Adventures in Feministory: Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
Another picture of an amazing woman with her dog. I think I see a pattern here!
This tough woman was way ahead of her time—leaving slavery to become more independent than most women born free in her lifetime—here's the story of Mary Fields.
Born a slave in Tennessee in 1832, Mary was solidly built and six feet tall. Upon the end of the Civil War, and at around the age of 30, Mary headed up to Montana looking for opportunity and landed a job doing heavy work for the nuns of The St. Peter Mission in Cascade. She did rough carpentry chopped wood, delivered supplies, dug holes (out houses y'all) and more.
It's said that on one supply trip, Mary's horses were spooked by wolves and the wagon overturned. Mary supposedly held her guard (she was known to carry two six-shooters and a 10 gauge on her) and kept the wolves away all night long. It's also said that the nuns at the mission seemed to be more concerned about a cracked keg of molasses rather than the fact that Mary had just fought for her life the night before! (Some bosses can never be pleased).
Mary was known to have some vices—drink and putrid-smelling cigars—as well as to have quite a fiery temper. It was this temper that got her in to trouble with the Bishop at the mission. After hearing another hired hand complain repeatedly to her and to others in public (harshing her buzz in the saloon? heck no!), that she was making $2 more a month than him ($9 versus his $7), Mary couldn't take it anymore. Gun in hand, Mary attempted to to shoot the bad-talker while he was cleaning a latrine. Luckily for him, she missed and a shoot-out ensued. The hand's buttock was stricken as well as various items of the Bishop's clothing hanging out to dry. Needless to say, Mary was 'let go' from her position.
It'd take a lot to stop Mary—and that little event certainly did not. After starting and soon after closing a restaurant (her cooking was rumored to be horrible), at the age of 60, Mary got a job as a stagecoach driver and delivery person for the US Postal Service. She was the first African-American, and only the second woman to work for the USPS. Through sun and snow, she made her deliveries—hence the nickname 'Stagecoach Mary'. And when the horses couldn't cross snow drifts, Mary walked to make her deliveries. Mary continued her job as long as her body would allow her and finally retired from stagecoach driving at the age of 70.
Now please don't think Mary stopped then. Sure, she had to slow down, but she still needed income! So naturally, at 70, she became an entrepreneur and opened a laundry business. You can imagine it wasn't your typical cleaners. It's said she punched one customer in the jaw who refused payment.
And while it seems Mary must never have had a moment's rest—fear not! It is evident that Mary allotted plenty of time for rest and relaxation. Much of her off-hours were spent at the local saloon, drinking whiskey, smoking cigars and spinning her yarns to the patrons.
Mary carried on in to her mid-eighties—a beloved member of the Cascade community and a force to be reckoned with. So Mary—I salute your tough mind and body, your independent spirit and your ability to enjoy the finer things in life (ah whiskey!).
Here's avid baseball fan, Stagecoach Mary, at a local basball game.
(A wee disclaimer: I tried hard to check the accuracy of Mary's
story, but with histories that are generally handed down verbally,
details get lost and facts get 'expanded' on. If you think you've found
an inaccuracy, let me know in the comments!)
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