Monday, March 4, 2013

Stagecoach Mary - A True Pioneer


Mary Fields was born a slave in 1832 in Tennessee. She was owned by Judge Dunn and grew up with his family. She and the judge's daughter Dolly became close. Oddly enough she was taught to read and write. After the Civil War, Mary stayed on the farm with the Dunn family for awhile. Dolly became a nun named Sister Amadeus. The sister asked Mary to join her at the convent but shortly after her arrival Sister Amadeus moved to Montana to become head mistress of a school for Native American girls.

Mary worked as a hired hand at the convent and her duties included chopping wood and picking up supplies. She'd worked hard as a slave and was prepared for the physical labor expected of her. Mary was a six foot tall "gritty, cigar smoking, whiskey drinking, fist fighting, six foot tall black woman."

When she heard Sister Amadeus was sick with pneumonia, Mary traveled to Cascade County in Montana and nursed her back to health. While working at the convent, one of the men found out she made more money than he did. He didn't like it. Their argument turned into a gun fight. Shots flew but no one was hurt. Because of the altercation, Mary was fired and the man got a raise.

Next Mary owned and operated a restaurant, but since she could only cook plain food with little variety, it wasn't successful. When she was around 60 years old, she heard the U.S. Postal Service needed someone to deliver mail from Cascade to the surrounding areas. She proved to be the fastest at hitching a team of six horses and got the job.

Reliability was Mary's motto. When the snow was too deep for the stagecoach to pass, she put on snowshoes and delivered the mail by foot, once by walking ten miles to do so. Driving a stagecoach could be dangerous work due to robbers and Indians. Loaded with a rifle and several hand guns, she was able to hold her own. Thus she earned the name 'Stagecoach Mary.'

Mary was the second woman and the first black woman to ever work for the postal service. She retired when she was 70 and when her garden wasn't enough to keep her busy, she opened a laundry.

Mary was a pioneer and an inspiration to not only African-American women but also to anyone wanting to begin a new venture later in their life. She was unwilling to allow the prejudices of being black and a woman hold her back.

Mary lived a fruitful life and passed away in 1914 in Cascade, Montana. She was so well loved by the citizens of Cascade that every year on her birthday they let school out.

References:
http://www.cascademontana.com/mary.htm

About.comEducationAmerican HistoryStates and TerritoriesAmerican WestStagecoach Mary Fields - A Look at Stagecoach Mary Fields
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Fields

Thanks for stopping by!

14 comments:

Celia Yeary said...

The strength and endurance of some of the pioneer women--black or white--amazes me. I never could have done all that, even when I was young. Still, everyone can take a page from her book, and that is, "never sit down." We can always learn something new and do something different.
The photo is wonderful. I wouldn't tangle with her, that's for sure. Still, she had a gentle, loving heart, too.
She is a true Woman in History.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Linda, I've heard of Mary before, but this is a well-done post. Love your banner, too.

Quilt Lady said...

What an amazing story. She was one tough women.

Donya Claxton said...

WOW! I love to read and be inspired by strong women. She's definately on my list as heroines.

P.L. Parker said...

Great story Linda! Love these snippets of unknown history.

Paty Jager said...

I'd not heard of Stagecoach Mary before. This was a fun post to read, Linda. Thank you! She was tough and to live that long at that time period was also another accomplishment for her.

Linda LaRoque said...

Thank you all for your comments. I apologize for not responding to each of you but I've been working on my income tax. Blech!

Thank you for stopping by!

Tanya Hanson said...

What an amazing woman, hardworking and enterprising. Makes me feel lazy. Thanks for sharing, Linda. I did not know of her before.

Buffalo Soldier 9 said...

The real ‘Stagecoach Mary’ story:

Mary Fields, Black Mary, and ‘Stagecoach Mary’ are all one of the same person. Mary was born in 1832, a slave in Arkansas and was owned by a Catholic family; the plantation owner had a single girl child the same age as Mary. Mary’s mother was the House Slave Servant and the plantation owners’ favorite cook; therefore Mary was always in the main house, in the kitchen and not in the fields, as a Field Slave. Mary’s father was a Field Slave, and Field Slaves were not allowed in the Main House, much less, to court a House Slave. Mary’s mother became pregnant by Mary’s father and he was beaten and sold to another plantation for getting Mary’s mother pregnant. After Mary’s birth, Mary’s mother and her were allowed to stay in the main house, and Mary became the plantation owner daughters’ playmate, therefore being the owners daughter’s playmate, Mary was allowed to read and write, a rarity for that time.

After the emancipation and coming into adulthood, Mary was 6 feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds. Mary became her own woman and traveled solely from Arkansas, up and down the Mississippi River, to Ohio, then finally to Montana where she got her nickname at the turn of the 20th Century. She earned this nickname by working for the “United States Postal System” delivering the United States Mail through adverse conditions that would have discouraged the most hardened frontiersmen of her time. All by herself, she never missed a day for 8 years, carrying the U. S. Mail and other important documents that helped settle the wild open territory of central west Montana.

Mary had no fear of man, nor beast, and this sometimes got her into trouble. She delivered the mail regardless of the heat of the day, cold of night, wind, rain, sleet, snow, blizzards, Indians and Outlaws.

Mary was a cigar smoking, shotgun and pistol toting Negro Woman, who even frequented saloons drinking whiskey with the men, a privilege only given to her, as a woman. However, not even this fact, sealed Mary's credentials given to her, her credentials boasted that, “She would knockout any man with one punch”, a claim which she proved true.

Her fame was so acclaimed, even the Actor, Gary Cooper, two time Academy Award Winner, told a story about her in 1959 which appeared in Ebony Magazine that same year. While, Annie Oakley and Martha Canary (Calamity Jane) were creating their history with Buffalo Bill, Stagecoach Mary was making “her Epic Journey!”

Despite Mary's hardness, she had another side of her, a kindness so strong, even today, in the beginning of the 21st Century, the town of Cascade, Montana, and other surrounding communities celebrate her birthday. The Epic movie is in pre-production mode. Check out website at http://www.stagecoachmary.net

Linda LaRoque said...

Hi Tanya,

Indeed she enterprising and hardworking. I think her generation has a lot to teach us today.Things are too easy. I bet she could do any job she set her mind to.

Linda LaRoque said...

Thank you, Buffalo Soldier 9 for stopping by and sharing your research and knowledge on Mary Fields. I enjoyed learning more about her. Please stop by our blog again sometime.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Linda, I enjoyed this post! I had not heard of Stagecoach Mary. You really did your research, for sure. Loved learning about Stagecoach Mary.
Cheryl

Alison E. Bruce said...

Great post, Linda. I love that schools still let out for her birthday. That's a tribute that will ensure her legacy lives on.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Sorry I'm so late getting here to read your article. I had not heard of Stagecoach Mary until I read this. What a fantastic woman.