The Truth About Davy Crockett's Rivalry With Mike Fink

It's a time in history when people weren't carrying around a movie theater in their pocket. Entertainment was what you made it, and often that meant, perhaps, modifying the truth just a bit — you know, for effect. As Johnny D. Boggs explains it in True West Magazine, Wild Bill Hickok, himself the subject of more than one myth, was known to relate one of his own impossible adventures and, when someone asked, "But how did you escape?" would reply, "I didn't. I was killed."

The Walt Disney Company recognized the possibilities for TV back in the 1950s, mining folklore, especially American tall tales — "windies," as they're sometimes called — and passing it off as history. Usually there was a hair or two of truth to be found, but after that? Well, you watched it until the end, didn't you?

Rarely was Walt more successful with this repetitious plot line than when he mined the life and legend of one David Crockett, a 19th century U.S. Congressman from Tennessee who (long story short) died at or near the Alamo in Texas. Referred to as Davy (which, it's said, he didn't care for), and played by a tall Texan named Fess Parker, what we would later call a miniseries became a pop culture explosion, selling toy flintlocks and coonskin caps and faux buckskins at an astounding, albeit gratifying, rate.

For Mike Fink, rifles were for shooting at friends

One of the supporting characters was played by Jeff York, himself not small and a regular in Disney live-action productions of the time. York was drafted to play Mike Fink for a couple of Disneyfied Crockett story arcs, Davy Crockett's Keelboat Race and Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. There's nothing that suggests the two ever actually met, except in the fictional short stories recounted in Crockett's Almanacs. Legends of America says that, like Crockett, Fink was an actual person, although the historical record is a little fuzzier; he was born around 1770 or 1780 maybe near what's now Pittsburgh. Fink worked the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers as a keelboat man — boats designed to haul cargo, propelled either by pushing on poles or pulling on ropes, sometimes with large oars. It was hard work that required hard muscle. Fink, like Crockett and other frontier folk, liked to brag on himself, but apparently was ready to fight anyone who disagreed with him or didn't laugh at the right time. Fink was said to be an excellent shot, and he and his friends would compete by shooting a mug of cider off the head of whoever was drunk enough to stand for it. The game, if such it was, ultimately led to Fink's demise; too drunk himself to make the shot, he killed the man instead of the mug and was killed in retaliation by the man's friends, maybe in 1823, maybe up around the Yellowstone River.

Or maybe not.