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Mary Fields was the first African-American woman employed as a mail carrier in the United States

Tijana Radeska
Mary Fields

Mary Fields, also known as Stagecoach Mary and Black Mary, was 6 feet tall and weighed about 200 lbs, she was keen on cigars and was once said to be as “black as a burnt-over prairie.” All she had by her side was a jar of whiskey and a pistol.

She has found comfort in dressing like a man with a wool cap and boots, and her revolver strapped around her waist under her apron. By her looks, she was said to be a match for any two men in Montana Territory. She had a standing bet that she could knock a man out with one punch, and she never lost a dime to anyone foolish enough to take her up on that bet.

Sepia-tone photograph of Mary Fields, holding a rifle. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Sepia-tone photograph of Mary Fields, holding a rifle. Wikipedia/Public Domain

When women in Montana were forbidden to drink alcohol in public, the mayor of Cascade made an exception from the law when it came to Mary Fields. She could have her whiskey and cigar around the pubs as long as she pleased and without any hesitation from no one.

She was a child born and raised in Tennessee at the time of Jackson’s administration, but after the Civil War she was no more a slave and moved to Cascade County. There, her first job was to work in the house of Judge Edmund Dunne but after the death of Dunne’s wife in 1883, Mary took all five children to their aunt, Mother Mary Amadeus, the mother superior of an Ursuline convent in Toledo, Ohio.

 

The Ursuline convent and girls' school, finished in 1896. Wikipedia/Public Domain

The Ursuline convent and girls’ school, finished in 1896. Wikipedia/Public Domain

She was known as the “White Crow” among the Native Americans because according to them she behaved like a white woman but had black skin.” However, the white folks couldn’t understand and accept her manners. A schoolgirl wrote an essay in which she described Fields: “she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.” There were a few complaints and an incident in 1894 when an argument between Mary and some man ended up in getting out their guns. After that, the bishop ordered Fields to leave the convent.

So, with the help of Mother Amadeus, Fields opened a restaurant close to Cascade. She served food to just anybody, regardless if they were or weren’t able to pay. However, her “management” led her to close the restaurant not long after she opened it.

St. Peter's Mission in 1884, after construction of quarters for the Uruslines. "Stagecoach" Mary Fields is sitting in the wagon at right.

St. Peter’s Mission in 1884, after the construction of quarters for the Ursulines. “Stagecoach” Mary Fields is sitting in the wagon at right. Wikipedia/Public Domain

When she turned 60, she way employed as mail carrier which made her the  second woman and first African American woman to work for the U.S. Postal Service. She never missed a day, and that’s how she got her nickname “Stagecoach.” If there was a snow, too deep for her horses, Fields delivered the mail on snowshoes, carrying the sacks on her shoulders.

Everyone in Cascade loved Fields. Each year, her birthday was celebrated as a national holiday in Cascade – even the schools were closed. After 9 years working as a mail carrier, Fields decided to change her job and started her own laundry service.

She died of a liver failure in 1914 at the age of 82. She was buried by her neighbors  in the Hillside Cemetery in Cascade, marking the spot with a simple wooden cross which may still exist today.