CASCADE — Residents in and around the town of Cascade are working to get Hillside Cemetery added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Hillside Cemetery is the final resting place of many former Cascade residents. What you may not know is that one of Montana's pioneers rests there - Mary Fields, the first African-American postal worker.
Several Cascade residents are working to spread awareness of her history and what she did for the town, and town officials are in the process of applying to have the cemetery on the state's historic register, with goals of making it nationally recognized.
"So you start with the Montana Historical Society, and they have a group that will recommend you to the National Historic Register," said Jodie Campbell, Cascade Clerk & Treasurer. "It can take anywhere from six months to a year to get that recommendation. There's a lot involved with that. You have to know the history. Knowing where our town came from and how it came to be and where we're progressing to and where it started. There's just a lot of history and it's fun to be part of that."
Also coming up is a presentation on the history of Mary Fields from Cascade's Frank LaLiberty. He doesn't identify as a historian, but rather a curious and invested citizen who has spent years working to tell the true story of Mary Fields and to preserve history.
He says he learned about Fields through his work with St. Peter's Mission after moving to Cascade more than 30 years ago and estimates to have been researching since about 1990. Over the years, he has learned lots and continues to share a story that's important to him and the town as a whole.
"Partly my focus is to get the true story out there," LaLiberty said. "There's a lot of misconceptions, a lot of embellishments, particularly about her early life. I like to stress what an important citizen she was in Cascade, and I enjoy people getting to see the true story of Mary Fields. I enjoy the questions. Presenting what an individual and what a pioneer she was."
The National Park Service website provides an overview of Fields, including this excerpt:
In 1895, Mary obtained a contract to be a Star Route Carrier for the United States Post Office Department. A carrier was an independent contractor who used a stagecoach to deliver the mail. Mary’s route ran between St. Peter’s Mission and the town of Cascade. She delivered the mail for eight years without missing a day of work. Traversing the 34 mile round trip, Mary endured the harsh weather, bandits, and wolves of northern Montana. When the snow was too deep to drive the stagecoach, Mary trekked the route with snowshoes, delivering the mail on foot. Even though she was well into her 60s, Mary never let the hardships of the job prevent her from completing her route. She was the first African American woman and the second woman to receive a Star Route contract from the United States Post Office Department. After retiring from her postal route, Mary established her own laundry business in town. She died in 1914 and is buried in Cascade.
LaLiberty's presentation will be on Tuesday, December 6, 2022, at Cascade's Wedsworth Memorial Library at 6 p.m.
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