Mary Fields, also known as Stagecoach Mary (c. 1832 – 5 December 1914), was the first African-American woman employed as a mail carrier in the United States, and just the second American woman to work for the United States Postal Service.
Fields stood 6 feet (182 cm) tall and weighed about 200 lbs (90kg), liked to smoke cigars, and was once said to be as "black as a burnt-over prairie." She usually had a pistol strapped under her apron and a jug of whiskey by her side.
She then worked in the home of Judge Edmund Dunne. When Dunne's wife Josephine died in 1883 in San Antonio, Florida, Fields took the family's five children to their aunt, Mother Mary Amadeus, the mother superior of an Ursuline convent in Toledo, Ohio. In 1884, Mother Amadeus was sent to Montana Territory to establish a school for Native American girls at St. Peter's Mission, west of Cascade. Learning that Amadeus was ill, Fields hurried to Montana to nurse her. Amadeus recovered and Fields stayed at St. Peter's hauling freight, doing laundry, growing vegetables, tending chickens, repairing buildings and eventually becoming the forewoman.
The Native Americans called Fields "White Crow" because "she acts like a white woman but has black skin." Local whites did not know what to make of her. One schoolgirl wrote an essay saying: "she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature." In 1894, after several complaints and an incident with a disgruntled male subordinate that involved gunplay, the bishop ordered her to leave the convent.
In 1895, although approximately 60 years old, Fields was hired as a mail carrier because she was the fastest applicant to hitch a team of six horses. She drove the route with horses and a mule named Moses. She never missed a day, and her reliability earned her the nickname "Stagecoach." If the snow was too deep for her horses, Fields delivered the mail on snowshoes, carrying the sacks on her shoulders.
Fields was a respected public figure in Cascade, and on her birthday each year the town closed its schools to celebrate. When Montana passed a law forbidding women to enter saloons, the mayor of Cascade granted her an exemption.
Death and legacy
Mary Fields died of liver failure in 1914. In 1959, actor and Montana native Gary Cooper wrote an article for Ebony in which he said: "Born a slave somewhere in Tennessee, Mary lived to become one of the freest souls ever to draw a breath, or a .38."
- Shirley, Gayle C. (2011) More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Montana Women, 2nd Ed. Globe Pequot Press: Guilford, Conn. p.5 ISBN 978-0-7627-6692-5
- Alter, Judy (1999). Extraordinary Women of the American West. Children's Press, pp. 55-57
- Drewry, Jennifer M. (March/April 1999). "Mary Fields a pioneer in Cascade’s past". Cascade Montana Community Website. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
- "Mary Fields". Legends of America. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
- Cooper, Gary and Marc Crawford (October 1959) "Stagecoach Mary". EBONY Magazine. reprinted Oct. 1977. p. 98
- "The Cherokee Kid". IMDb. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
- "Hannah's Law". IMDb. Retrieved 25 January 2013.