Pale Horse Revelations #42 - Stagecoach Mary
Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations. where we explore significant people, places, and events in Old West history. While I make no promises, don't be surprised if some of these places, people, or events find their way into future Pale Rider adventures.
Like Pale Horse Revelations #40, featuring Nat Love, this week's entry was also inspired by the Netflix film The Harder they Fall. If you will recall from that earlier entry the film depicts a number of historical figures but openly admits that the depictions themselves are not historically accurate. In addition to Nat Love, one of the characters who captured my imagination was Mary Fields. In the film she is depicted as Nat's love interest. But who was the real Mary Fields? Please read on to find out.
Mary Fields, who would later become known as Stagecoach Mary, was born into slavery in Tennessee in 1832. At the conclusion of the American Civil War Mary was emancipated and eventually found work as a chambermaid aboard a Mississippi riverboat. There she encountered Judge Edmund Dunne and went to work as a servant in his household. When Dunne's wife died, he sent Mary and his late wife's five kids to live with his sister in Toledo, Ohio. Dunne's sister, Mother Mary Amadeus, was Mother Superior of an Ursaline convent.
In 1884 Amadeus was sent to Montana to establish a school for Native American girls at St. Peter's Mission. Shortly after arriving Amadeus fell ill with Pneumonia. When Mary learned of this, she wasted little time before rushing out West to nurse Amadeus back to health. Mary was successful in this endeavor and ended up staying at St. Peter's. While there Mary took on a number of roles usually reserved for men and eventually became the forewoman of the convent.
As it turned out Mary's temperament and penchant for profanity were ill suited for life in the convent. She was barred from the convent in 1894 after several complaints were filed against her and an incident with a male subordinate that allegedly involved gunplay. Mary moved to Cascade where she opened a tavern. This tidbit may have been the inspiration for the way the character was depicted in the film as the owner of several successful taverns. In reality the tavern was a colossal failure and closed due to bankruptcy just ten short months after it opened.
In 1895, at the age of sixty, Mary secured a star route contract from the United States Postal service. She proved to be the low bidder for the contract to deliver mail from Cascade, Montana to Saint Peter's Mission. This made her the first African American woman to work for the United States Postal Service. Mary drove the route herself for two four-year contracts that spanned 1895 to 1903.
It was during this period that she earned the nickname Stagecoach Mary. Due to the rocky terrain and unforgiving weather a stagecoach was used to travel the route. Mary was known to have a fearless demeanor and carried multiple firearms in order to protect herself and the mail from wolves, thieves, and bandits. Maty's dedication was legendary as she never missed a day in eight years. When the snow became too deep for the horses to travel in, Mary delivered the mail on snowshoes with the sacks of mail draped over her shoulders.
Mary retired from her mail route in 1903 at the age of 71. She chose to stay in Cascade, where the townspeople adored her. This is evident by the fact that the town closed its schools each year to celebrate Mary's birthday. When her home burned down in 1912 the townspeople rebuilt it for her. Mary died in 1914 and it is said that her funeral was the largest the town had ever seen.
This brings us to the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you found it to be both interesting and entertaining. As usual, I have tried to provide some interesting historical information while trying not to bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.
As a reminder, I would love to hear your suggestions for topics to focus on in future editions of Pale Horse Revelations. If there's a particular location, person, or event that you would like to know more about, please let me know. Just fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page (www.bmiltonhyde.com) and indicate your desired topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.
Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.