the boat, the adventure was forgotten, and every thing resumed the monotony of floating in a flatboat down the Ohio.

A month or more elapsed, and Mike had progressed several hundred miles down the Mississippi; his journey had been remarkably free from incident; morning, noon, and night, presented the same banks, the same muddy water, and he sighed to see some broken land, some high hills, and he railed and swore, that he should have been such a fool as to desert his favorite Ohio for a river that produced nothing but alligators; and was never, at best, half finished.

Occasionally, the plentifulness of game put him in spirits, but it did not last long; he wanted more lasting excitement, and declared himself as perfectly miserable and helpless, as a wild-cat without teeth or claws.

In the vicinity of Natchez rise a few abrupt hills, which tower above the surrounding lowlands of the Mississippi like monuments; they are not high, but from their loneliness and rarity, they create sensations of pleasure and awe.

Under the shadow of one of these bluffs, Mike and his associates made the customary preparations for passing the night. Mike's enthusiasm knew no bounds at the sight of land again; he said it was as pleasant as "cold water to a fresh wound;" and, as his spirits rose, he went on making the region round about, according to his notions, an agreeable residence.

"The Choctaws live in these diggins," said Mike, "and a cursed time they must have of it. Now if I lived in these parts I'd declare war on 'em just to have something to keep me from growing dull; without some such business I'd be as musty as an old swamp moccason snake. I would build a cabin on that ar hill yonder, and could, from its location, with my rifle, repulse a whole tribe, if they dar'd to come after me.

"What a beautiful time I'd have of it! I never was particular about what's called a fair fight; I just ask half a chance, and the odds against me - and if I then don't keep clear of snags and sawyers, let me spring a leak and go to the bottom. It's natur that the big fish should eat the little ones. I've seen trout swallow a perch, and a cat would come along and swallow the trout, and perhaps, on the Mississippi, the alligators use up the cat, and so on to the end of the row.

"Well, I will walk tall into varmint and Indian; it's a way I've got, and it comes as natural as grinning to a hyena. I'm a regular tornado - tough as a hickory - and long-winded as a nor'-wester. I can strike a blow like a falling tree - and every lick makes a gap in the crowd that lets in an acre of sunshine. Whew, boys!" shouted Mike, twirling his rifle like a walking-stick around his head, at the ideas suggested in his mind. "Whew, boys! if the Choctaw divils in them ar woods thar would give us a brush, just as I feel now, I'd call them gentlemen. I must fight something, or I'll catch the dry rot - burnt brandy won't save me."

Such were some of the expressions which Mike gave utterance to, and in which his companions heartily joined; but they never presumed to be quite equal to Mike, - for his bodily prowess, as well as his rifle, were like acknowledged to be unsurpassed. These displays of animal spirits generally ended in boxing and wrestling- matches, in which falls were received, and blows struck without being noticed, that would have destroyed common men.

Occasionally, angry words and blows were exchanged, but, like the summer storm, the cloud that emitted the. lightning also purified the air; and when the commotion ceased, the combatants immediately made friends, and became more attached to each other than before the cause that interrupted the good feelings occurred. Such wore the conversation and amusements of the evening when the boat was moored under the bluffs we have alluded to.

As night wore on, one by one, the hardy boatmen fell asleep, some in its confined interior, and others, protected by a light covering in the open air.

The moon arose in beautiful majesty; her silver light, behind the highlands, gave them a power and theatrical effect as it ascended; and as its silver rays grew perpendicular, they kissed gently the summit of the hills, and poured down their full light upon the boat, with almost noonday brilliancy. The silence with which the beautiful changes of darkness and light were produced, made it mysterious. It seemed as if some creative power was at work, bringing form and life out of darkness.

But in the midst of the witchery of this quiet scene, there sounded forth the terrible rifle, and the more terrible war-whoop of the Indian. One of the boatmen, asleep on deck, gave a stifled groan, turned upon his face, and with a quivering motion, ceased to live.

Not so with his companions - they in an instant, as men accustomed to danger and sudden attacks, sprang ready-armed to their feet; but before they could discover their foes, seven sleek and horribly painted savages, leaped from the hill into the boat. The firing of the rifle was useless, and each man singled out a foe, and met him with the drawn knife.

The struggle was quick and fearful; and deadly blows were given, amid screams and imprecations that rent the air. Yet the voice of Mike Fink could be heard in encouraging shouts above the clamor.

"Give it to them, boys!" he cried, "cut their hearts out! choke the dogs! Here's h-ll a-fire and the river rising!" Then clenching with the most powerful of the assailants, he rolled with him upon the deck of the boat. Powerful as Mike was, the Indian seemed nearly a match for him. The two twisted and writhed like serpents, - now one seeming to have the advantage, and then the other.

In all this confusion there might occasionally be seen glancing in the moonlight the blade of a knife; but at whom the thrusts were made, or who wielded it, could not be discovered. Page 180

The general fight lasted less time than we have taken to describe it. The white men gained the advantage; two of the Indians lay dead upon the boat, and the living, escaping from their antagonists, leaped ashore, and before the rifle could be brought to bear, they were out of its reach.

While Mike was yet struggling with his adversary, one of his companions cut the boat loose from the shore, and, with powerful exertion, managed to get its bows so far into the current, that it swung round and floated; but before this was accomplished, and before any one interfered with Mike, he was on his feet, covered with blood, and blowing like a porpoise: by the time that he could get his breath, he commenced talking.

"Ain't been so busy in a long time," said he, turning over his victim with his foot; "that fellow fou't beautiful; if he's a specimen of the Choctaws that live in these parts, they are screamers; the infernal sarpents! the d----d possums!"

Talking in this way, he with others, took a general survey of the killed and wounded. Mike himself was a good deal cut up with the Indian's knife; but he called his wounds - blackberry scratches. One of. Mike's associates was severely hurt; the rest escaped comparatively harmless. The sacrifice was made at the first fire; for beside the dead Indians, there lay one of the boat's crew, cold and dead, his body perforated with four different balls. That he was the chief object of attack seemed evident, yet no one of his associates knew of his ever having had a single fight with the Indians.

The soul of Mike was affected, and, taking the hand of his deceased comrade between his own, he raised his bloody knife towards the bright moon, and swore that he would desolate "the nation" of the Indians who made war upon them that night; and turning to his stiffened victim, which still retained the expression of implacable hatred and defiance, he gave it a smile of grim satisfaction, and then joined in the general conversation which the occurrences of the night would naturally suggest.

The master of the "broad horn" was a business man, and had often been down the Mississippi. This was the first attack he had received, or knew to have been made from the shores inhabited by the Choctaws, except by the white man; and he suggested the keeping the dead Indians until daylight, that they might have an opportunity to examine their dress and features, and see with certainty, who were to blame for the occurrences of the night.

The dead boatman was removed with care to a respectful distance; and the living, except the person at the sweep of the boat, were soon buried in profound slumber.

Not until after the rude breakfast was partaken of, and the funeral rites of the dead boatman were solemnly performed, did Mike and his companions disturb the corses of the red men.

Mike went about his business with alacrity. He stripped the bloody blanket from the Indian he had killed, as it enveloped something requiring no respect. He examined carefully the moccasons on the Indian's feet, pronouncing them at one time Chickasas another time, Shawnese. He stared at the livid face, but could not recognize the style of paint.

That the Indians were not strictly national in their adornments, was certain, for they were examined by practiced eyes, that could have told the nation of the dead, if such had been the case, as readily as a sailor distinguishes a ship by its flag. Mike was evidently puzzled; and as he was about giving up his task as hopeless, the dead body he was examining was turned upon its side. Mike's eyes distended, as some of his companions observed, "like a choked cat's," and became riveted.

He drew himself up in a half serious, and half comic expression, and pointing at the back of the dead Indian's head, there was exhibited a dead warrior in his paint, destitute of his scalp-lock - the small stump which was only left, being stiffened with red paint. Those who could read Indian symbols learned a volume of deadly resolve in what they saw. The body of Proud Joe, was stiff and cold before them.

The last and best shot of Mike Fink had cost a brave man his life. The boatman so lately interred was evidently taken in the moonlight by Proud Joe and his party for Mike Fink, and they had risked their lives, one and all, that he might with certainty be sacrificed.

Nearly a thousand miles of swamp had been threaded, large and swift running rivers had been crossed, hostile tribes passed through by Joe and his friends, that they might revenge the fearful insult of destroying, without the life, the sacred scalp-lock.