She was born a Tennessee slave but became a legendary freight hauler in Montana. She loved to fight, drink whiskey and smoke cigars. She didn’t like having anyone tell her what to do. She is Mary Fields; People called her “Stagecoach Mary.”
Mary Fields (c 1832 – 1914) was freed from slavery following the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865. She left her employer who formerly owned her family and had sold her Father. Only after the death of her employer’s wife did she leave, but she remained dedicated to the family.
Mary’s journey from oppression and bondage to becoming a self-regulating woman began when she delivered the 5 Dunne children of her employer to their Aunt, Mother Mary Amadeus Dunne in Toledo, Ohio. Mary remained in Toledo lived and with the nuns as their protector. Mother Mary Amadeus was later sent to Montana to teach Native American girls and it was there that she became gravely ill. Mary’s deep bond to the Dunne family compelled her to travel to Montana and nurse Mother Amadeus back to health.
Mary was six feet tall and weighed over two hundred pounds; she was a powerful woman of many skills, she became a forewoman of the St. Peter’s Mission outside Cascade, Montana. She did everything; laundry, carpentry, masonry work, chopped wood, gardening and hauled freight. One night when Mary was on a supply run, her rig was attacked by Wolves which caused her horse team to overturn the wagon she was driving, those horses broke free. Mary was thrown along with her load of freight into the darkness. Legend has it she spent the night fending off the Wolves with her guns until dawn and then she turned the wagon upright, gathered up the missing horses and delivered her freight.
Upon arriving to her destination there were no greetings that she made it back alive though she was charged from her salary for a cracked keg of molasses that fell out and hit a rock when the wagon overturned.
Mary was later fired after a shootout that started over her pay being more than a hired male hand at the mission where she worked. A stray bullet hit the man in the buttock but it also pierced the Bishops laundry. Mary found herself unemployed while the man who started the ruckus got the raise he was after.
Her next occupation as a restaurateur and it was short-lived; she was an average cook and too often gave food away for free. Mary was courageous and independent, at 63 she began a new career, she was the first African-American woman employed as a mail carrier in the United States.
With her mule “Moses”, Mary delivered the mail on a precise schedule regardless of the extreme weather conditions of Montana. Though Mary never really was a stagecoach driver, her reputation for being on time despite the elements earned her the name “Stagecoach Mary”. Mary died at the age of 80 in 1914; she is buried in Cascade, Montana.
Mary should be revered by women in the transportation industry. Freight hauling takes dedication, courage and selflessness; Mary Fields stimulates our imagination on the many challenges she endured due to her race and gender yet she was able to reinvent herself to do things HER way.