She was best known for her holler….. “Hiioowweeewhooo,” she’d yell, and whenever people heard that sound, they shook their heads with wonder at the thought of all the amazing stunts of little Sal Fink.
Her daddy was Mike Fink, the keelboat man, who was famous for his daring deeds on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Sal was as brave and bold as her dad. They say that once she rode down the great Mississippi on the back of an alligator.
Short and sturdy, she could be rough. After all, her daddy was Mike Fink, and her ma was the woman who once caught a thief all on her own and frightened him so badly, he swore he would never steal another thing, so long as Ma Fink would just leave him alone.
When Sal was a little girl, she was wandering in the woods one day when she heard a peculiar growling and grunting coming from a hollow oak. She peeked inside. An enormous she-bear was feeding her seven bear cubs.
Well, everyone knows how she-bears feel about intruders close to their cubs. That big she-bear rushed out of the tree and began to chase Sal, and the cubs were right on their ma’s heels.
“Hiioowweeewhooo,” Sal cried, and that amazing sound stopped the bear and cubs right in their tracks. But just for a moment.
The big she-bear jumped on little Sal, and in a minute they were wrapped in a great big bear hug, rolling over each other as they wrestled.
But then Little Sal discovered that the bear’s teeth and claws were tangled up in all her long, black hair and the fringes of her little buckskin skirt. She twisted and punched and wrestled. Amazingly, she knocked the wind right out of that bear. Then she dragged the carcass home to show off to her parents, and the little cubs followed behind.
But Sal was also kindhearted. She took pity on the cubs and fed them, and after that day, those cubs followed Sal wherever she went. They were just like her pet dogs.
One day in the middle of a blustery winter, Sal was in the forest hunting wildcats when suddenly a band of 15 riverboat pirates surrounded her. The bears weren’t with her that day, and at 15-to-1, Sal didn’t have a chance. The pirates picked her up and carried her to Dead Man’s Hollow. There they tied the poor girl to a tree and built a roaring bonfire at her feet.
The pirates sat down in a circle. “We’ll ask a ransom for her,” one of the pirates said. “Old Mike Fink will pay us handsomely.”
“No, no,” said another, “let’s sell her for even more money. Anyone would pay for this gal.”
“I’d rather light the fire,” a third one cried.
“Let’s do whatever makes Mike Fink most mad,” said a fourth.
These were the brothers of a pirate Mike Fink had killed. These fellas wanted revenge.
“Ransom,” said a fifth one.
“Fire,” argued the sixth.
“Sell her,” said the seventh, and the eighth one said, “Drown her like he drowned our captain.”
Round and round they went, arguing.
“It’s a stroke of luck we found her,” the 10th one said, but that was all the men could agree on.
All this time, Sal watched them closely. She stared at their dirty, bearded faces. She studied the pistols and knives jammed into their broad belts. And Sal tested the ropes that held her.
The men continued to argue. After a while, they pulled off their heavy boots so they could warm their toes by the fire.
Sal grimaced. “Oowweee,” she said, “that smell reminds me of the time a dozen skunks got under our barn.”
The pirates ignored her. They were too busy arguing. But in the warmth of the fire, they soon grew tired and fell asleep, one by one. By the time the big full moon rose, the last one was snoring loudly.
Now Sal let her temper flare. “I won’t stand it!” she muttered, and she burst the ropes as if they were string. She stood up and quietly took all of the pirates’ weapons and tossed them into the woods. Then she took a tangle of rope, tied all their legs together, and wove a long cord through those bonds.”
Holding one end in her hand, she cried, “Wake up, you snakes!”
Sal’s voice was so loud, all the leaves in the forest trembled. And as the men awoke, Sal jerked on the rope and pulled them, feet first, into the fire that had burned to hot embers.
Those men began to yell and curse their hot feet, but Sal just left them there. She picked up her wildcat pelts and a chest of the pirates’ gold. She bowed to them. Then she ran off, faster than any wildcat, and the men went on howling and shrieking, trying to untangle those knots.
From far away, out in the darkness, they heard the sound. “Hiioowweeewhooo,” Sal cried. That howl woke all the folks from the headwaters of Ohio to the mouth of the Mississippi, and when it did, all who heard Sal’s cry shook their heads and sighed, for they knew that Sal Fink had pulled off another amazing stunt.