This past week-end while driving the teams on the Silver Bell Farm, giving rides in the cold, one was tempted to complain a bit. Whenever I feel like complaining I always try to remember the not so long ago past and our ancestors and the hard work they would do in all kinds of weather…no matter what…with their horses…and mules and oxen.
Stagecoach Mary’s story is absolutely one of my favorites and one I like to remember when feeling a bit sorry for myself if I am working in the cold with a team never mind a hitch of six or eight on mountain passes with no real “roads…..perfect cure for those kinds of thoughts…I immediately collect myself, stop whinning and feel great gratitude to have such amazing teamsters to look up too….the likes of which we could hardly match in our modern times….or could we?
Stagecoach Mary Fields
First lets start with this…..
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. This made her the second woman and first African American woman to work for the U.S. Postal Service. 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, 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.
“Born a slave somewhere in Tennessee, Mary lived to become one of the freest souls ever to draw a breath, or a .38.” Gary Cooper
*Born in 1832 a slave in Tennessee and owned by the Dunn family during the Andrew Jackson administration, gained her freedom in her twenties and headed out west in her fifties.
*Mary was 6ft tall, heavy, tough, short tempered: two-fisted:powerful and packed a pair six-shooters and an eight or ten-gauge shotgun.
*Well known for smoking bad homemade cigars and was known to get into altercations on a regular basis.
- She prided herself on being an “Independent” politically.
- After Mary became “free” in 1884 she made her way to Cascade County (west Central Montana) in search of work and adventure. She began working with the Ursuline nuns at their mission, called the St. Peter Mission, in the city of Cascade.
- Mary was hired to do the “heavy work” and to haul freight and supplies to keep the nuns operation functional and well fed.
- A famous tale about Mary is during a night run her wagon was attacked by wolves. The terrified horses bolted and overturned the wagon and thereby dumping Mary and all her supplies.The legend is that she kept the wolves at bay with her revolvers and rifle. She did survive and at dawn got the load delivered. Her pay was docked for the molasses that leaked from a keg which was cracked on a rock in the overturn.
- Mary was always heavily armed and ready for a fist fight at the drop of a hat. Certain ruffian men would occasionally attempt to trample on her rights and hard won privileges. Woe to them all. She broke more noses than any other person in central Montana, so claimed the Great Falls Examiner, the only newspaper available in Cascade at the time.
- At seventy-one, Mary Fields retired from star route mail carrier service in 1903. She continued to babysit many Cascade children and owned and operated a laundry service from her home.3
Death and legacy
Fields died in 1914 at Columbus Hospital in Great Falls of liver failure, but she was buried outside Cascade.
- 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.”
Sources Wikipedia and Blackcowboys.com
What did she say about herself?:
|I am Mary Fields.
People call me “Black Mary.”
People call me “Stagecoach Mary.”
I live in Cascade, Tennessee.
I am six feet tall.
I weigh over two hundred pounds.
A woman of the 19th Century,
I do bold and exciting things.
I wear pants.
I smoke a big black cigar.
I drink whiskey.
I carry a pistol.
I love adventure.
I travel the country,
driving a stagecoach,
delivering the mail to distant towns.
Strong, I fight through rainstorms.
Tough, I fight through snowstorms.
I risk hurricanes and tornadoes.
I am independent.
No body tells me what to do.
No body tells me where to go.
When I’m not delivering mail,
I like to build buildings.
I like to smoke and drink in bars with the men.
I like to be rough.
I like to be rowdy.
I also like to be loving.
I like to be caring.
I like to baby sit.
I like to plant flowers and tend my garden.
I like to give away corsages and bouquets.
I like being me, Mary Fields.
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