This month I will share stories on Black History Month – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. History isn’t always pretty and sometimes we sanitize that which makes us uncomfortable. Here I will share all facets of Black History and try to focus on people not necessarily in the history books.
The Ugly – Stagecoach Mary Fields
Mary Fields, also known as “Stagecoach Mary” was born around 1832 in Hickman County, Tennessee as a slave. She was freed in 1865. She worked for Judge Edmund Dunne and after his wife died in 1883, Fields took their children to Toledo, Ohio to be with their aunt, Mother Mary Amadeus. The next year, Amadeus was sent to the Montana Territory to start a school for Native American girls at St. Peter’s Mission. It was there she caught pneumonia and Fields went to Montana to nurse Amadeus. Fields stayed and worked doing whatever was needed, eventually becoming forewoman.
She was six feet tall, short-tempered, and carried two six-shooters or a shotgun. Rumor had it that she broke more noses than any other person in central Montana. The Native Americans and local whites had no idea what to make of Fields. Native Americans called her “White Crow” because “she acts like a white woman but has black skin.” A child wrote an essay about her saying “she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.”
In 1894, one of the hired hands at the convent complained that he was making $2 less than her a month. She was a black woman after all. He shared the complaint in a local saloon where Fields was a regular. Mary, not known for her even temper, went to shoot the man as he cleaned out the latrine. She was going to dump his body in there. Instead she missed, he shot back, and it was on. Neither hit each other directly, but one of Mary’s bullets ricocheted off the wall and hit the man in the buttocks. She was asked to leave the convent. The man got a raise.
Amadeus helped Fields open a restaurant nearby in Cascade, Montana, but the restaurant went broke in less than a year thanks to Fields practice of serving anyone – whether they could pay or not. At age 60, Fields was hired as a mail carrier because she was the fastest at hitching a team of six horses. She was the first African American woman to work for the Postal Service. She never missed work and if the snow was too deep for her horses, she would deliver mail on snowshoes, carrying the sacks on her shoulders.
People in Cascade loved Fields and her birthday became a school holiday. She was the only woman in Montana allowed to enter saloons. She retired at age 71 from the mail service, but continued to serve families in Cascade with a laundry service. One customer who didn’t pay his bill found his face the target of the 72 year-old woman’s fist. She continued hanging out at the saloon, drinking whiskey and smoking her nasty cigars.
She died in 1914.
Mary Fields. (n.d.). In BlackCowboys.com. Retrieved February 27, 2017, from https://www.blackcowboys.com/maryfields.htm
Mary Fields. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 27, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Fields