Professor Black's History - Speaks about Mary Fields
Self Awareness Vehicle Who Are You
Mary Fields 1832 - 1914
In the town of Cascade, Montana, Mary Fields had no equal. She was 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. She was as good with her fists as she was with her six-shooter. She was one of the most colorful people of the Old West.
Mary Fields was born a slave in Tennessee on May 15, 1832. She escaped from slavery and traveled to Toledo, Ohio. She found work with a group of Catholic nuns and later grew to love Mother Amadeus, their leader. When the nuns decided to move to Montana, Mary remained in Ohio. However, after arriving, Mother Amadeus became ill and sent for her friend, Mary. Mary nursed the kind woman back to good health. Then, she helped the nuns build a school and a mission. It took eight long and harsh winters to complete.
Mary also protected the nuns from harm. She was a crack shot with her six-gun, which was usually strapped under her apron. Her shotgun was always ready. Folks said that she "couldn't miss a thing within 50 paces."
Because of the bitter cold, Mary often dressed like a man. Under her long dress and apron, she wore a pair of men's pants. All the clothing covering her 200 pound frame was a truly a sight. On at least two occasions, Mary had to scare off two men in the area. Once, a drunk made an ugly face at Mary and insulted her. Mary struck his face with a large stone, and he was last seen heading toward Canada. Another time, Mary was forced into a shoot-out with a cowboy. Mary shot several bullets into the dirt next to the cowboy's feet, and he fled in fear.
One night, she was returning to the school mission with some supplies when her horses were frightening by a pack of wolves. The wagon overturned, and Mary spent the night in the cold. She guarded her horses and supplies until help arrived the new day. Mary's quick temper and wild behavior did not upset the nuns, but the Bishop did not like it. He asked Mary to leave the company of the nuns even though she had given ten years of service to the school without pay.
In 1895, Mother Amadeus twice helped Mary open a restaurant in Cascade. The restaurants failed both times because Mary often gave free meals to those who could not pay. Mother Amadeus also got Mary a job with the post office. For eight years, never missing a day, Mary drove a stagecoach and delivered mail. Known as "Stagecoach Mary," she was the second woman ever to receive such a job.
After quitting her Post Office job, Mary opened a laundry in her home. One day, Mary came upon a man who owed her money for an unpaid laundry bill. After knocking the man down, she said, "His laundry bill is paid." At that time, she was over 70 years old! The townspeople loved Mary Fields. The Cascade Hotel let her eat her meals free. She was unsure about her exact birth date, so she celebrated it twice a year. Whenever she decided it might be her birthday, the town closed down in her honor.
When her home was destroyed by fire in 1912, the entire town rebuilt it for her. In 1912, at age of 82, Mary Fields died. She was mourned by all the people of Cascade, Montana. Mary was buried next to the school mission she helped build. She was a legend in her own time, and legends never die.
Excerpt from A Gift of Heritage Historic Black Pioneers.
This is only a summary of the life of Mary Fields.