Success for Stagecoach Mary was the first step toward disaster being born a slave, the progress for the plantation and life of those who owned her were the enemy to her freedom. But when Abraham Lincoln freed her, she did not waste that freedom!
Mary was 6” tall, 200 pounds, and despite not only the enigma of her skin as black as coal, a color that many had never seen before, she was also born into the darkness of slavery! But she took her freedom and became an icon in American history most famous for her years as a fearless stagecoach driver for the U.S. Post Office!
It was 1832 when she came into the world; probably as a vivacious little thing. Can you imagine what went through her mind daily growing up… “reach freedom.”
It is in our nature to understand we deserve freedom. But for those born into a routine of slavery, the habit of cruelty removed the privilege! And right to possess it. Perhaps even think of it.
Mary’s fame as a stagecoach driver for the U.S. Postal Service was much more than delivering mail. She helped settle the wild open territory of central west Montana. But her journey was long and far before the age of 60 when Fields became the first African-American woman hired to deliver that mail. Her story doesn’t end, she continued delivering the mail for about 8 years, never missing a day’s work earning the nickname “Stagecoach” Mary.
In a person’s heart is a key to everything that will unfold in their life, Mary’s key opened door after door after door.
Driving a stagecoach was probably about as dangerous as being Dwayne Johnson in Skyscraper!
I’m guessing that the story of how she hitched a team of 6 horses faster than men half her age might have been her “employment interview,” but take note, she was at that time 60’s plus years old! God bless her, she was then awarded an independent contract with the post office using a stagecoach donated by a nun named Mother Amadeus.
Her daily mail drive was about 19 miles, dangerous as hell with bandits and thieves, along with inclement weather conditions that would detour a polar bear, but not Mary. When the snow became too deep for the stagecoach, she’d strap the mail to her back and deliver it on snowshoes! Tell me she’s not remarkable!
Her job was not for the weak at heart, mind, or body, and it suited her. As a star carrier, she and one other woman were the only two women to ever serve in this role. Mary being the first.
What was she? I don’t know any 60-year-old today who’d dare a decade in the wild west as a stagecoach driver at that age! Or any age as a woman!
As a brief history update, it was soon after Columbus set sail that the French and Spanish brought slaves over. The first dark-skinned slaves arrived in what was to become British North America, Virginia in the early 1600s. From 1500 to 1900, about 12 million Africans were abducted and taken westward, but only 10 million arrived alive. That is one-third of the holocaust’s numbers just in deaths on ships! What about the living!
In 1865, Mary won her freedom after the Civil War — the bloodiest war in history! After which, she found employment aboard the famous Steamboat Robert E. Lee, where she ran into her former owner, Edmond Dunn, who then connected her with a relative of his that Mary had grown up with, Sarah Teresa Dunn. Sarah had become a nun at an Ursuline convent in Toledo, Ohio, and was known as Mother Amadeus.
Mary ended up working at the convent for about 15 years, where she received a room, meals, and $50 a year for her services. That is about 14 cents a day.
Stories differ as to her early years, but it’s said her friendship with Sarah, was that of loyalty and kindness. Sarah, Mother Amadeus, later became the head of St. Peter’s Convent in Cascade, Montana, and in 1885, Mary made a 1500-mile trip there upon hearing her dear friend was ill.
Mary was the first African American woman to have ever been to Cascade. Once again, an enigma comes to mind imagining this story, I can’t imagine it! She must have appeared to be a vision to many, here she stood 6″ and 200 pounds, black skin, and as tough as any man. She was known to have broken more noses than any other person in Montana!
She remained in Cascade and served as a protector for the nuns while building a convent, three stone building, and a church, laboring with the strength of a man carrying heavy lumber and stones on her back. Cascade became her home, where she gained a reputation that no man would challenge throughout the countryside. Those who initially challenged her lived to warn others of her enormous strength.
Her unusual wild reputation reached the ears of Montana’s bishop and the nuns were Her unusual wild reputation reached Montana’s bishop’s ears, and the nuns were ordered to let her go. You’d think that would have stopped her generous heart, but it did not. She opened a restaurant but was forced to close due to her generosity towards those who couldn’t pay. The woman was a saint! It was then she landed her position driving a stagecoach!
Mary rose above being owned, black, and a woman in the 1800s to bMary rose above being owned, black, and a woman in the 1800s to become a respected, fearless, and generous human who’s kindness towards everyone, including children was renowned! She was a green blade of grass in a muddy field – a grand flower on dessert – a miracle on a planet!
Now, take a look at Mary. And you must ask yourself, “How did this great woman ever happen?” “How did she find her life purpose? She didn’t have a blog to go to! Ha ha. She was self-made, the creator of her own self-help, and she died a remarkable woman eminent for positive action!
It makes me wonder what her self-awareness was like? Her conscious knowledge of her own character, feelings, motives, and desires?
Self-awareness today is like chocolate cake: we can purchase it in every store, but in reality, no one knows what the fuck it is. We struggle with our motives, desires, feelings, and character.
This is what I think. Mary was focused. She was a woman doing what she was good at. I doubt her defense to be the remarkable woman was anything less than her choice. She chose to do the right things because that’s who she was.
She was born the possession of a supreme court judge, Edmond Dunn. That just doesn’t even sound right. And she became a figure of a human so respected that when she celebrated her birthday schools closed in Cascade. She defied racial prejudice. And when she died, both newspapers gave her front cover, and her funeral was the largest in the town’s history.
Mary was not a frail woman, she enjoyed the life most men served. Montana law stated that women were not allowed to drink in taverns, but she was allowed by the mayor’s order. Yet, another amazing fact about her, she enjoyed the privilege of drink, yet never drank to excess. She was often spotted smoking cigars in public, cursing, she carried a gun, and liked to argue politics and sports with anyone.
A thousand injustices done,
ten thousand stabs to the heart.
She’ll not feel the pestilence that bore her to life,
or the plague that left her orphaned.
No terror that flies by night,
or evil that sees in the light.
None will come to her,
she will have no part.
To give was her refuge,
that no harm would befall the weak.
Purpose was her soul,
as an angel throughout her life!
The year that Mary died, WWI began. Is it not the way of our history to continue a path of cruelty? Can we not say no.
Cheers with enormous love, Mary,
- Economic History Association, Slavery in the United States
- Distinctly Montana Magazine, A Montana Legend
I had never heard of Stagecoach Mary before, but thank you so much for introducing her to me. What an amazing woman she must have been. I shared your post on FB and Twitter.
By the way, thank you for following my blog.
Efrona Mor says
Thank you, that was very kind of you to take the time to comment. When I read Stagecoach Mary’s biography I felt my life was enriched: I had to write about her. You know that question you hear often, “If you could have dinner with anyone in the world alive or dead who it would be?” I would choose Mary.
You’re very welcome for the follow. I read something in your blog that was very comforting. “When everything around us seems to be in a chaotic turmoil, how can we rest?…” Just reading it felt nice. Thank you, and have a safe and wonderful week! Efrona
I can understand how you feel. When I looked at her picture I though, I would like to meet her. I think there are probably more people back in history that I would like to meet than those who are still alive. Life was so different then, and people had to overcome so many obstacles and became better people for it.
So happy to know that something I wrote proved to be comforting for you. It makes it worthwhile when my readers are blessed by my posts.
Wow! Fascinating story. amazing.
Efrona Mor says
Thank you, John! This is one of my favorites! (:
Stay safe out there,
I hadn’t heard the story of Stagecoach Mary. Thank you for this.
Efrona Mor says
You’re very welcome, thank you for reading. There is new research that says, creativity plays a role in how well we thrive in tough times. Stagecoach Mary was creative and intuitive along with kind! Her talents are endless, another fact I didn’t write in, she delivered babies like a midwife, it’s said she delivered near all the babies in that area! She was something!
What an amazing woman. Thanks for introducing me to her story. 😊
Efrona Mor says
Hi, Irene, Thanks for reading and you’re welcome. Writing about Mary Fields has improved my life. (:
A. White says
Thanks for posting an article on such an important figure in American history.
Anna Waldherr says
Such inspiring stories should be widely shared. <3
Carolyn Crossley says
I had never heard of Mary Fields before, thank you for writing about her in your blog. She would be a truly fascinating dinner guest I believe.❤👩🦰🦊❤
Fabulous story, fabulously told and illustrated.
Geri Lawhon says
What a great story of American history about such a courageous woman. Thank you for posting this as we need to know more abut our history and such wonderful people.
GREAT , I DONT KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THIS. INFORMATIVE