Drinker, brawler, former slave, baseball fan, restaurateur—the list of adjectives and occupations for Montana’s liveliest pioneer woman Stagecoach Mary Fields could go on for days. A former Tennessee slave who found her freedom after the Civil War, Mary Fields was a six-foot solid mass of pure force. She got her name because she would always deliver (on time) the mail in and around the town of Cascade, Montana regardless the weather or road conditions. She was the first African-American and only the second woman to manage a mail route.
She came to the Montana Territory to nurse back to health her good friend and nun, Mother Amadeus. After Mother Amadeus recovered from pneumonia, Mary settled right into Cascade. At a time when women (aside from working girls) wouldn’t dare frequent a saloon, Mary loved to drink at the bar alongside the men. If one were to ever get wise or give her a hard time about being in the bar, she’d just as soon ring their bell than ask for an apology. Legend has it that while having a drink, she saw walk by one of her laundry customers who owed her money. She ran him down, grabbed him by the scruff, broke his nose and declared, “His debt is now paid.”
For as rough as Mary appeared, she was just as sweet. She cared for every child in town at some point, many times spending her earnings on treats for the kids. She was the biggest fan of Cascade’s baseball team, placing flowers from her garden in the buttonholes of the players. Big hitters would get a bouquet. One of those young children Mary influenced was actor Gary Cooper, who later recalled the meeting in a 1959 article for Ebony. He wrote, “Mary lived to become one of the freest souls to ever draw a breath or a .38…”
Read more about mountain men and women at the Legendspage.