MIANTAE METCALF MCCONNELL
1832 Hickman County, Tennessee
A Tennessee native born in 1832, Mary Fields spent the first half of her life, from birth until the emancipation act of 1864, laboring in slavery.
She had developed a broad spectrum of skills as a slave and no doubt, quickly learned more survival skills while traveling to new destinations where she might exercise her new legal rights as an American citizen.
Sometime during the 1870's Mary Fields obtained employment with the Ursuline Convent in Cleveland, and then, with the new convent in Toledo, Ohio where she worked as a groundskeeper and formed a friendship with Mother Superior Mary Amadeus.
Mary Fields rushes to Montana to save the life of her friend, Mother Mary Amadeus - 1885
A portion of the hand-hewn cabin seen here was originally built by the Jesuits in 1864 and sold to the Ursulines in 1884.
When the cadre of nuns arrived in the winter of 1884, they watched as blizzard ice blew inside, carving larger gaps between the logs, and rapidly transforming the dirt floor into a slick frigid surface.
Two-hundred acres had been negotiated for purchase, but to their surprise, additional terms had been added to the acquisition. The nuns were obligated to provide sewing, baking and other household services to the Jesuits and their male Native American boarding students. The five nuns persevered to complete those tasks though the the living conditions made it nearly impossible.
They nearly froze to death and routinely suffered from frostbit limbs—chronic conditions responsible in part, for Mary Fields's arrival months later.
The top image of Mary Fields and Saint Peter's Mission is a composite. Her portrait was taken in Montana circa 1895; the photo of the mission acreage includes the last structure remaining on the Ursuline property. Saint Angela's Academy, a large stone three-story building with living quarters and an additional boarding house facility burned to the ground, circa 1911.
Mary Fields becomes a
"Mary Fields was 6 feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds!"
This preamble voiced by generations of regional Birdtail residents still resonates today. Historically, these words were the ones most often used to describe the source of the region's legend—Mary Fields, also known as Stagecoach Mary, White Crow, or Black Mary
Judging by the heights of members of the Cascade Cubs Baseball Team pictured here, would you wager that Mary Fields is six feet tall? I doubt that she weighed two-hundred pounds either.
It was precisely this kind of rhetoric that prompted me to spend years of research in search of the true-life story of this remarkable pioneer. As I suspected, her true story was far more extraordinary than the fictional exaggerations—a meager attempt to homogenize this courageous entrepreneur's innate intelligence, skill and compassion.