America’s Old West was undoubtedly a Wild West before an ex-slave named Mary Fields arrived in 1885 at a small railroad town in present-day Montana. Yet she certainly made things more interesting.
Miss Fields, who came to be known as “Stagecoach Mary,” stood tall and brawny by even frontier standards, weighing more than 200 pounds. Though she preferred men’s clothes to women’s, beneath her work apron she sometimes packed a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver. She was the only woman the local mayor permitted to drink in the saloons, where she favored hard liquor, smoked black cigars, and didn’t shy from arguments, fistfights, or at least one confirmed duel.
Born a slave in Hickman County, Tennessee, around 1832, Fields was freed when American slavery was outlawed in 1865.
Whether out of fear or respect, Indians knew not to mess with Miss Fields’ stagecoach. She was likely the first black person – man or woman – they had seen. Blacks were common in the Southwest, but there were few of them in Montana. The Native Americans called Fields “White Crow” because “she acts like a white woman but has black skin.” Local whites did not know what to make of her. One schoolgirl wrote an essay saying: “she drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.”
According to The Adventures of the Negro Cowboys, Miss Fields was “perhaps the most remarkable” of the black women in western towns.
You can also find a complete web site dedicate to Stagecoach Mary at http://www.stagecoachmary.net. Wikipedia has an article describing the life of Stagecoach Mary at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Fields, and many more articles about her can be found if you start at http://tinyurl.com/ya4frhv.