Legend of Cascade's

Mary Fields

meets fact in new book

Kristen Inbody, Great Falls Tribune, July 20, 2017

As the years passed, the legend of Mary Fields and her time in Cascade grew until the real — still fascinating — history was scrambled.

Miantae Metcalf McConnell has written a new book of historical fiction that draws on more than a decade of research into Fields' life and brings to life Cascade, Birdtail Prairie and the struggles of Saint Angela's Academy.

At 53, Mary Fields, born a slave, hopped on a train from Toledo to the wilds of Montana to attend to her sick friend, Mother Mary Amadeus. She finds the nuns frostbitten. The sisters and their Indian students need help, desperately, and Fields decides to provide it.

Among the challenges she faces, as detailed in " "Deliverance Mary Fields," is the Bishop John Baptist Brondel, the first ordained Catholic Bishop of Montana who "executed the unwarranted, slanderous and quasi-legal termination" of Fields' employment at the mission, as Mother Mary Amadeus calls it.

After meeting with him, "her nostrils flared, not from the stench of sewage that drifted from passing wagons, rather, fueled from indignation at John Baptist's presumptuous gall. How dare he butt into Ursuline management, Ursuline business, her business!" 

 The book also tells the story from the perspectives of Indian students, and, of course, Fields herself.

After being pushed out of the mission, Fields set up a cafe. There she encounters "a few Cascade women who would like to see me turn tail.They'll boycott me hopefully, just me, and not my cafe. But I'll succeed despite the nicks and gnats!"

At the mission, among Natives, she was "White Crow." She's called "N--- Mary" in town but her good cooking wins over many of the men who come for a meal or a coffee and their "attitudes accumulated indirectly, for over a decade" dissipate. 

Fields became the first black woman star route mail carrier in the country, a natural extension of her experience hauling freight — and a glass ceiling cracked. 

The specter of the KKK and lynching threats stretches into the Rockies. At age 80, she woke to a house afire and a grouty voice saying "Ashes to ashes." Some would rather kill her than accept a black woman voting and owning property.

McConnell's grandparents were all homesteaders, and three sets proved up not far from Cascade. She remembers hearing stories of life in the young state from Fields' era. 

"When I became aware of Mary Fields, a black woman who lived outside of the norm in rural Montana during the same time period as my great-grandparents and grandparents, I was captivated," she said.

She was able to verify with the postal service that Fields was the first African-American star route mail carrier in the country. She also was thrilled, she said, to find that Fields had registered to vote in 1912, the first black person to register in Cascade, and her voting became a key plot point in the story.


 

Would love to receive your review if you are inspired to send one. Thank you!

Sites to send to: GoodReads, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, this website via the "Contact" page


Deliverance Mary Fields Reviews WISHING SHELF 2016 Contest : FINALIST NONFICTION

‘Powerfully written with excellent characterization. The author knows her history and seamlessly has her characters live within it. Wonderful cover too.’

‘This author works wonders with her pen. The prose really is lovely; every sentence is a joy to read. A fascinating tell on the life of Stagecoach Mary.’

‘Here we have a well-researched, thoroughly enjoyable novel based on a strong, black woman living in the west. I’d highly recommend it anybody.’

‘A fascinating, hard-hitting saga. A FINALIST and highly recommended.’ The Wishing Shelf Book Awards

‘... Rich pIckings for any history student.’

‘Excellent in many ways. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on women’s right to vote. This was very well researched; I’d recommend it to history students. It’s so well written I had no idea what happened and what didn’t. I always enjoy books with a strong female hero.’



"Under McConnell's hand, the atmosphere, frontier challenges, and landscapes of Montana come to life. ...will delight readers who look for a blend of accurate historical facts, hard-hitting drama, and realistic scenes powered by a feisty protagonist whose values and concerns become part of the social changes sweeping the nation."  

--Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW

DONOVAN'S FULL REVIEW: 

The time frame is from 1885 to 1914. The place is Montana. The protagonist is Mary Fields, an Afro-American frontier woman who demonstrates a rugged, feisty independence from the very first paragraph, when she snaps a shard of wood from the woodpile from the palm of her hand and keeps on working, viewing her injury as a mere annoyance in the greater scheme of things.

Mary often is labeled by her color in this rugged world ("Adjusting temple ends across his ears, he added, “That’s all, Black Mary. Tell Mother the girls’ fabric is backordered. Sugar and everything else.”), but she's succeeded in earning respect despite being a black frontier female; perhaps because Montana in the late 1800s is an unforgiving environment that challenges all races to survive and leaves little time for prejudice - at least during seasonal periods of struggle. Racist attitudes and behavior are inevitably launched at Mary Fields: “You think you’re so high and mighty. Coming into the Q & L like you’re what? One of us? You’re trash. To be used and thrown away. As we please. Any of us.”

What brought this emancipated slave from Toledo to Montana was her friend's impending death. What keeps her there is a newfound commitment to helping a group of nuns survive their harsh world. And what fuels her passion “to gain equal rights, same as any white man,” including the vision of placing her vote, will lead her to change everything she touches in this passionate saga of a frontier woman's engagements and evolving purpose in life.

How can a woman born into slavery develop the determination to defy social norms to gain freedom for all women? How does Mary rise to the occasion to become a formidable legendary figure during a time when Blacks and other minorities were murdered without recompense?

There are early indications that Mary's strength enables her to feel compassion for more than women's issues or Afro-American status. Her concern for the plight of Native Americans and her tendency to defy convention even in the smallest of ways ("Knowing she would be tired from standing at a grill day after day, Mary prepared a window sign to her liking. Instead of the conventional posting, “Closed for the Sabbath” or “Closed Sunday” she used the last of her green paint to print on her placard, “Closed Today, Open Tomorrow”.") leads Mary to craft a life fired with purpose and passion.

Readers sensitive to prejudice should be warned that Miantae Metcalf McConnell's story doesn't bow to modern convention, but strives for a realistic feel; so expressions and interactions that would be considered offensive and prejudicial today are precisely portrayed, pulling no punches for the sake of modern political correctness: "Postmaster Joseph Kauffman, who went by Joe K., was first to arrive each morning—his greeting, predictable. “Nigger Mary, could I get a cup of coffee?”  This approach represents a breath of fresh air, as it captures the subtler nuances of daily interactions alongside the wider social changes sweeping a young nation.

Under McConnell's hand, the atmosphere, frontier challenges, and landscapes of Montana come to life. Mary Fields is a true historical figure, dramatized in novel format. Her story will delight readers who look for a blend of accurate historical facts, hard-hitting drama, and realistic scenes powered by a feisty protagonist whose values and concerns become part of the social changes sweeping the nation.


“McConnell has fashioned a historical narrative marrying prose and poetry, fact with creative writing.”

With the discerning eye of a photographer, the deft hand of a historian, and the literary heart of a poet, the life of Mary Fields, legendary black woman of Montana, rises off the page into living history. If the reader has any interest in Mary Fields, aka Stagecoach Mary, Deliverance is the one book you must read.

Cowboy Mike Searles, Author, Professor of History, Augusta University, GA.

“One of the best historical fiction authors since James Michener!"

This was an amazing book set in the 19th Century in the Montana Territory/State basing the book on solid, meticulous research. Mary Fields was the first African American woman as a Star Route mail carrier. But Mary Fields is so much more than just a Star Route mail carrier, she was ahead of her time in women's rights, female suffrage rights, and Native American children's advocate and mentor. The author, Miantae Metcalf McConnell, has developed well thought out characters that you will grow to love - and a few to hate. Once you start this book, you can't put it down and thankfully it's not a short book! I was given this book in exchange for an honest review and I can't wait for her to come out with another.

— Sherri Dewey


A great story and history of Mary Fields, an important black westerner. A must read for youths and adults.

Bruce A. Glasrud, Author, Specialist of Black West-American History, Professor Emeritus, California State University

 

“Deliverance shows us a life of courage which gives us all hope that it is possible to live a meaningful life regardless of the adversity which likes in our path. We can all learn a lesson from her life. I did."

—Joseph Langen Ph.D.

“I love stories that ignite me to root and cheer for fearless risk-taking women!"

If you enjoy historical fiction, you won't be able to stop reading this American West story full of drama and authentic characters. If you enjoy social justice issues with contrary points of view, look no further.

McConnell expertly transports the reader into the landscape of Montana. Her prose lingered in my mind and prompted me to imagine how I might have fared as a pioneer in Mary Fields' world.

— Harfijah Oliver

“I found myself having dreams of Mary Fields, she had become so real to me."

In one dream she was the driver of a bus that I boarded and was about be taken for a ride on, symbolizing, I suppose, her relevance to me and to the age in which I am alive, for her significance reaches well beyond the years in which she actually lived. More, I cried when I reached the end of the book: all this the result of being immersed into the life of this woman who just kept going, who recognized the glory of what was around her and the value of what was within, regardless the traumas she experienced. She and her surroundings—the geographical ones as well as the people she was intimately connected to—had become all that real to me that I feel I have actually met her, no, that I have lived, have experienced her life and the historical era in which she lived. All this is a tribute to the writer, Miantae Metcalf McConnell, who has done so much more than just tell about a person and a place.

— R.B.

“As a woman I appreciate the gains that Mary Fields made in her life in Montana. To know that she was African American and had come from the slave culture, and was able to step into her own own personal freedom with resolve and perseverance is truly inspirational. Excellent writing."

— Nancy Ashley