Mary Fields, also known as Stagecoach Mary and Black Mary (c. 1832–1914), was the first woman employed as a in the and the second woman to work for the
Fields stood 6 feet tall and weighed about 200 lbs, liked to smoke cigars, and was once said to be as “black as a burnt-over prairie.” She usually had a pistol strapped under her apron and a jug of whiskey by her side.
Born a slave in Hickman County, Tennessee, around 1832, Fields was freed when American slavery was outlawed in 1865.
She then worked in the home of Judge Edmund Dunne. When Dunne’s wife Josephine died in 1883 in San Antonio, Florida, Fields took the family’s five children to their aunt, Mother Mary Amadeus, the mother superior of an Ursuline convent in Toledo, Ohio. In 1884, Mother Amadeus was sent to Montana Territory to establish a school for Native American girls at St. Peter’s Mission, west of Cascade. Learning that Amadeus was stricken with pneumonia, Fields hurried to Montana to nurse her back to health. Amadeus recovered and Fields stayed at St. Peter’s hauling freight, doing laundry, growing vegetables, tending chickens, repairing buildings and eventually becoming the forewoman.
The Native Americans called Fields “White Crow” because “she acts like a white woman but has black skin.” Local whites did not know what to make of her. One schoolgirl wrote an essay saying: “she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.” In 1894, after several complaints and an incident with a disgruntled male subordinate that involved gunplay, the bishop ordered her to leave the convent.
Mother Amadeus helped her open a restaurant in nearby Cascade. Fields would serve food to anyone, whether they could pay or not, and the restaurant went broke in about ten months.
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 snowshoes, 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.
After quitting the mail route in 1901, 69-year-old Fields owned her own laundry service and owned and operated her own restaurant with the help of Mother Amadeus
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