Tintype of "Stagecoach Mary," Montana, circa 1880

Tintype portrait, approx. 2.75 x 3.25 in., tentatively identified as Mary "Stagecoach Mary" Fields. Uncredited: n.p. [Montana], n.d., circa 1880. Mary is seated, wearing a headscarf and two rings on her fingers. 

Mary Fields (circa 1832-1914) was born into slavery, though little is known about her life prior to the abolition of slavery when she went to work on the Mississippi River aboard the Robert E. Lee. An impressive figure, Mary stood six feet tall and weighed 200 pounds at only eighteen years of age. Her physical prowess paired with her sometimes gruff personality and hot temper made her a standout figure at her next place of employment, a convent in Toledo, Ohio, where she worked for about fifteen years. In 1885, at the request of an old friend and convent superior, Mary went to Montana to work for St. Peters mission. While her devotion to the nuns and students at the mission was unquestioned, her harsh nature and reputation for smoking and swearing were enough to provoke a bishop who had her removed from her position and banned from the mission in 1894.

Her next successful occupation was the one from which her nickname was derived. In 1895, Mary became a Star Route Carrier for the United States Postal Service, meaning that she worked as an independent contractor to deliver mail using a stagecoach in the harsh conditions of northern Montana. She was the first African American woman (and the second woman) to obtain such a contract. Not only was she responsible for carrying the mail, but she also had to protect it. She was known to carry both a revolver and a rifle with her and was not afraid to be tough when the opportunity arose. Montana native and film star Gary Cooper once said of Fields that she "could whip any two men in the territory." Upon her retirement, Mary stayed in Cascade, opening both a laundry business and an eatery, and babysitting children in the town. She died in 1914 and was buried along her mail route with funds donated by the townspeople. Her funeral was said to be one of the most well-attended in town. 


Tintype cut with some irregularity/unevenness, along with some surface soil, a few abrasions and spots of discoloration. Wear to edges and corners. 

Estimate: $4,000 - $6,000
Price Realized Including Buyer's Premium

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