What's With the Name?
Most people have 2 questions about the name of the farm.
1. What the heck is a keelboat?
A keelboat was a type of boat used during America’s frontier days. It was popular among settlers and explorers heading west, and was used extensively to transport cargo to market during this time period. The keelboat gets its name from the keel, a beam along the bottom of the boat to which the “ribs” of the vessel were attached. The keel was an important design feature that made the boat stronger and more versatile than other boats of the period. The big advantage was that it allowed the keelboat to travel back upstream against the current. This was a difficult, slow process. It often required the crew to use a variety of methods, such as pushing off of the river bottom with long poles, or pulling the boat along by grasping overhanging branches, a technique known as bushwhacking. The heyday of the keelboat ended when the steamboat provided a much easier, faster way to return upriver.
2. So, what does a keelboat have to do with farming?
Absolutely nothing. I wanted a unique name that would tie into our local history, so I started doing some research. Mike Fink was born at Fort Pitt (the present site of Pittsburgh) around 1780. About 10 years later, his family bought a tract of land here in North Fayette Township, where Mike spent his teen years serving as an Indian scout. Farm life was a bit too mundane for an adventurous spirit like Mike, so he sought work as a keelboat runner, transporting goods up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Fink became notorious as a prankster, brawler, drinker and marksman, and often boasted that he could:
“out-run, out-jump, out-shoot, out-brag, out-drink, an’ out-fight , rough-an'-tumble,
no holts barred, ary man on both sides the river from Pittsburg to New Orleans
an' back again to St. Louiee”.
With his 6’3” 180 lb heavily muscled frame, he probably made good on this boast more often than not. Mike quickly became known as the undisputed King of the Keelboaters and took to wearing a red feather in his hat to represent his defeat of every strong man along the river.
As he traveled up and down the river, his reputation grew. Davy Crockett supposedly described Fink as “half horse, half alligator”. It was said that he could drink a gallon of whisky and still shoot the tail off a pig at 90 paces. Tall tales of Mike riding a moose bareback, wrestling alligators and killing wolves with his bare fists added to the legend of Mike Fink. All of this hard living finally caught up with him in 1823, when he was shot and killed after a drunken feud with some of his companions.
Even after his death, Mike Fink remained a popular character in American Folklore. The Disney Theme Parks even had a ride called Mike Fink’s Keel Boats, which operated until the late 1990’s. His legacy is preserved locally by the name of Finks Run, a nearby stream which gives our road its name. So, the name Keelboat Farms pays homage to this homegrown early American celebrity, and king of the keelboaters, Mike Fink.