As the first African-American woman to transport mail in the west, Mary Fields, AKA Stagecoach Mary, quickly became a legend. A lot of myths and rumors swirl around her.
Some claim that she was involved in a nasty gunfight, while others suggest that she fought back a pack of angry wolves using her trusty rifle.
Mail thieves in the Wild West quickly grew cautious of Stagecoach Mary, known for hard drinking and her skills fending off criminals.
So for Black History, let’s separate the fact from the fiction.
Mary Fields was born into slavery around 1832. Her actual birthday is unknown, and even the place of her birth is questioned today. Previously, historians have suggested her place of origin was Hickman County, Tennessee.
However, due to enslaved people being treated like property, their names were considered meaningless, so this is far from confirmed.
Fields grew up in the fields and was eventually freed during Emancipation in her thirties. After Reconstruction, she worked at the Ursuline nunnery in Montanna. Fields completed numerous odd jobs, including gardening, laundry, and construction. She was also responsible for taking the freight wagon to get supplies, regardless of weather conditions.
Fields’ refusal to be pushed around, harassed, or insulted led her connection with the church to falter. In 1894, Fields had an altercation with a hired hand. She shot the man in a way that didn’t seriously injure him while still putting him firmly in his place. After a confrontation with the Bishop, she was swiftly removed from the nunnery.
Stagecoach Mary was 64 when she eventually responded to an advertisement by the U.S postal service claiming they were looking for mountaineers to carry mail.
Fields was the fastest applicant to hitch the team of horses to the postal coach and was awarded the dangerous job of managing treacherous routes.
In this role, Fields became known as “Stagecoach Mary.” Her primary role as a star carrier was protecting the mail and delivering it without faltering. Fields never failed in this role, regularly pacing the distance when the weather made it impossible for wagons to travel.
According to Trica Martineau, Mary’s skills with a rifle matched her legendary status. In the book “African American Women of the Old West,” Wagner claimed that she “couldn’t miss a thing within 50 paces.”
While her tough demeanor and height helped her intimidate foes, Mary Fields was beloved by the locals who met her. She spent eight years protecting mail and delivering it to key destinations.
After eight years, Fields retired and remained protected and loved by the local community. Restaurants provided her with free meals, she was known to frequent saloons until women in bars were forbidden, and even in her later years, she was involved in plenty of altercations.
In 1914, her funeral had the largest crowd the local town had ever seen. The world of pop culture is still fascinated with Mary Fields as a historical figure.
In the AMC series “Hell on Wheels,” Fields was portrayed by Amber Shardie Robinson. More recently, she was portrayed by Zazie Beetz in the Jay-Z-produced hit Netflix film “The Harder They Fall.”
The movie is inspired by the amazing lives of real African-American outlaws, lawmen, and cowboys. It is one of the only Westerns whose main cast members are all black.