Stagecoach Mary Fields                                                               

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Mary Fields

Mary Fields

 

(The following article was taken             from the March/April 1999 issue             of “Footsteps” magazine,

based in Peterborough, N.H., 

and is being reprinted by permission

of the publisher.)  

Mary Fields a pioneer in Cascade’s past

      

By JENNIFER M. DREWRY

 

When people hear of cowboys or pioneers, they usually think of tough, brave men. However, there were also many women pioneers who paved the way west. Among the best known is “Stagecoach Mary” Fields.

 

Born sometime around 1812, Mary began life as a slave in Hickman County, Tenn. Few facts, however, are known about her early years. According to some historians, she was owned by Judge Dunn and grew up on his family farm. She became friends with his daughter, Dolly, who was around the same age.

 

Unlike most other African Americans of the time, Mary was taught to read and write.

 

After the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, many ex-slaves left the plantations and farms of their former owners. Mary, however, stayed with the Dunns. When she did leave, she spent time in Ohio and along the Mississippi River.

 

 

According to some reports, when Mary was around 30 years old, she received a letter from Dolly, who had become a nun and was now known as Sister Amadeus. Mary welcomed her friend’s request to join her at the convent. Soon after Mary’s arrival, however, Sister Amadeus headed west to become the headmistress of a school for Native American girls in Montana. For some reason, Mary chose not to accompany her friend. Only when she learned that Sister Amadeus was ill with pneumonia did Mary head west to Montana. Mary must have liked the area. After she had helped nurse her friend back to health, she decided to stay.

 

The school, called Saint Peter’s Mission, consisted of old buildings that were badly in need of repair. Mary, who stood over six feet tall, was as strong as any man and very good at fixing anything. She soon became the foreman, or boss, of the other workers at the school. There was one man, however, who did not want to take orders from a black woman. He argued with Mary, and then struck her. While Mary was falling, the man reached for his gun. Mary, in self-defense, snatched her six-shooter and fired. She was as fast with a pistol as any man. When the bishop in charge of the school heard about the gunfight, he demanded that Mary be fired. Sister Amadeus could not bear to let her friend go under such circumstances.

 

School with MarySt. Peter Post Office

 

When Mary heard that the United States Postal Service was looking for someone to deliver mail from the town of Cascade, Montana to families in the surrounding areas, she applied for the job. Even though she was about 60 years old at the time, Mary proved herself the fastest applicant to hitch a team of six horses and was hired. Thus, Mary became the second woman and the first African American woman to work for the United States Postal Service.

 

Mary drove the mail stagecoach along the trails that linked Cascade to the remote homesteads. One of her stops was Saint Peter’s, which was located 17 miles from Cascade. Mary loved the job, despite the many dangers and difficulties. Thieves and wolves roamed the countryside, always ready to pounce on prey.

 

In the winter, heavy snowfalls plunged the trails under drifts. On several occasions, Mary’s horses could not cross the drifts. Determined to do her job, she left the horses behind and walked alone to deliver the mail. Once she walked 10 miles back to the depot.

 

Mary continued to deliver the mail until she was almost 70 years old, earning the nickname of “Stagecoach Mary.” Then she decided to “slow down.” the nuns at the mission helped her open a laundry service in Cascade. A laundry business, however, was not enough to keep Mary busy and she spent much time caring for her garden.

 

An avid baseball fan, she often presented the town’s team with bouquets of flowers from her garden.

Baseball Team with Mary

 

The town so loved and respected Mary that on her birthday they even closed the schools to celebrate the occasion. She was well over 80 years old when the townspeople laid her to rest at the foot of the mountain trail that led to Saint Peter’s Mission.

 

“Stagecoach Mary” Fields broke all boundaries of race, gender and age.

 

She was a true pioneer.Mary Fields

 

 
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