Mary Fields was born into the bonds of slavery in Hickman County, Tennessee c1830s. These same bonds held her fast until she was thirty years old. She worked on a steamboat on the Mississippi for a time but her story only really starts when she turns up in Cascade, Montana at 50 doing manual labour in a convent. She built a chapel and a schoolhouse before she lost the job after a colleague annoyed that she was black, a woman and earing $2 more than him challenged her to a gunfight and lost.
She opened a restaurant in Cascade but she’d give people food whether they could pay or not so it went bust. She opened another and did the exact same thing. So at the age of 60, realising that maybe she wasn’t made for the restaurant business, she applied for a job with the US Postal Service. Of a dozen applicants she was the fastest to harness six horses to a stagecoach and so became the first black person and only the second woman to work for the US Postal Service. In 1880’s Montana the postal service was a brutal trade: she carried money and expensive parcels through blizzards and heat waves defending herself against outlaws and attacks from the Sioux tribes with just her ten gauge shotgun and her pet eagle. Yeah that’s right: a pet eagle, like I said before: badass. During her ten years’ service she earned the nickname Stagecoach Mary because she never missed a delivery, when the snow was too deep for her horses she would put the mail bag over one arm, her shotgun over the other and just God damn walk the ten miles to deliver the post.
At the turn of the century, she was 70 and having just retired from the postal service she settled down in Cascade. On her birthday the town would close its schools and businesses to celebrate. This usually happened about twice a year because she didn’t know exactly when it was and she bloody well felt like doing it twice a year ok? She would drink in all the bars in town (even after women were prohibited by state law from entering them) and she had a standing bet of five dollars and a glass of whiskey that she could knock out any cowboy in Cascade with a single punch. After three were stupid enough to take the bet and lose no one took it again.
On her death at about 80 her neighbours buried her beneath the Rocky Mountains at the foot of the path that lead to the convent she used to work in and a good friend writing of her said: “born a slave… Mary lived to become one of the freest souls ever to draw a breath… or a .38”.
Mary Fields, our Badass Woman of the Month, we salute you.
Blog by Jodie Major for Shoreditch Sisters WI