The following is from “Mike Fink: the Last of the Boatmen” by Timothy Field (1829), from an eyewitness account. ~sekanblogger
Mike Fink was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. He served as a boatman on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and their tributary streams, which occupation he pursued until this sort of men were thrown out of employment by the general use of steam boats. When the Ohio was too low for navigation, Mike spent most of his time in the neighborhood of Pittsburgh, killing squirrels with his rifle, and shooting at a target for beef at the frequent Saturday shooting matches and company musters of the militia. He soon became famous as “the best shot in the country”.
He became fond of strong drink, but claimed he was never overpowered by its influence. He could drink a gallon of it in twenty-four hours without the effect being perceivable. Mike made proclamation-“I am a salt river roarer; and I love the wimming, and how I’m chock-full of fight”. So he was in truth, for he had a chere amie in every port which he visited, and always had a circle of worshippers around him who would fight their deaths (as they called it) for him. Amongst these were two men, Carpenter and Talbot, Mike’s fast friends, and particular confidants. Each was a match for the other, in prowess, in fight, or skill in shooting, for Mike had diligently trained them to all these virtues and mysteries. His particular friend, Carpenter, was also, a great shot; and he and Mike used to fill a tin cup with whiskey, and place it on their heads by turns, and shoot at it with a rifle at the distance of seventy yards. It was always bored through, without injury to the one on whose head it was placed. This was often performed; and they liked the feat the better because it showed their confidence in each other.
In 1822, Mike and his two friends, Carpenter and Talbot engaged in St. Louis with Henry and Ashley to go up the Missouri with them in the threefold capacity of boatmen, trappers and hunters. The first year a company of about sixty ascended as high as the mouth of the Yellow Stone river. Here Mike and his friend Carpenter quarrelled a deadly quarrel, the cause of which is not certainly known, but was thought to have been caused by a rivalry in the good graces of a squaw. The quarrel was smothered for the time by the interposition of mutual friends. On the return of spring, the party revisited the fort, where Mike and Carpenter, over a cup of whiskey, revived the recollection of their past quarrel; but made a treaty of peace which was to be solemnized by their usual trial of shooting the cup of whiskey from off each other’s head, as their custom was. This was at once the test of mutual reconciliation and renewed confidence. A question remained to be settled; who should have the first shot? To determine this, Mike proposed to “sky a copper” with Carpenter; that is, to throw up a copper. This was done, and Mike won the first shot. Mike loaded his rifle and picked his flint, Carpenter filled his tin cup with whiskey to the brim, and without changing his features, he placed it on his devoted head as a target for Mike to shoot at. Mike levelled his rifle at the head of Carpenter, at the distance of sixty yards. After drawing a bead, he took down his rifle from his face, and smilingly said, “Hold your noddle steady, Carpenter, and don’t spill the whiskey, as I shall want some presently!” He again raised, cocked his piece, and in an instant Carpenter fell, and expired without a groan.-Mike’s ball had penetrated the forehead of Carpenter in the center, about an inch and a half above the eyes. He coolly set down his rifle, and applying the muzzle to his mouth blew the smoke out of the touch hole without saying a word, -keeping his eye steadily on the fallen body of Carpenter. His first words were, “Carpenter! have you spilt the whiskey!”