Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Stagecoach Mary

Stagecoach Mary Fields, a colorful character familiar to early-day residents of Cascade, packed a Smith and Wesson, smoked cigars, weighed two hundred pounds, and stood six feet tall. Cowboy artist Charlie Russell sketched her, and actor Gary Cooper wrote about her fondly for Ebony magazine in 1959 (reprinted here). Fields, born a slave in Tennessee, made her way to Ohio where she befriended the Ursuline sisters in Toledo. Mother Superior Amadeus Dunn and Fields became good friends. In 1884, Mother Amadeus came to Montana to work among the Blackfeet. When she fell victim to pneumonia, Fields came west to nurse her friend back to health. Fields became a fixture at St. Peter’s Mission, where she did all the heavy freighting, bringing supplies through blizzards and dangerous situations. Fields was fearless and had quite a temper. After an altercation, Bishop John Brondel of Helena ordered the Ursulines to banish her. But Mother Amadeus appealed to federal authorities, securing her as the driver of the mail route between Cascade and the mission.

Photo courtesy Ursuline Convent Archives, Toledo, Ohio.
Fields became the second woman stage driver in the United States. For eight years she drove the stage. When the horses couldn’t get through, she carried the mail on her back. Fields died in 1914, a pioneer who helped tame the West, beloved by all, except perhaps the Catholic bishop.

From Montana Moments: History on the Go

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