My Mother Was Born 100 Years Too Late
Updated: Oct 24, 2020
Everyone has that one relative who is in love with the Old West. For me, it was my mom.
“The Native Americans called [Mary] Fields "White Crow", because "she acts like a white woman but has black skin". Local whites did not know what to make of her. One schoolgirl wrote an essay saying, "She drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a republican, which makes her a low, foul creature."
My mom should have been a pioneer, making a living in the American Old West. She was square dancing and horseback riding when she was a kid. I grew up listening to her singing the praises of cowboy film heroes, from Randolph Scott to Roy Rodgers to John Wayne. She kept things under wraps when I was growing up, but once she moved to northern Minnesota, she was all about that cowboy life.
My mother, Katherine Mary Hopwood, died suddenly in her sleep back in 2010. She lived alone in a converted cabin several miles outside Askov, Minnesota (population: 347), having moved there in 1990. She took great pride in turning a drafty hunting shack out in the middle of nowhere -- with no furnace and no running water -- into a home. To her, this was an opportunity to live an adventure she had dreamed about since she was a little girl; she wanted to live the frontier life of cowboys and pioneers. In large and in small ways, she also encouraged my sister, my brother, and I to be adventurous as well. I took my first airplane ride as part of a class trip to Germany, my Christmas gift when I was 16 years old. She even gave me my first motorcycle, an old Suzuki I spent years trying to fix up.
It was just a few years after her death that I got a bit of a shock when I ran across an article about a historical figure named “Stagecoach” Mary Fields. The stories and anecdotes, the skill with so many kinds of jobs, the toughness, the love people had for her in every community she lived in. All of it sounded almost identical to how my mom lived her life. The most famous picture of Mary Fields even bears a passing resemblance to my mom.
I no longer get to celebrate Mother’s Day with my mom, but every year I try to do something in remembrance of her. This year, as it happens, the return leg of my motorcycle trip will bring me to Helena, Montana, just 60 miles south of Cascade, Montana. Mary Fields is buried at the Hillside Cemetery on the north side of Cascade, so I’ve altered my route to take me north through there and up to Great Falls, Montana before turning east and continuing on to Bismarck, North Dakota. I plan to leave some flowers at that cemetery. Mary Fields could have been my mom. Or, at the very least, she and my mom would likely have been good friends.
Happy Mother’s Day, mom.