In 1895, Mary Fields, also known as “Stagecoach Mary”, became the first African American woman to become a U.S. Postal Service Star Route carrier. She secured the perilous route between Cascade, Montana and St. Peter’s Mission.
She was hired because she was the fastest at hitching a team of six horses. She drove her route with horses and a mule named Moses.
Standing at impressive six feet tall, Mary was born into slavery in 1832 in Tennessee. She was known for wearing men’s clothes, smoking, drinking and shooting guns. Before becoming mail carrier, she worked for 10 years at a convent, but her lifestyle led to her being kicked out of the mission.
As a star carrier in Cascade, Montana, her job was to protect the mail on her route from thieves and bandits and to deliver mail. She was only the second woman in the United States to serve in that role.
Sometimes referred to as “Black Mary,” Fields was known to carry a rifle and a revolver. She met trains with mail, then drove her stagecoach over rocky, rough roads and through snow and inclement weather over a 15-mile route. For eight years, Fields protected and delivered the mail before retiring in the earlier twentieth century.
When she died in December 1914, she had one of the largest funerals ever in Cascade. Gary Cooper, the Montana-born actor, told Ebony magazine in 1959 that Mary “could whip any two men in the territory” and she “had a fondness for hard liquor that was matched only by her capacity to put it away.”
Photo: Ursuline Archives, Great Falls, Montana