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Stagecoach Mary

October 22, 2011
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

In 1895, the road between Cascade, Mont. and St. Peter's Mission was a hub of activity. Back and forth along the route, Mary Fields, a former slave from Tennessee drove a stagecoach carrying mail for people in the central area of the state. Mary was the first black woman to deliver the mail, and the oldest woman to ever take such a job. Born in 1832, she lived with her parents on the Dunn Plantation in Hickman County, Tenn. Shortly after the Civil War ended, Mary became a free woman, and headed west to Mont. Her good friend Dolly Dunn had become a nun, and founded a boarding school for Native Americans called St. Peter's mission. She invited Mary to come, and consider staying on if she liked.

Once the tough, six foot tall Mary arrived, she discovered the mission in a state of disrepair. She organized a team of men to make repairs and improvements. One of the workers resented a black woman telling him what to do, and in a fit of rage backhanded her across the mouth. As he was going for his gun Mary pulled out her six shooters, and shot and killed him. This led to her being asked to leave the mission. Mary then applied for work as a mail carrier. After proving she could defend herself and her cargo from highwaymen, and demonstrated her talent with horses and driving a stage, she was offered the job. She was sixty years old!

Stagecoach Mary, as she became known, transported letters and packages to and from pioneers for five years. She left the mail service in 1900 and opened a laundry business in Cascade. The business was a huge success, and she celebrated by spending a portion of the profits and treating herself to cigars and whiskey at a local saloon.

Sometimes referred to as "Black Mary," Fields proved that a woman could do anything a man could do in the untamed territories beyond the Rockies. Mary Fields was a proud independent woman who never wanted to be an inconvenience to her friends and neighbors. When she became seriously ill in 1914, she snuck off to a tall grassy area outside her home and lay down to die. Children playing in the area found her and she was taken to the hospital in Great Falls, where she died of liver failure shortly after being admitted.

She was eighty-two when she passed away. Friends and admirers laid her to rest at the Hillside Cemetery near Cascade, Mont., located at the foot of the trail that leads the way to St. Peter's Mission. A simple wooden cross marks the place where she was buried.



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