Her name was Mary Fields. She began life as nothing more than one slave among many in Hickman County, Tennessee, but she would grow up to be known as Stagecoach Mary, a legend among the brave souls who delivered mail during the days of outlaws.
The early life of Mary Fields
Mary was born in 1832 and lived as a slave until slavery was outlawed in 1865. After gaining her freedom, she worked for Judge Edmund Dunne. When the judge’s wife died, Mary was charged with bringing the five Dunne children to their aunt, Mother Mary Amadeus, in Toledo, Ohio.
In 1884, Mary Fields went to Montana territory to care for Mother Mary Amadeus, who had been stricken with pneumonia. Locals of the area did not know what to make of Fields. Native Americans said, “she acts like a white woman but has black skin” and the white people were no less confused. One schoolgirl wrote that Mary “drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.”
Hiring on as a mail carrier
In 1894, Mary Fields was forced to leave the convent where she’d been living with Mother Mary Amadeus after some complaints against her and an incident involving a male subordinate and gunplay.
Though a little over 60 years old at this point, Fields decided to hire on as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, a demanding and dangerous job in those days.
Despite her age and the fact that she was a black woman, Mary quickly gained a reputation and a nickname among the people. She was called “Stagecoach Mary” because she never missed a day, driving her team of horses (and a mule named Moses) through all kinds of adversity.
Even if the snow was too deep for her coach, Mary would strap on her snowshoes and deliver the mail on foot. She was a greatly respected figure in the town of Cascade, where she lived. The town celebrated her birthday every year, and the mayor granted Fields a special exception to a law forbidding women to enter saloons. She retired in 1903 at 71 years old and spent most of her remaining time babysitting the children of Cascade before her death in 1914.