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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Montana’s Stagecoach Mary

Stagecoach Mary, an ex-slave who found freedom and eventually employment at an Ursuline convent in Ohio, has become a significant woman in American history. Books and articles assign all sorts of deeds to her, which run the gamut from fighting for woman suffrage to shootouts in the streets of small Montana towns. The real story of Mary Fields is not as glamorous but it is still interesting and she does have a place in history along side the Catholic sisters with whom she lived and worked.

In Montana folklore, Mary Fields is “Stagecoach Mary,” one of the toughest women in Montana Territory. Descriptions of Fields often have it that “she was a tart-tongued, gun-toting, hard-drinking, cigar-and-pipe smoking, 6 foot, 200 pound black woman who was tough enough to take on any two men.”



Mary Fields may have been all those things but foremost she was a loyal friend to Mother Amadeus Dunne, eventually following the mother superior to Montana in the 1880s.

Mary Fields was born into slavery in 1832, living on a plantation in Tennessee. It is not clear how or when she arrived in Ohio and made her way to the Ursuline Convent. But once at the convent, she found work and security, and grew close to the sisters and the children under the Ursuline’s care. She was especially fond of Mother Amadeus.

When the Catholics started building missions in Montana to serve Native Americans on the reservations, the Jesuits asked the Catholic sisters to help build mission schools. They asked Mother Amadeus to supervise the sisters efforts in the West. She arrived with five Ursuline Nuns in Miles City, Montana in 1884.


The sisters were the first from the Ursuline convent in Toledo, Ohio to leave the comfort and sanctity of their convent home to establish mission schools on the Cheyenne, Crow, Blackfoot and Gros Ventre-Assiniboine Reservation in central and eastern Montana. The sisters had little to work with and endured harsh Montana winters to accomplish their goals, often doing so at the risk of their health. Mother Amadeus came down with pneumonia while working to establish St. Peter’s Mission schools in central Montana.




Ursuine Convent at St. Peter's Mission


St. Paul's mission and schools among the Gros Ventre-Assiiniboine


Her health was of such concern that Father Damiani at St. Peter’s contacted Mother Stanislaus at the Ursuline convent in Toledo. Mother Stanislaus left immediately to bring the Ursulines back to Toledo. Accompanying the Mother Superior from Toledo was Mary Fields. Mother Amadeus’ health improved, but Mother Stanislaus was not able to convince the sisters to abandon the Montana missions. Mother Stanislaus left Montana for Toledo alone, leaving Mary Fields to look after Mother Amadeus.

After Mother Amadeus recovered from pneumonia, she found work for Fields as the mission freighter and in the mission laundry. The Jesuits, who established St. Peter’s Mission, did not appreciate Mary Fields’ explosive temper and did not believe that the black woman set a very good example for the children at the mission. He instructed the sisters to send her away. Unknown to the bishop, Mother Amadeus financed Fields in the restaurant business in nearby Cascade. The mother superior also asked the government to give Fields the mail route, which served the mission. Mary eventually was the U.S. mail coach driver for the Cascade County region, thereby, acquiring the nickname of “Stagecoach” Mary.


Stagecoach Mary died in Cascade, Montana in 1914.


Postscript:

The Urslines continued to build their mission schools in Montana.

" "
Sisters Art class at St. Peters.

Once the Ursulines finished establishing Indian Mission schools in Montana, Mother Amadeus received permission from Bishop Brondel to establish an Ursuline convent and school in Alaska. The intrepid nun died at the Urusline convent in Seattle, Washington, 1919.


Ursuline convent at St. Mary's Mission at Akulurak, Alaska, 1904

4 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Good Day Dr. I'm gald to see some of us has Mary's story correct. Pre-production starts this spring.

    The real ‘Stagecoach Mary’ story:

    Mary Fields, Black Mary, and ‘Stagecoach Mary’ are all one of the same person. Mary was born in 1832, a slave in Tennessee and was owned by a Catholic family; the father was a businessman and Judge who had a single girl child the same age as Mary. Mary’s mother was the House Slave Servant and the judge’s favorite cook; therefore Mary was always in the main house, in the kitchen and not in the fields, as a Field Slave. Mary’s father was a Field Slave, and Field Slaves were not allowed in the Main House, much less, to court a House Slave. Mary’s mother became pregnant by Mary’s father and he was beaten and sold to another plantation for getting Mary’s mother pregnant. After Mary’s birth, Mary’s mother and her were allowed to stay in the main house, and Mary became the Judge’s daughters’ playmate, therefore being the Judge’s daughter’s playmate, Mary was allowed to read and write, a rarity for that time.

    After the emancipation and coming into adulthood, Mary was 6 feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds. Mary became her own woman and traveled solely from Tennessee, up and down the Mississippi River, to Ohio, then finally to Montana where she got her nickname at the turn of the 20th Century. She earned this nickname by working for “Wells Fargo” delivering the United States Mail through adverse conditions that would have discouraged the most hardened frontiersmen of her time. All by herself, she never missed a day for 8 years, carrying the U. S. Mail and other important documents that helped settle the wild open territory of central west Montana.

    Mary had no fear of man, nor beast, and this sometimes got her into trouble. She delivered the mail regardless of the heat of the day, cold of night, wind, rain, sleet, snow, blizzards, Indians and Outlaws.

    Mary was a cigar smoking, shotgun and pistol toting Negro Woman, who even frequented saloons drinking whiskey with the men, a privilege only given to her, as a woman. However, not even this fact, sealed Mary's credentials given to her, her credentials boasted that, “She would knockout any man with one punch”, a claim which she proved true.

    Her fame was so acclaimed, even the Actor, Gary Cooper, two time Academy Award Winner, told a story about her in 1959 which appeared in Ebony Magazine that same year. While, Annie Oakley and Martha Canary (Calamity Jane) were creating their history with Buffalo Bill, Stagecoach Mary was making “her Epic Journey!”

    Despite Mary's hardness, she had another side of her, a kindness so strong, even today, in the beginning of the 21st Century, the town of Cascade, Montana, and other surrounding communities celebrate her birthday. The Epic movie is in pre-production mode. Check out website at http://www.stagecoachmary.net

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  3. Have you seen/heard of the sketch Charlie Russell, the famous Montana artist made of Cascade Montana titled "A Quiet Day in Cascade" which is anything but quiet. the sketch shows Russell in the right hand corner, with trademark sash drawing the picture of among other things, a horse bucking, a runaway team, a cowboy shooting at the feet of a dude (to make him dance) a man putting war paint on a man sleeping (off a drunk?) and hogs running wild in the street, one or more having knocked Mary Fields off her feet and she is sitting in the street with her groceries strewn around her. Thanks Buffalo Soldier 9 for leaving your comment on my blog about Mary. Eunice Boeve http://www.euniceboeve.net

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  4. You're are welcome Eunice Boeve, and keep telling that history:...please read my novel, Rescue at Pine Ridge, where Buffalo Bill Cody meets a Buffalo Soldier. A great story of Black military history...the first generation of Buffalo Soldiers. Five stars Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the youtube trailer commercial...and visit the website http://www.rescueatpineridge.com

    How do you keep a people down? ‘Never' let them 'know' their history.

    The 7th Cavalry got their butts in a sling again after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn't for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry.

    I know you’ll enjoy the novel. I wrote the story that embodied the Native Americans, Outlaws and African-American/Black soldiers, from the south to the north, in the days of the Native American Wars with the approaching United States of America. This story is about, brutality, compassion, reprisal, bravery, heroism and gallantry. Read the novel, Rescue at Pine Ridge, the story of the rescue of the famed 7th Cavalry by the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers.

    The novel was taken from my mini-series movie of the same title, “RaPR” to keep my story alive. Hollywood has had a lot of strikes and doesn’t like telling our stories…its been “his-story” of history all along…until now. The movie so far has attached, Bill Duke directing, Hill Harper, Glynn Turman, James Whitmore Jr. and a host of other major actors in which we are in talks with…see imdb.com at; http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0925633/

    When you get a chance, also please visit our Alpha Wolf Production website at; http://www.alphawolfprods.com and see our other productions, like Stagecoach Mary, the first Black Woman to deliver mail for Wells Fargo in Montana, in the 1890's, “spread the word”.

    Peace.

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