Guest Author - Vance Rowe
Mary Fields, or as she is better known by the moniker of Stagecoach Mary, was born into slavery in Tennessee in 1832. When the Civil War ended in 1865 and slavery was outlawed, Mary Fields was freed. Fields took a job working in the home of Judge Edmund Dunne for almost twenty years and when the judge’s wife died in 1883, Mary took the children to Toledo, Ohio. The childrens’ aunt, Mother Mary Amadeus, was the mother superior of an Ursuline convent there.
In 1884, Mother Mary Amadeus was sent to the Montana Territory to start a school for Native American girls at the St. Peter’s Mission, near Cascade, Montana. Mary Fields stayed in Toledo until she received word that Mother Mary Amadeus was stricken with pneumonia. She rushed to Montana to take care of the mother superior and Mother Mary soon recovered from the illness. Fields remained at the mission performing jobs like hauling freight, doing laundry, growing vegetables, making repairs to buildings and eventually became the forewoman of the mission.
In 1894, the bishop ordered Mary Fields to leave the convent after receiving several complaints about her drinking and swearing and an altercation with a male subordinate that involved gunplay. Along with Mother Mary’s help, Stagecoach Mary opened a restaurant in Cascade. The restaurant ended up failing after just ten months of being in business because Mary Fields served to anyone and everyone, even if they could not pay for the meal.
In 1895, at about 60 years old, Mary Fields was hired as a mail carrier because she was the fastest job prospect to hitch a team of six horses. She became the second woman and the first African-American woman to receive a star postal route. Mary never missed a day of work and usually delivered the mail with a wagon and her mule, Moses. It was her reliability that earned her the nickname of “stagecoach”. If the snow was too deep for horses and her mule, Mary donned a pair of snowshoes, carried the sacks of mail on her back and delivered it.
Stagecoach Mary became a much respected figure in Cascade and the town even closed its schools every year on her birthday. When Montana eventually passed a law forbidding women to enter saloons, the mayor of Cascade gave Mary an exemption. Finally, in 1903, Mary Fields retired from the star route mail carrier service, at the age of 71. She didn’t stop working though. She babysat children in Cascade and ran a laundry from her home.
Stagecoach Mary Fields passed away at the Columbus Hospital in Great Falls, Montana in 1914 and is buried just outside of Cascade. She has also been immortalized in movies and television shows.