While the world is utterly obsessed and uselessly focused on a woman who used glue for hairspray, true unsung hero’s lay in the ashes of history without due respect.
One such hero is Mary Fields. A Daring pioneer who would not only out-drink most men on the dusty trail, but more often than not, she was also a better shot.
Mary Fields, 1832–1914, also known as Stagecoach Mary and Black Mary, was the first African-American female star-route mail carrier in the United States.
Fields was born into slavery in Hickman County, Tennessee, around 1832. After the Civil War ended, she was emancipated and found work as a chambermaid onboard the Robert E. Lee, a Mississippi River steamboat. There, she encountered Judge Edmund Dunne and ultimately worked in his household as a servant. After Dunne’s wife died, he sent Fields and his late wife’s five children to live with his sister Mother Mary Amadus in Toledo, Ohio where she was Mother Superior of an Ursuline convent.
In 1884, Mother Amadeus was sent to Montana Territory to establish a school for Native American girls at St. Peter’s Mission, west of Cascade. Learning that Amadeus was stricken with pneumonia, Fields hurried to Montana to nurse her back to health. Amadeus recovered, and Fields stayed at St. Peter’s, relegated multiple charges regarded as men’s work at the time, such as maintenance, repairs, fetching supplies, doing laundry, and gardening, hauling freight, tending chickens, and repairing buildings, where she eventually became the forewoman.
The Native Americans called Fields “White Crow”, because “she acts like a white woman but has black skin.”
Life in a nunnery was placid, but Fields hearty temperament and habitual profanity made the religious community uncomfortable. In 1894, after several complaints and an incident with a disgruntled male subordinate that involved gunplay, the bishop barred her from the convent and Fields moved to Cascade where she opened a tavern, but waned due to allowing the cash-poor to dine free. It closed due to bankruptcy about 10 months later.
By 1895, at sixty years old, Fields secured a job as a Star Route Carrier which used a stagecoach to deliver mail in the unforgiving weather and rocky terrain of Montana, with the help of nearby Ursuline nuns, who relied on Mary for help at their mission. This made her the first African-American woman to work for the U.S. Postal Service. True to her fearless demeanor, she carried multiple firearms, most notably a .38 Smith & Wesson under her apron to protect herself and the mail from wolves, thieves and bandits, driving the route with horses and a mule named Moses. She never missed a day, and her reliability earned her the nickname “Stagecoach” due to her preferred mode of transportation. If the snow were too deep for her horses, Fields delivered the mail on snowshoes, carrying the sacks on her shoulders.
She was not an employee of the United States Post Office Department, which did not hire or employ mail carriers for star routes, but rather awarded star route contracts to persons who proposed the lowest qualified bids, and who, in accordance with the department’s application process, posted bonds and sureties to substantiate their ability to finance the route. Once a contract was awarded, the contractor could then drive the route themselves, sublet the route, or hire an experienced driver. Some individuals obtained multiple star route contracts and conducted the operations as a business.
Fields had the star route contract for the delivery of U.S. mail from Cascade, Montana, to Saint Peter’s Mission in 1885. She drove the route for two four-year contracts, from 1895 to 1899 and from 1899 to 1903.
She was a respected public figure in Cascade, and the town closed its schools to celebrate her birthday each year. When Montana passed a law forbidding women to enter saloons, the mayor of Cascade granted her an exemption. In 1903, at age 71, Fields retired from star route mail carrier service. The townspeople’s adoration for Fields was evident when her home was rebuilt by volunteers after it caught fire in 1912. She continued to babysit many Cascade children and owned and operated a laundry service from her home.
In our current society that is filled with self serving, snot-nosed, not able to read labels, take a minute to remember the people that did look for instant fame.