Friday, February 19, 2010

Mary Fields – Montana Legend

Born into slavery in Tennessee, Mary Fields, after emancipation, found her way to Montana, where she worked at St. Peter’s Mission in Cascade. Over six-feet tall, Mary gained a reputation as a cigar-smokin’, pistol-totin’, no-nonsense woman. Male workers resented taking orders from a black woman, which led to trouble when she and a male co-worker fought a gun duel behind the mission. 
The bishop fired her, but the nuns, grateful for the devotion Mary had shown them over the years, got her a job delivering the mail, the first black woman to do so. Mary was 60 years old by this time, but for eight years she covered the mail route and was never late, earning herself the nickname, “Stagecoach Mary.” When the snow was too deep for the horses, Mary would sling the mail bags over her shoulder and walk the route.
By the age of 70, she had “retired” from the postal service. The nuns at St. Peter’s helped her start a laundry service in Cascade. While she had a kind-hearted streak (the restaurant she started went out of business because she allowed too many people too much credit) she could be a formidable presence for those who didn’t pay their bills at the laundry. Mary, who boasted that she could “knock out any man with one punch” did just that to a man who refused to pay his laundry bill. She was 72 at the time. When the laundry burned in 1912, the townspeople supplied lumber and labor to rebuild it.
Mayor D.W. Monroe gave Mary special permission to drink in saloons with the men. In her later years, Mary became the mascot for the town’s baseball team.
Actor Gary Cooper remembered Mary and wrote about her in a 1959 issue of Ebony magazine. She died in 1914 in Cascade. 

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