Mary Fields, better known as “Stagecoach Mary,” is both a physical and symbolic pioneer. Not only did Mary Fields traverse the rigorous Montana terrain through rain and shine, but she was the first African American woman to carry mail for the United States Post Office to travel on a Star Route.
Born in 1832, Fields endured a livelihood of slavery until the Civil War. Though the exact location is up for speculation, it is widely accepted that Fields was born in Hickman County, Tennessee. After her emancipation in 1863, Fields migrated north via the Mississippi River. While journeying north, Fields worked as a servant and laundress to other traveling families.
Eventually, Mary Fields landed in Toledo, Ohio, where she found work at the Ursuline Covenant of the Sacred Heart. Fields completed maintenance tasks as a groundskeeper, washed laundry, and purchased supplies. However, Fields had little in common with the covenant’s sisters, for she had a gruff style, frequently referenced smoke and drink, and had a temper like no other.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, Fields relocated to the Ursuline Covenant in Cascade, Montana in 1885. Mother Amadeus Dunne, one of Fields’ most cherished individuals, grew gravely ill, and Fields made it a point to care for her. During this time, however, Fields’ profane habits grew even more questionable. Her drinking and smoking habits worsened, and she frequently fired her gun, yelled curse words, and dressed in a masculine manner. The covenant dismissed Fields after she pointed a gun at the covenant janitor’s head.
A glimmer of hope arrived in 1895, however, for the United States Post Office contracted Fields as a Star Route Carrier. In essence, Fields was an independent contractor who carried and delivered mail by using a stagecoach donated by Mother Amadeus. Fields’ gritty affect matched perfectly with the demands of this job, she protected mail from bandits by having her revolver and rifle on hand at all times. Fields’ success as a Star Route Carrier landed her the nickname “Stagecoach Mary,” as she drove her stagecoach over all terrains, whether there be rain or shine. More importantly, Fields became the first African American woman to operate as a Star Route Carrier.
Mary Fields was beloved by locals for her generosity, despite her hard exterior. Fields even became the mascot for the local town’s baseball team. After retiring, Mary established a laundry business and babysat local children. Fields passed away on December 5, 1914, but her legacy lives on in Cascade, Montana.