Mary Fields


Mary Fields had at one time been a slave. But now, about 1894, she packed a gun and did not avoid a good ole two-fisted fight. She had a liking for her own homemade cigars, as well, and Heaven help the fellow who made a derogative comment about them.

About this time Mary took up residence in Cascade County, Montana. Strange as it sounds, considering her gun-toting and cigar-smoking, she had acquired a job with the Ursuline nuns at the mission, St. Peter. Actually, she made herself quite useful there, doing near everything from hauling whatever needed hauling to digging what might need digging. Mary did the carpentry as well as the shopping and most anything else that was needed by the nuns.

Mary’s work at St. Peter’s wasn’t without its dangers, either. One time the ex-slave woman held back a pack of wolves. It happened during a night run to Great Falls, Montana for supplies. Somehow, Mary’s wagon overturned and she, as well as the supplies, were dumped onto the prairie. Mary managed to get out of that situation, but it’s still a wonder why another hired hand at St. Peter’s complained about Mary being paid the grand sum of $2.00 a month more in pay than he was getting. This fellow insisted to know why Mary thought she was worth more than he was. After all, the man, known as Yu Lum Duck, pointed out that Mary was just some old uppity colored woman.

Mr. Duck was so perturbed over the situation that he went a bit further than insult Mary to her face. Duck made his opinions about Mary known in a public place that was one of Fields – favorite watering holes–that is, a local saloon. After spouting his grievances publicly, and using a bit of unmentionable descriptions of Fields, Yu Lum presented a watered-down version of the situation to Bishop Filbus N. E. Berwanger.

Now Mary, getting wind of Mr. Duck quacking to the good Bishop, had her feathers ruffled but good. Biding her time, she waited until the next time Duck was cleaning out the latrine. While Duck was absorbed with his smelly situation Mary pulled her pistol and fired. Her aim was to sink a slug somewhere in her oppressor, perhaps hoping to make a dead duck out of Yu Lum. And if her pistol served its true purpose what better location to dispose of the body than in the deep, dark depths beneath the outhouse.

But the situation didn’t turn out quiet the way Mary Fields had figured it would.

Mary drew and fired her pistol at Mr. Duck–but she missed. It was an occurrence that probably surprised her as well as Yu Lum. Well, Duck was quick to return Mary’s fire and the bullet exchange was off to a roaring start. With all of that led flying around it’s a wonder that they didn’t turn each other in to a couple of human sieves. But that’s not exactly what happened.

You see, Mr. Duck’s aim wasn’t any better that day than Mary’s was. However, Fields’ luck began to change. One bullet she fired hit a stone wall. It then bounced off and hit Mr. Duck just about where any other duck would be sprouting tail feathers. So I guess if the shoot out came before a court of law Fields could contend that she didn’t hit Duck but that the stone wall had. That reasoning makes just about as much sense as the rest of the situation does.

Duck wasn’t permanently damaged in the ruckus but something that was normally near, and perhaps dear, did get damaged. The worst of it was that the damaged item belonged to the bishop himself.

As it happened, the bishop’s laundry had been scrubbed that day at the nunnery. And at the time of the shoot-out said laundry was hanging on the cloths line. The item in question was the bishop’s drawers–now newly styled with extra ventilation outlets.

The bishop might have overlooked his damaged drawers but two of his new white shirts also acquired, in the fire fight, some misplaced buttonholes. Well, that was about all the bishop was going to take. He’d had enough–at least out of Mary Fields. The bishop fired Mary and gave Mr. Duck a raise in pay.

Sometime later, Fields opened a restaurant. Then she took to carrying the United States mail, a job she continued until she was far into her sixties. At the age of seventy she, again, was in need of a source of income and opened a laundry out of her home. After a while the years began to catch up with her. She was now in her seventies. But age did not put an entire halt on her favorite pastimes. In her leisure time she continued to hang out in saloons, drink her whiskey, and smoke her cigars. She continued these activities until sometime in 1914. That was the year Mary Fields died of liver failure.

Mary Fields was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Cascade, Montana where a simple wooden cross marked her grave.