Of all the species of mankind existing under heaven, the western boatmen deserve a distinct and separate cognomen. They are a sort of amphibious animal-kind-hearted as a Connecticut grandmother, but as rough as a Rocky Mountain bear. In high water they make the boat carry them, and in low water they are content to carry the boat-or in other words, they are ever ready to jump in and ease her over the sand-bar, then jump on board and patiently wait for the next. Spending the greater portion of their time on the water, they scarce know how to behave on shore, and feel only at home upon the deck of their craft, where they exercise entire sovereignty.
They have not degenerated since the days of Mike Fink, who was looked upon as the most fool-hardy and daring of his race. I have heard Captain Jo Chunk tell the story of some of his daring exploits. "There ar'nt a man," said Captain Jo, "from Pittsburgh to New Orleans but what's heard of Mike Fink; and there aint a boatman on the river, to this day, but what strives to imitate him. Before them 'ere steamers come on the river, Mike was looked up to as a kind of king among the boatmen, and he sailed a little the prettiest craft that there was to be found about these 'ere parts. Along through the warm summer afternoons, when there wa'nt nothing much to do, it used to be the fashion among the boatmen to let one hold up a tin cup in the stern of the boat, while another would knock out the bottom with a rifle ball from the bow; and the one that missed had to pay a quart for the good of the crew. Howsomever," continued Capt. Jo, "this wa'nt sport enough for Mike, and he used to bet that he could knock the tin cup off a man's head; and there was one fellow fool-hardy enough to let him do it; this was Mike's brother, who was just such another great strapping fellow as himself, but hadn't as much wit in his head as Mike had in his little finger. He was always willing to let Mike shoot the cup off his head, provided that he'd share the quart with him; and Mike would rather give him the whole of it than miss the chance of displaying his skill."