Mary Fields, aka Stagecoach Mary (1832-1914) – Born as a slave in Tennessee, Fields was one of the first women entrepreneurs, stagecoach drivers, pioneers of the American West. Orphaned as a child, she grew up with Ursuline nuns but received no formal education. With the nuns she traveled west but never known for her quiet temperament, she left the convent when she was still in her teens. Living by her wits and strength, she became known, as a hard drinker, a notorious brawler, a cigar smoker and one of the wildest women of her time.
The pistol-packing muscular, six-foot-tall woman drew attention wherever she went and was constantly reinventing herself as a successful entrepreneur. Over the years, she ran several restaurants in a number of towns in Montana, Wyoming, and southern Canada.
Never married, she found her ideal job in 1895 when she became a U.S. mail coach driver for the Cascade County region of central Montana. She and her mule Moses never missed a day, and it was in this capacity that she earned her nickname of “Stagecoach,” for her unfailing reliability. When she retired in Cascade, Montana, spending most of her time gardening, she was befriended by Gary Cooper; the actor who, as a child, grew up with her as a neighbor.
In 1914 she died of a failure of her liver. Neighbors buried her in the Hillside Cemetery in Cascade, marking the spot with a simple wooden cross. Given the limitations society placed on her by her skin color and gender, Fields stands out as a woman who was far ahead of her times during those adventurous days of the Old West.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated November 2019