It’s been said that she fended off an angry pack of wolves with her rifle, had “the temperament of a grizzly bear,” and was not above a gunfight.
Mary Fields is the first African-American woman to carry mail who stood out and became a Wild West legend.
She’s known to be the toughest freaking mail carrier anyone would want to meet. When she was freed as a slave after the end of the Civil War, she headed for the Mississippi River.
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There, she worked on riverboats and acted as a servant and laundress for families along the way until she ended up living in the Ursuline Convent of the Sacred Heart in Toledo, Ohio.
Fields was born into slavery around 1832 in Hickman County, Tennessee. She spent the first thirty years of her life as a slave in Hickman County, Tennessee.
At the time Fields was born, slaves were treated like a piece of property with their numbers recorded in record books but their names were not.
Fields took a job working for the Ursuline Nuns at St. Peter’s Mission in Cascade as a carpenter where she made nine bucks a week.
When she wasn’t nursing the chickens, maintaining the convent’s garden, or swearing and head-butting people for the slightest offences, the 52-year-old “made weekly 120-mile supply runs out to Helena to pick up food and medical gear for the convent.”
The African American Registry described Fields as a black gun-toting female in the American Wild West who was six feet tall, heavy, tough, short-tempered, two-fisted, and powerful; she carried a pair of six-shooters and an eight or ten-gauge shotgun.
At a point, she was expelled from the St. Peter’s Mission when her “difficult” nature and subversive behaviour reached the bishop, who raised serious concerns about Fields’ habits of drinking, smoking, shooting guns and wearing men’s clothing.
Despite her intolerable attitude at the Coventry, “Stagecoach Mary” or “Black Mary,” as she was nicknamed, was loved by the nuns, especially Mother Amadeus Dunne, the convent’s Mother Superior who she had once saved from a serious illness.
The nuns financed her in opening her own cafe. Her business was reported to have drowned several times because she had a habit of feeding the hungry.
Fields was later on her own and lived a life that by all standards shocked many in the 19th-century. She took in laundry and did odd jobs, started businesses and became known for liking hard liquor and gunfights.
In 1895, she found a job as a U.S. mail coach driver for the Cascade County region of central Montana and it was in this capacity that she became a legend referred to as Stagecoach Mary and known for her unfailing consistency.
As a star carrier, her job was to protect the mail on her route from thieves and bandits and to deliver the mail. She was the first African American woman and the second woman in the United States to serve in that role.
For eight years, Fields protected and delivered the mail until she aged and retired. Despite occasional dust-ups with neighbours, the community supported her and she even got free meals from local restaurateurs while saloon regulars chatted with her.
The town of Cascade even closed their schools and businesses to celebrate her birthday, which was, on average, about twice a year, usually once around March and again sometime in October.
She died December 5, 1914, in Cascade and her funeral was reported as one of the largest the town had ever seen. Her grave is marked with a simple cross.