With news of gold in Grasshopper Creek, the gold rush officially began in Montana in the summer of 1862. It was gold that drew thousands to Montana and established some off the region’s most prominent towns. On July 14, 1864, four men (known today as the Four Georgians) set up camp along Last Chance Gulch – so named as the men were giving themselves one last chance to strike it rich before returning to the Alder Gulch Area empty handed. Their claims on Last Chance Gulch would be the beginnings of Helena, Montana’s Capital City.
Unlike many of the towns that mushroomed into existence during Montana’s Gold Rush, Helena today is no ghost town. It has always been a booming town, and one of the centers of Montana life. It is, however, a ghost story town, a city brimming with hauntings and visitations, with unexplained sightings and things that go bump–or in some cases chirp–in the night.
Hardly surprising considering the sorts of shenanigans gold rush towns got up to.
The best way to experience the Queen City’s haunted past is on a Haunted Helena Tour aboard the Last Chance Tour Train. The tour trolley is a Helena institution, and the Haunted Helena Tours are hosted by none other than le grande dame of factual-history-based-Montana-ghost-stories (and hero of the blog) herself, Ellen Baumler.
As a long-time historian at the Montana Historical Society and a prolific author Ellen spent her career collecting stories of Montana history–many of the spookiest found their way into her books including Spirit Tailings, Beyond Spirit Tailings, and Montana Chillers, not to mention her long-running blog and her study of Montana cemeteries, The Life of the Afterlife in the Big Sky State. Ellen knows her way around a ghost story, and the Haunted Helena tour is exciting, informative, entertaining, and just that bit spooky.
The tour starts and ends at Reeder’s Alley, one of the oldest surviving bits of early Helena, with architecture you won’t see anywhere else in the state. From there, you wend your way through the city, hearing tales of brutal unsolved murders, strangely endearing madams, haunted hallways of hospitals, and a bathroom so plagued with the paranormal that it was once sealed shut.
The stories Ellen tells are gristly and sometimes sweet, often surprising, and always humane–in a ghostly sort of way. They’ll make you see the capital city and are an essential ingredient to a Montana October.