Post by njk on Feb 3, 2017 9:59:11 GMT -5
St. Peter’s Mission, Montana Territory, 1892
John Mosney should have known better than to mess with Mary Fields.
Mary Fields took no guff from nobody—surely not some hired hand. Why, the good Sisters put her in charge of most things that needed doing at St. Peter’s Mission. Had been that way ever since she arrived in the Montana Territory to help the Sisters run the Mission school in Indian country.
Maybe Mosney didn’t cotton to a woman, and a colored woman at that, telling him what to do. Maybe he thought he was boss, and she should downright show it. Maybe he just didn’t like the looks of her, all six feet, 200 pounds. A frame big enough to need a man’s jacket just to fit her proper-like.
Whatever got his goat, it started a real dustup with Mary. They got to bickering and tempers boiled over. It got so bad that each pulled a gun.
Black women didn’t normally pull guns on white men, but Mary did.
What Mosney hadn’t reckoned was that Mary had known men like him all of her sixty years and she wasn’t afraid. Wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself.
If she didn’t, who would?
Now here they were in a stand-off. Didn’t matter that just weeks before, they had swung into action and together kept the Sisters’ house from burning down from a chimney fire.
Did they think about that in the blink-of-an-eye time it takes to pull a trigger? Did another hired hand try to stop them? Did the students in their classrooms—white girls in one, Blackfeet Indian girls in another—watch wide-eyed from the windows when they heard the commotion?
Whoever was present must have let go a big sigh of relief when suddenly both backed down. Not a single shot was fired. Mary Fields knew how to handle a rifle, but she was no gunslinger, no killer.
The story might have ended right then and there. But it didn’t. Rumors began to fly about the ‘shootout’ at St. Peter’s Mission. One rumor said Mary had shot a man dead.
Rumors followed Mary like flies to a cowpat. This one reached the Bishop.
Bishop Brondel didn’t like Mary’s ‘unladylike’ behavior. Mary cussed, smoked cigars, and drank whiskey. She had a temper, and there was talk of other fights she’d been in. Like the time the foreman Mr. Burns sneered at her, and Mary, all riled up, hit him with a stone the size of a man’s fist.
Or so the story goes.
But Mother Amadeus and the other nuns who taught at the Mission school felt differently about Mary. They were able to see another side of her rough and tough exterior. Mary was hard-working, loyal, and honest.
And they depended on her.
One day, Mother Amadeus received an order from the Bishop. He wanted Mary gone from the Mission. He’d heard enough about her bad behavior. “Send that black woman away,” he said.
Mother Amadeus was troubled. She had wanted Mary to live out her days at the Mission, to be cared for by the Sisters in her old age. But the Bishop’s word was final. Mother Amadeus obeyed him and delivered the news to Mary.
Mary was heartbroken and felt she had been treated unfairly. At first she refused to go, saying she’d meet the Bishop face-to-face and plead her case. She’d get him to call witnesses to make them swear to tell the truth about her. Set the rumors straight.
What Mary wanted was justice.
But the meeting never took place, and Mary had to accept the decision.
She had already survived a lifetime of hardship by her own wits and strength. She wasn’t about to become someone she wasn’t. She packed her few things, said good-bye to her friends, and left the place she had called home for nearly ten years.
Mary Fields was going to keep on living life on her own terms, as much as that was possible for anyone who was poor, black, female, and a former slave.