Stagecoach Mary was a mail carrier on a star route between Cascade, Montana to St. Peter’s Mission. She held two four year contracts with the United States Postal Service beginning in 1895, and received her stagecoach that she drove to deliver the mail from her friend, the Mother Superior of an Ursuline Convent, originally in Ohio, but now missioning in Montana.
I should also mention that she was the first African American woman to carry the mail (only the second woman to do so) and in her time she became a Wild West legend.
Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?
Mary Fields was born in 1832, most likely in Tennessee, into slavery.
As times change, so does language. Since I’ve been in school and up until recently, we’ve referred to the “slaves” in the South (or elsewhere in the world). This denies the people their humanity. It tells the reader/listener that their only value was as a slave; that they are slaves at the heart of their being. But of course, that’s not true. They are people first. Men, women, and children who were kidnapped and enslaved and their children born into slavery and enslaved. These two links should help with the explanation:
Writing About Slavery: This Might Help
This column from the Chicago Tribune: Language Matters: The Shift from ‘slave’ to ‘enslaved person’ may be difficult, but it’s important.
She was freed with other enslaved people after the Civil War. From that time, she worked as a servant and laundrywoman on riverboats up and down the Mississippi River. She worked for the Dunne family until the wife died. John Dunne sent her to live with his sister, a nun and Mother Superior of a convent, where Mary lived and worked. She became very close with Mother Mary Amadeus Dunne and after Mother moved to Montana to mission with the Jesuits, Mary eventually followed her and helped nurse her back to health.
As if that wasn’t enough, Mary Fields wore men’s clothing, drank, smoked cigars, shot guns. She was tough and intimidating, two traits needed to be an independent contractor working alone on the frontier.
At some point, the bishop barred her from the convent after an altercation with a co-worker/colleague involving guns. To be fair, I can’t imagine that it would have been palatable for a man to be answering to a woman, an African-American woman and that may have played into some of the friction between them. Of course, it can be hard for any two headstrong people to work together.
It was then that she contracted with the Postal Service to become a star route carrier. She drove her stagecoach on the route with horses and a mule named Moses.
Star Routes were named such after their motto/mission of Celerity, Certainty, and Security in delivering the mail. They were denoted on paper with three asterisks: * * *, thereby becoming “star” routes. This name was renamed Highway Contract Routes in 1970.
She retired from her role as a mail carrier when she was 71 and lived on in town becoming one of the more popular figures of Cascade. She was praised for her generosity and kindness, especially to children. When she died in 1914 at 82, her funeral was one of the largest ever seen in the town.
She was very popular – schools closed on her birthday. When an ordinance was passed disallowing women from enjoying the saloons, the mayor exempted her. When her house burned down, volunteers rebuilt it.
Born a slave somewhere in Tennessee, Mary lived to become one of the freest souls ever to draw a breath, or a .38.Gary Cooper, Montana native, writing for Ebony in 1959