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The Cock Of The Walk     

The name might sound odd at first, but understanding what a "Cock of the Walk" actually is, will clear things up.

The area below the Natchez bluff known as Under-the-Hill was the most notorious port on the river and often called the Barbary Coast of the Mississippi.

Flat-boatmen and keel-boatmen would sell their cargo up and down the Mississippi and afterwards patronize the saloons, gambling houses, opium dens, and brothels that filled her banks at Natchez.

Needless to say, Natchez Under-the-Hill attracted some of the most infamous and unsavory characters of the day. Among those were the rough and tough individuals who declared themselves "Cock of the Walk".

The Cock of the Walk was considered the best fighter onboard a ship, and these men distinguished themselves by wearing a red rooster's feather in the brim of their hat.

Rest assured that when a Cock of the Walk met another Cock of the Walk, trouble and bloodshed soon followed and continued on until there was only one man left standing, and that man was always Mike Fink.

For twenty years at ports up and down the river many men dared to wear the red feather in Fink's presense, but none ever prevailed against him.

Though he has developed a mythology to rival that of Paul Bunyan, Fink was not a figment of anyone’s imagination. He was the most famous of the keel-boatmen who plied the Mississippi and other rivers for two decades until they and their watercraft were displaced by steamboats as the preferred means of moving goods in the early 1800s.

His superior physique - he stood 6-foot, 3 and weighed 180 pounds - and flair for self-aggrandizement - he claimed he could "outrun, outshoot, throw down, drag out and lick any man in the country" - transformed him into an icon for storytellers of the day.

Some of the tales they swapped had him riding a moose like a horse, wrestling alligators and drowning wolves with his bare hands.

Davy Crockett supposedly described him as "half horse and half alligator." Fink wore the red feather in his cap to signal his status as Cock of the Walk, and his defeat of every strong man up and down the river.

Over time, Fink’s growing reputation supposedly preceded him to the extent that if he was even rumored to be in the area - others who also wore the red feather would hide for days or even weeks, in an effort to avoid a confrontation with him.

Fink was still proudly wearing his red feather when in 1823 and a drunken stupor, he was aiming at a mug of beer from the head of his longtime friend - a youth named Carpenter, whom he had brought up, and for whom he felt a rude but strong attachment.

Fink's shot was low and Carpenter was killed.

Time wore on and many spoke darkly of the deed. Mike Fink had never been known to miss his aim - he had murdered him!

While this feeling was gathering against him, the unhappy boatman lay in his cave, shunning both sympathy and sustenance. He spoke to none. When he did come forth, 'twas as a spectre, and only to haunt the grave of his "boy".

Shortly afterwards, a man by the name of Talbott, the gunsmith of the station was very loud and bitter in his denunciations of the "murderer", as he called Fink, which, finally, reaching the ears of the latter, filled him with the most violent passion, and he swore that he would take the life of his defamer.

This threat was almost forgotten, when one day, Talbott, who was at work in his shop, saw Fink enter the fort, his first visit since the death of Carpenter. Fink approached; he was careworn, sick, and wasted; there was no anger in his bearing, but he carried his rifle, and the gunsmith was not a coolly brave man; moreover, his life had been threatened.

"Fink," cried he, snatching up a pair of pistols from his bench, "don't approach me, if you do, you're a dead man!"

"Talbott," said the boatman, in a sad voice, "you needn't be afraid; you've done me wrong-I'm come to talk to you about - Carpenter - my boy!"

He continued to advance, and the gunsmith again called to him: "Fink! I know you; if you come three steps nearer, I'll fire, by -!"

Mike carried his rifle across his arm, and made no hostile demonstration, except in gradually getting nearer-if hostile his aim was.

"Talbott, you've accused me of murdering my boy Carpenter that I raised from a child-that I loved like a son - that I can't live without! I'm not mad with you now, but you must let me show you that I couldn't do it - that I'd rather died than done it - that you've wronged me."

By this time he was within a few steps of the door, and Talbott's agitation became extreme. Both pistols were pointed at Fink's breast, in expectation of a spring from the latter.

"By the Almighty above us, Fink, I'll fire. I don't want to speak to you now - don't put your foot on that step - don't!"

Fink did put his foot on the step, and the same moment fell heavily within it, receiving the contents of both barrels in his breast.

His last and only words were, "I didn't mean to kill my boy!

A few weeks after this event, Talbott himself perished in an attempt to cross the river in a skiff.

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Under-The-Hill Saloon
25 Silver St Natchez
Biscuits & Blues
315 Main St Natchez
Natchez City Cemetery
2 Cemetery Rd Natchez

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