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A Woman to be Reckoned with

Mary Fields was a woman to be reckoned with.

Mary Fields was a woman to be reckoned with. She weighed over 200 pounds and could swear and fight like a man. She didn’t back down from anyone and settled her arguments with her fist or a six gun. She was born in the early 1830’s in Hickman county, Tennessee. Some say Fields was an escaped slave who came to Toledo, Ohio with nothing but the clothes on her back. Others say she was the property of a Miss Dunne, and followed her when Miss Dunne came to Toledo to enter a convent. Miss Dunne later became the Mother Superior of the convent and Fields was the jack of all trades. She worked like a man doing all the worst jobs that were too menial and hard for the nuns.

In the 1980’s Mother Amadeus was sent out west along with other nuns. Mary Field was invited to go with them but refused. Months later when word reached her that Mother Amadeus was dying with pneumonia, Fields went west to care for her. It’s anybodies guess how a lone woman made a trip of two thousand miles alone in such harsh conditions The Native Americans called the place she arrived at “the land of shining mountains.” It was Montana Territory in 1885. A place of dry hot summers, sub zero winters and great plains and mountains.

Image via Wikipedia 

For many years it had been the home of Native Americans, the Blackfoot, Shoshone,Arapaho, Sioux, Cheyenne, and the Flathead. Almost all of the Indians had been herded onto reservations and now it was a land of mountain men, descendants of French, English, and Scottish adventures who trapped animals and traded their fur. African Americans were there too, in small numbers. It was a place where Mary Fields felt right at home. After nursing Mother Amadeus back to health Mary Fields stayed and worked with the nuns.

She did everything that called for back breaking work. She drove the wagon and brought supplies from town. She farmed and completed buildings. The nuns tried to teach her to be gentle and mild but Fields was not manageable. She wore  men’s clothing which was reasonable since she worked like a man. Her man’s clothing with an overcoat saved her life on many occasions when she was out braving the bitter cold. There were wolves to fight off also with her firearm. Once in quarrel with one of the mission’s hired hands a duel erupted and sent the man fleeing for his life.

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User Comments
  1. ceegirl

    On October 8, 2009 at 7:31 am

    That for sharing.

  2. ken bultman

    On October 8, 2009 at 7:45 am

    A wonderful, well told story previously unknown to me. I enjoyed the read.

  3. chitragopi

    On October 8, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Unbelievable. She was not bad. Interesting write.

  4. Jenny Heart

    On October 8, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Very interesting!

  5. Judi Eddy

    On October 8, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Loved the picture. and what a remarkable woman

  6. martie

    On October 8, 2009 at 9:17 am

    This is the kind of story I love. It seems to me that Mary was tough but, she was also very kind and gentle in her own way.

  7. Papa Sparks

    On October 8, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Very interesting.

  8. Mythili Kannan

    On October 8, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Thanks for sharing this unknown story

  9. strovek

    On October 8, 2009 at 9:47 am

    truly inspiring

  10. Tomislav Marketin

    On October 8, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Nice one Ruby, cheers!

  11. Frances Lawrence

    On October 8, 2009 at 10:20 am

    A remarkable woman, thank you for writing about her.

  12. ahmad joko setyawan

    On October 8, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    What a brave and courageous woman she sounded like! Not only did she have her color working against her at that time but also the fact she was more like a man in many ways,I suppose she would have to be given the trails and tribulations she went through.Wonderful historical write,very interesting and well written!

  13. CA Johnson

    On October 8, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this biography on Mary Fields. She sounds like an incredible woman. I really enjoyed reading this article.

  14. Judy Sheldon

    On October 8, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    She sounds like embodied many good qualities. I like stories like this.It makes me think of my grandparents.

  15. Shirley Shuler

    On October 8, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Thanks for sharing this story, Ruby, Mary Fields was a tough woman with a heart of gold, I love these kinds of stories, keep them coming!!

  16. mystery61

    On October 8, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    I enjoyed this. It was very interesting. Good job!

  17. Eunice Tan

    On October 8, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    Very encouraging to face our lives

  18. PR Mace

    On October 9, 2009 at 11:11 am

    Wonderfully told story but from the title I thought it was going to be about Ruby Hawk. LOL.

  19. Buffalo Soldier 9

    On October 9, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    How do you keep a people down? You ‘never’ let them ‘know’ their history.

    The upcoming epic movie will tell this wonderful story about this free spirited women…

    The 7th Cavalry got their butts in a sling again after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn’t for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry. Read, and visit site/great history,

  20. Ruby Hawk

    On October 9, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Thank you my friends, as always I appreciate the way you continue to support me. You are the greatest.

    Pam, I wish I could write such a wonderful story about myself. I admire Mary Fields spirit and her attitude.

    Buffalosoldier,I hope I see this movie when it comes out. I would love to see it, and I so seldom want to see any movie. I don’t won’t to miss this one.

  21. Joe Dorish

    On October 9, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Thank you Ruby for telling me this great story. Mary Fields must have been a great character people really liked.

  22. Moses Ingram

    On October 10, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Absolutely wonderful ! I loved every word. You are a great storyteller.

  23. Mark Gordon Brown

    On October 11, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Thats one tough broad. Also a noted time traveler too (actually an error shows a date of 1980).

  24. Peter Cimino

    On October 12, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Another incredible story!

  25. Daisy Peasblossom

    On October 12, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Three cheers for this rousing tale of a diamond-in-the-rough.

  26. Teves

    On October 15, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Nice written…

  27. CutestPrincess

    On November 5, 2009 at 6:43 am

    truly inspiring piece…

  28. Linda

    On November 30, 2009 at 3:03 am

    Some interesting or fun additional facts- or current beliefs- concerning Mary Fields:

    Unlike most people- especially women- previously held as slaves, as a young girl, Mary Fields was already at conflict with the expectations of the day, as she learned quite early on how to read and write. It is unclear whether it was Dolly Dunn who taught this to her, or whether Dolly’s father, the honorable Reverend Dunn, said to have been a very forward thinker, saw to it that Mary received lessons alongside his own daughter. Either way, Mary was not just a strong, cigar-chewing, gunslinging woman, but was surprisingly well-schooled, too.

    Mary did not actually leave for the West until she was 52 years old, a time when many of us are already thinking of retiring, and she did not start working for the Post Office for another ten years after that, at the age of 62.

    There are many who suggest that Mary followed Dolly Dunn (Mother Amadeus) into the West out of nothing more than a desire to help a ailing friend. Others claim, though, that the women had feelings for one another that were far more deep than mere friendship, and that had they lived in a different age and time, their relationship might have become something else, altogether. Whatever the truth on this may actually be, it cannot be discounted that Mary’s friendship with Dolly/Amadeus remained the single most important relationship she had in her life, ranging from earliest childhood throughout her adult life. If these feelings were even partially true, they may well have played some part in her eventual dismissal from the payroll of St. Peter’s Convent Mission. Even after being dismissed by Bishop Brondell, Amadeus did not exactly fire Mary, as such. After a concerted effort by both Amadeus and Mary to get the new bishop to change his mind, Amadeus still managed to keep Mary close at hand by assisting her in securing the mail route between the town of Cascade and the convent mission. The good Mother even used mission funds (that means Church money!) to buy Mary an old mule named Moses- famous for being almost as cantankerous as Mary, herself- along with a wagon and all supplies necessary to keep the business up and running. Of course, had Mary not been up to the task, she’d not have been awarded the route, but at 62 years of age, she out-performed all the men who also applied for the job, all of whom were much younger than she. When Amadeus was sent to open a new mission in Alaska, in 1903, Mary seems to have lost much of her desire and zest for life and very quickly retired from the post office, purportedly unable to bear the long trip out to the convent any longer, with Dolly/Amadeus no longer present to greet her.

    Still, despite such deep despair, she lived more than a full decade longer in the Cascade area, working her own laundry, a business that, like the wagon and mule before it, Amadeus had arranged with the convent to buy for Mary. She worked this job, although her drinking got very much much out of hand after Amadeus left, and her carousing and fisticuffs at times got quite out of hand (she would later die of liver failure caused by the heavy drinking done at this time). Oddly enough, though, it was at this time that she became deeply focused on the men’s baseball team, and began giving out her own homegrown button-hole bouquets to each man for each play well-met. In one of the more rare stories told about the fights she’d get into, she is said to have been holding one of these bouquets in her hand when an opposing team supporter defamed one of her beloved Cascade players. Not even bothering to drop the flowers, Mary is supposed to have punched the man squarely on the nose, adding to her reputation as having given more broken noses in the county that year than anyone else or likely in any other, if the stories are all truly told. From that time on, too, the players are said to have often challenged other teams to be especially careful as Mary’s nose-gays were known to pack quite a punch.

    A few days before Mary died, she gathered up a few personal belongings and a few favorite quilts and went off to die alone, in some tall prairie grass near her home. Luckily, she was discovered by some young boys who called out the alert, and although she was against becoming any kind of burden, Mary allowed her friends to carry her back home. It is said that the men lined up all along the path so as to make carrying her as easy on her- and because of her size, likely them, too- as possible. She died a few days later in the hospital in Great Falls. In one source, it is said that, almost in honor of Mary’s own tradition, not a few men resorted to throwing punches to decide just which got to serve as pall bearer.

    It should be noted that at the time she won her position with the US Postal Service, Mary Fields became the second woman of any race to be hired as a carrier, and the first African-American, of either gender.

    It should also be noted that Mary Fields vehemently hated wearing dresses. The only reason she is seen in a dress over her pants in the various photographs that exist is that the photographer refused to shoot the images unless she was “properly dressed.”

    For those interested in reading Gary Cooper’s remembrance of this wonderful woman, you will find it on Google books, listed here:

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