Mary Fields: Montana’s Legendary Stagecoach Driver
If you're a Montanan, and you want to hear about some great Montana history during Black History Month- look no further than the legendary Mary Fields.
Ken Robison is one of my favorite Montana historians. He's also a retired Navy Captain. One of the stories he always likes to tell is the story of Mary Fields, a legendary stagecoach driver in Cascade, Montana from the 1890s to 1914.
The Montana Historical Society has a great piece that tells the story of Mary Fields.
Because of her tendency to smoke, swear, and bicker with other hired hands at the mission, Fields drew the ire of Bishop Brondell, of Great Falls, who banned her from the mission around 1894. Though the nuns defended Fields, they had no choice but to follow the bishop’s orders, and Fields, reportedly devastated, moved into Cascade.
After two failed attempts at running a restaurant, Fields secured a contract to deliver mail to St. Peter’s Mission. She earned the nickname “Stagecoach Mary” for her reliability and speed, and she drove the fifteen-mile route between the mission and Cascade from 1895 to 1903. She was around seventy years old when she finally “retired” in town and ran a laundry out of her home. She died in Great Falls in 1914.
Another one of my favorite lines reads, "In a 1959 issue of Ebony, Montana-born film star Gary Cooper reminisced that Fields could 'could whip any two men in the territory' and “had a fondness for hard liquor that was matched only by her capacity to put it away.” Click here for the full story.
By the way, Ken Robison delivered a talk at the Montana Historical Society (MHS) on Wednesday titled, "Breaking Racial Barriers: The Civil Rights Movement in Montana."
Here's how the MHS previewed his lecture:
In Montana, racial prejudice and discrimination were pervasive despite the relatively small number of African Americans living here. Discrimination began to crumble during World War II, due in part to the influx of black soldiers and the wartime environment. In the cities of Great Falls, Helena, and Missoula, white and black residents, including Alma Jacobs, Raymond Howard, James Dorsey, and Mike Mansfield, aided the movement to eradicate racial intolerance. Overall, Montana made "significant progress" over the postwar decades.
***Update on Feb. 20th, 2020. Full video of Ken Robison's lecture has now been posted to YouTube. Here it is: