57: Stagecoach Mary
Born in 1832, Mary Fields was the first African-American female Star Route mail carrier in the United States. Wearing two guns that she sometimes belted over men’s clothing, Stagecoach Mary had no time for mail thieves in 1890s Montana.
Welcome to Brain Junk, I’m Trace Kerr, and I’m Amy Barton, and this is a Brain Storm.
Stagecoach Mary Transcript:
AB: I am going to tell you about Stagecoach Mary, it’s a wonderful story and for me it’s the message of “try a thing. You never know what will happen. Throw your hat in the ring.”
TK: Oh, that’s good.
AB: Yeah. Stagecoach Mary was actually named Mary Fields and she was born a slave and freed and worked in the home of a judge in Tennessee until the wife died, and judge couldn’t take care of the kids, so they sent kids to family somewhere else. She took the kids on that trip, and met Mother Mary Amadeus when she got there and ended up being linked with Mother Mary Amadeus a lot of her life. She dropped the kids off with family and then stayed with Mother Mary until she, Mother Amadeus, went to Montana. She got sick and Mary followed her to take care of her. So she must have known her long enough to develop some kind of bond. Mary ended up staying with her in montana and working, and she became pretty well known in the community.The Native americans called her White Crow because she acted like a white woman but was black. Because she had been so long in the company of a white home she didn’t have to her peers around, the white family were her peers, and so she was an anomaly in the community. The white people also did not know what to do with her. They said she drinks whiskey and she swears and she is a Republican which makes her a low, foul creature. No commentary on political views.I don’t know what that looked like at that time period, in the late 1880’s-I think things have shifted since that time.
TK: Yeah, a little bit.
AB: So she stood out in her community, was a really interesting person. And she stayed and worked for a long time. She actually seems to be have somewhat beloved but also stood out, in 1894 after several complaints and an incident with a disgruntled man. Things ended in gun play. Although she was beloved enough that when laws changed where women couldn’t be in the saloons, she was granted clements, she could go in still. But my favorite thing about Mary Fields in her exciting, interesting life is that she was the first African American female star route mail carrier in the US. star routes were not directly government employees, they were contract work. So you would bid and then you could have people running it for you. You supervised it, you had to make sure the work got done. But, you didn’t have to do it. She did all the work and the way she got this job is in 1895, she was almost sixty, but she was hired for this star route because she was the fastest applicant to hitch a team of six horses. That’s how she won.
TK: At the age of sixty?
AB: that’s right
AB: right? Go Mary. and so she served two terms , approximately eight years i believe. They were four year terms. She drove a horse team with a mule named Moses on it and never missed a day. Her reliability is what got her the name Stagecoach Mary. never snow too deep for her. Sometimes she delivered the mail on her shoulders on snow shoes.
AB: So, she retired at seventy one but continued to babysit in the cascades and operated a laundry service from her home.she actually died in 1914 in Great Falls. That’s the story of Stagecoach Mary.
TK: What an anomaly in her time.
TK: i mean and here you have a black woman in montana where there were probably very few black people, at all. And no one knows how to relate to her. You know?
AB: yes, she doesn’t have any except for Mother Amadeus. That’s her good connection. You know.
TK: wow. You know, these historical people really make me feel like I’m slackin’.
AB: i was just thinking that reliability with not a lot of expectations. She knew she had to make life work and so she did. And she did it well with excellence, not just skating by. And lots of drinking at times. But mostly excellence. And that’s my brainstorm.
TK: Fantastic! Well, we are on facebook and instagram @brainjunkpodcast and you can find us on twitter at @mybrainjunk. Amy and I will catch you next time with more of everything you never knew you wanted to know and i guarantee you will not be bored.