All info and quotations from Barbara Holland’s They Went Whistling.
Mary Fields, aka “Stagecoach Mary”, was born a slave in 1832 in Tennessee, and was the maid of a woman who became a convent abbess. Okay, let’s stop right there: 1.) Having Stagecoach Mary be your maid is like using a combine harvester to weed your flowerbed. “At six feet and two hundred pounds, she could lick any two men in Montana Territory. She had a standing bet that she could knock any man out cold with a single punch, and it’s not known that anyone collected” (163). 2.) Why does the church always get the best muscle? Samson, medieval crusaders, Cesare Borgia, the Vatican mafia which is probably a real thing, I don’t know and now Mary Fields.
I wish the lady’s maids on Downton Abbey were like this. “Entail? OH, I’LL BREAK YOUR ENTAIL.”
When Mary was freed, her former owner got her transferred to a convent in Montana to Christianize the . . . heathens? Cows? Snow? What the hell do they have in Montana? Well, whatever they have, Mary Fields went there to deliver God’s message. Deliver it through a FIST.
She worked mainly as a chauffeur and laundress for the nuns, picking up supplies from town and washing the Bishop’s personal linen, which the convent got shipped in from wherever Bishops live, because apparently it’s an honor to wash some old man’s nether-covers. She became a local hero because she had kicked the crap out of every guy in a 100-mile radius in her drunken brawls. Whenever there is an all-powerful deity walking amongst mere mortals, your only two options are to worship it or to flee. They chose to worship her: “The town apparently cherished her for peculiarities that would have horrified the East and landed her in jail . . . . The newspaper crowed that she had broken more noses than anyone else in central Montana. Whenever she decided she was having a birthday, the town closed the school and threw her a party” (164).
It’s actually kind of cool that in the mid 1800s a whole town came together in their celebration of a black woman. That’s a rarity in history. And it’s probably understandable, given that it was unsettled Montana where social mores are as in flux as boundaries of the frontier. She was so popular that she even had her own laws: “By order of the mayor of Cascade, Montana, Mary Fields was the only woman not a prostitute allowed to drink in the local bar, but it’s hard to believe that being forbidden would have stopped her for a minute.” (163). However, one cannot expect miracles, and after ten years someone finally remembered racism and sexism: “Then one of the hired hands at the mission complained that she was earning nine dollars a month while he made only seven, and she was a mere woman, and black one to boot, and couldn’t possibly be worth that much. He complained loudly in the saloons. He wrote a protest to the bishop. Mary was annoyed” (165).
I just picture that man’s logic: “Oooh! A sleeping dragon! *poke poke poke* * JAB JAB JAB*”
“One day when he went out to clean the latrine, she followed him, meaning to shoot him and tip his body into it, but she missed. He fired back. The two of them emptied their six-guns at each other, neither scoring a direct hit, but one of Mary’s bullets ricocheted off a stone wall and scored for his left buttock. More significantly, other bullets penetrated the bishop’s laundry, hanging on the line to dry, and ruined two fine new shirts . . . This was the last straw. The bishop, not having had the sisters’ chance to know and fear cherish Mary, ordered the convent to fire her” (165).
The Mother Superior called in a few favors and got Mary a mail route. She was only the second woman to work for the United States Postal Service, and the first black woman to do so. In her sturdy, steady way, she ensured that people’s mail was delivered with out fail, and that was saying something in Montana. An established and reliable mail route was a major component of settling the land, and it earned her the nickname “Stagecoach Mary”. It’s actually a miracle that she made it this long without earning a nickname.
She continued to run the mail until she was seventy, and then she opened a little laundry service in her house, which gave her far more time to fill her schedule with drinking at the saloon and chewing tobacco. “She was hardly decrepit yet, though. When she spotted a fellow on the street with a two-dollar overdue laundry bill, she hustled straight out of the bar, chased him down, and knocked him flat with a single punch. That, she said, settled his bill” (166).
She died at eighty of liver failure, and if there is any justice in the world, she presumably went off to haunt that Bishop, or went up and joined Shiva and Ares and Old Testament God, and all the other violent deities in a murderous pantheon.