Mary Fields aka Stagecoach Mary
1832 – 1914
Notable: Mail Carrier
The exact date and place of Mary Fields’ birth are unknown but she was born into slavery around 1832 most likely in Hickman County, Tennessee. Virtually nothing is known about her early life or any family she might have had. It’s unclear if this is because Fields herself knew nothing about her family or what she did know was not recorded. The known story of her life begins a few years before the Civil War when she was either owned by or working for a Warner family that lived in West Virginia.
She was emancipated around 1863 or sometime shortly after the Civil War and like many other newly freed people struck out on her own. Standing at about 6 feet tall and weighing an estimated 200 pounds, Fields was a large and powerfully built woman. Heading north, Fields is believed to have worked for some time on steamboats and as a domestic along the Mississippi River.
Her stature and willingness to do what was then and is still to a degree considered unconventional work for a woman made her quite notable. By 1870 Fields had settled in Toledo, Ohio, and found work at the Ursuline Convent where she did laundry and managed the kitchen as well as working as the groundskeeper. Exactly how or why Fields ended up working at the convent is unclear. Though possibly being previously acquainted with Mother Mary Amadeus, the convent’s Mother Superior, might have played a role as she was related to the family that had kept Fields enslaved in West Virginia.
Fields never became a nun and stood out at the convent, not just because of her physical appearance but also due to her demeanor. Upon arriving at the convent, when asked about her trip, Fields is said to have replied to one of the nuns that she would welcome a cigar and drink. She had a fiery temper which caused her to fly into a rage when anyone walked on the lawn and led to clashes with some of the nuns over her pay. This was notable as women of the time, especially Black women, were pressured to be meek and mild.
Around the mid-1880s, Mother Mary Amadeus became seriously ill while serving at St. Peter’s Mission in Montana. Fields relocated to Montana to help care for her and also began working for the mission as well. In addition to the duties she’d had at the previous convent, Fields also sourced supplies and organized deliveries. She did not accept payment from the convent and declined to pursue a work contract with the mission so she was free to stay at the convent while also pursuing other work.
Once again, Fields and the nuns would sometimes find themselves at odds as she defied expectations but they developed a decent working relationship. Yet, things were a bit different this time as the mission’s leadership was less willing to allow Fields to carry on as she pleased.
Fields lived at the mission but also hung out in saloons in the nearby town of Cascade. An altercation with a local led to an argument where at the very least guns were believed to have been drawn while rumors circulated that they fought a duel. This led to the local Bishop banning Fields from the mission. Fields moved to Cascade where she was the sparsely populated town’s only Black resident until 1914. Some residents were offended by having a Black woman living in town who turned down domestic jobs that were typically associated with Black women of the time. She continued with her rabble-rousing and became more widely known in the area for her unorthodox conduct and pastimes.
While Fields’ non-conformist demeanor had led to her dismissal from the convent, the nuns still wanted to help her find work. The area was rather remote and as the mission was located some distance from Cascade, there was a need for mail delivery but not enough demand for a dedicated mail route. The United States Post Office Department contracted individuals in these types of situations as Star Route Carriers. It was not only important for the Carrier to reliably transport the mail but to also protect the mail from would-be bandits and wild animals.
As a hard-working woman with a tough demeanor and gritty determination who was very comfortable carrying and using a firearm, Fields was deemed a worthy candidate and given the job. And with that, she became the second woman overall and the first Black woman to serve in the position. Despite being in her 60s when she began the role, Fields worked in the position for eight years carrying a gun and braving bad weather and danger. She was given the nickname “Stagecoach Mary” due to her primarily delivering the mail with a stagecoach that had been given to her by Mother Amadeus. Fields used snowshoes and carried the mail by hand when the snow was too deep for the journey to be made by coach.
By the time Fields retired in 1903, her reputation and legend had grown in the town, resulting in her becoming the local baseball team’s mascot. Yet, even in retirement, she continued to work, operating multiple businesses. When she died in 1914, the town raised funds for her burial and held a large funeral.
- Amspacher, Shelby. 2020. “Stagecoach Mary Fields.” National Postal Museum. Smithsonian. April 1, 2020. https://postalmuseum.si.edu/stagecoach-mary-fields.
- Bauer, Patricia. 2020. “Mary Fields.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. December 1, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Mary-Fields.
- Blakemore, Erin. 2021. “Meet Stagecoach Mary, the Daring Black Pioneer Who Protected Wild West Stagecoaches.” History.com. A&E Television Networks. January 28, 2021. https://www.history.com/news/meet-stagecoach-mary-the-daring-black-pioneer-who-protected-wild-west-stagecoaches.
- January, Sarah Nichole. 2020. “Stagecoach Mary: The Postal Worker Who Became A Legend of the Wild West.” The Archive. July 17, 2020. https://explorethearchive.com/stagecoach-mary-fields.
- “Mary Fields .” n.d. National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Accessed July 31, 2021. https://www.nps.gov/people/mary-fields.htm.
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