Stagecoach Mary is unknown to most, but her story is all American…Mary Fields was her name and she was born in Hickman County Tennessee in 1832. Mary was African American and a slave… She was freed in 1865 when slavery was outlawed…
She worked for Judge Edmund Dunne after his wife died and took care of his 5 children. Later in she took the children to their aunt Dolly who had become Mother Amadeus, Mother Superior at the Ursuline convent in Toledo, Ohio….
In 1884 Mother Amadeus went to Montana Territory to develop a school for Native American girls, at St. Peter’s Mission west of Cascade. She became ill and Mary went to Montana to nurse her back to health. Mother Amadeus recovered, and Mary stayed on doing domestic jobs like growing a garden and tending the chickens. Because she was strong and about 6 feet tall, so she also did manual labor and construction. She even became foreman of building repairs.
The Native American girls called her “White Crow” because they said she acted like a white woman with black skin. One school girl wrote an essay about her saying, “She drinks whiskey, and she swears and is a republican, which makes her a low foul creature.” They said she could whip any two men in the territory and wore a 38 Smith and Wesson on her apron. (1)
She was asked to leave the convent in 1894 after Mary got into a fight with one man who did not want to take orders from a black woman. He argued and then hit her. As she fell to the ground he reached for his gun, and then so did Mary. She was the better shot. (2) It was then she was asked leave. She started a restaurant in Cascade, but more kind than a business person should be, she fed everyone whether they had money or not. The business went under in the first year.
At 60 years old she became a mail carrier. She was the second woman in the U.S. and the first African American to work for the U.S. Postal Service. She was hired because she was the fastest applicant to hitch a team of 6 horses. (3) Mary delivered mail from Cascade to the surrounding areas, which included St. Peters Mission and many remote homesteads. In the winter when the snow was bad, Mary left the horses behind and walked the mail to its destination with the sacks on her back. The job was dangerous, from thieves to wild animals there was possible violence at every turn, and Mary loved it….She earned the nickname “Stagecoach” and never missed a day of work.
She retired from the US Postal Service in 1903 at 71. She was a well-known community figure, and when women could not go into Saloons, Mary got special dispensation to be allowed in for her whiskey. After her retirement she continued to babysit for children and took in laundry. Pioneer Mary Fields died in 1914 in a hospital in Great Falls, Montana but is buried outside Cascade, Montana. There was a great picture of Mary in the Ebony Magazine which you can view online.
- Cooper, Gary & Crawford, Marc (October 1959). "Stagecoach Mary". EBONY(Reprinted Oct. 1977 ed.). https://books.google.com/books?id=18sDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA96#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Drewery, Jennifer M., Mary Fields a Pioneer in Cascade’s Past, https://archive.is/20120729174246/https://www.cascademontana.com/mary.htm#selection-485.103-485.548
- Drewry, Jennifer M. (March–April 1999). "Mary Fields a pioneer in Cascade's past". Cascade Montana Community Website. Archived from the originalon July 29, 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2013..
- Metcalf McConnell, Miantae (2016). Deliverance Mary Fields, First African American Woman Star Route Mail Carrier in the United States: A Montana History