Mary Fields, better known as Stagecoach Mary, was born a slave in 1832 in Tennessee. her mother was the house slave servant and her father was a field Slave. Her mother was the Judge’s favorite cook and Mary was always in the main house and kitchen with her mother. Her father was not allowed in the house and when her mother became pregnant, her father was beaten and sold to another plantation.
Because Mary and the Judge’s daughter, Dolly became close friends, she was allowed to read and write which was almost unheard of in the days of slavery. The girls were constant companions and inseperable.
Mary grew up to be very tall, about six feet and weighed 200 pounds. She dressed like a man with a gun strapped to her waist under her apron. She had a habit of using foul language and had the manners of an ill-tempered man.
After emancipation she became her own woman and traveled from Tennessee up and down the Mississippi River, finally landing in Ohio. By this time her friend Dolly from her slave days had become a nun and was in Toledo, Ohio. Mary headed up to Toledo to see her friend. It is believed that Mary worked for the Ursuline Nuns at the convent in Toledo.
It was about this time the Catholics started building missions in Montana to serve the Native Americans on the reservations. The Jesuits had asked the Catholic sisters to help build the mission schools. Mother Amadeus (Dolly) arrived with five of the Ursuline nuns in Miles City, Montana in 1884 to help build the St. Peter’s Mission in central Montana.
Many problems existed at the mission with Mary. She had become a thorn in the Bishop’s side. He felt she was a bad influence on the kids so they fired Mary. it was rumored that Mother Amadeus financed Mary in a restaurant business in Cascade and asked the government to give her a mail route. Mary did secure the mail route, becoming the U.S. mail coach driver, thus the name “Stagecoach Mary.”
She became known as the toughest woman in Montana history. She worked for Wells Fargo for eight years and never missed a day. At one time she walked over 10 miles just to deliver the mail.
She worked well into her sixties but she still needed an income so at age 70 she opened a laundry service. She spent lots of time in the local saloon and was the only woman allowed in Cascade to patronize the saloon.
The people of Cascade loved her and always welcomed her in the local hotel. In 1910 when R.B. Glover leased the New Cascade Hotel, there was a stipulation in the transaction that all her meals would be offered free of charge for the rest of her life. Her laundry business and home burned down in 1912 so the towns people built her a new home.
She was loved in the city for her unselfish kindness and compassion for those who needed whatever help she could provide.
A small boy, now famous, visiting from nearby Dearborn, Montana saw her one day in the streets of Cascade. The boy, Montana native Gary Cooper, would later remember her in a story he wrote about her in 1959 for Ebony Magazine toward the end of his acting career. He died in 1961.
Mary died in 1914 and is buried in Hilside Cemetery, Cascade Montana. her grave is marked with a simple cross. It is said that until 1959 she was the only African-American to have lived in the town of Cascade. Montana.