October is on its way, and with it a lovely fallish Halloweenish atmosphere. If you are in search of a guide through the spookiest bits of Montana’s past, you’ll not find better than Ellen Baumler. Before retiring last year, Baumler had spent 26 years digging into the stories of Montana’s past. She’s a terrifyingly prolific author who has absolutely mastered the art turning her exceptional historical research into short quirky stories about Montana’s past. Her specialty is in telling the stories of the forgotten bits of history–the places and people who might otherwise slip through the cracks.
A surprising number of those people happen to be undead.
Take, for instance Virginia Slade, the wife of notorious trouble-maker Jack Slade, who was the last man hanged–for disturbing the peace–by the Virginia City vigilantes. Hearing of Jack’s “trial,” Virginia leapt on her horse and galloped into town from the Slade’s ranch, brandishing her revolver, determined to intervene. She was just moments too late to prevent Jack’s execution. It’s only in the last few sentences of Virginia’s story that Baumler mentions that the ghost of Virginia is said to ride still, galloping through the foothills of Virginia City, hair and skirts billowing, bellowing an angry, blood-curdling wail.
The story of Virginia Slade is interesting, not just because she may or may not still be riding around outside of town in a rage, but because she was a real person whose life would be worth recounting regardless of if her ghost still ventures forth. And that is the most remarkable aspect of Baumler’s many, many books of Montana hauntings. The stories she tells are not just silly, spooky tales. They are bits of history, about the real people who made Montana. Whether the accounts of sightings are true or not, I’m sure I don’t know, but the people behind the sightings really lived, and those are the stories Baumler tells. Whether you come for the ghost stories and stay for the history or come from the history and stay for the ghosts, Ellen Baumler’s books are sure to put you in the perfect mood to enjoy all of the Halloweeny history Southwest Montana has on offer.
Baumler has written a multitude of books, but for the most haunting of tales, check out Spirit Tailings, Beyond Spirit Tailings, Haunted Helena, Ghosts of the Last Best Place, and Montana Chillers (I said there were a lot!). We’ve also collected a number of her Southwest Montana stories here.