1885 - 1914. Mary Fields, an emancipated slave, receives news of her friend’s impending death. She arrives in the Montana wilderness and finds Mother Mary Amadeus lying on frozen earth in a broken-down cabin. Certain that the cloister of frostbit Ursuline nuns and their Indian girl pupils will not survive without assistance, Mary stays.
She builds a hennery, makes repairs to quarters, cares for stock, and treks into the mountains to provide food. Brushes with death do not deter her. Mary drives a horse and wagon through perilous terrain and improves the lives of missionaries, homesteaders and Indians and, in the process, her own.
After weathering wolf attacks, wagon crashes, conspiracies by scoundrels, politicians, and the state’s first Catholic bishop, Mary Fields creates another daring plan. An avid patriot, she is determined to register to vote. Will she pay with her life, or celebrate a personal triumph?
Miantae Metcalf McConnell provides us with a great story and history of Mary Fields, an important black westerner. A must read for youths and adults.
Miantae Metcalf 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 majestically 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.
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.
Deliverance Mary Fields, First African American Woman Star Route Mail Carrier in the United States: A Montana History by Miantae Metcalf McConnel is short-listed for the Laramine Award. The Chanticleer judging continues. The winner will announced in the near future.