The Life of the Afterlife in the Big Sky State


The Life of the Afterlife in the Big Sky State

A History of Montana's Cemeteries

Ellen Baumler

208 pages
37 photographs, 4 illustrations, index


June 2021


$19.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

June 2021


$19.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

June 2021


$19.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

The Life of the Afterlife in the Big Sky State is a groundbreaking history of death in Montana. It offers a unique, reflective, and sensitive perspective on the evolution of customs and burial grounds. Beginning with Montana’s first known burial site, Ellen Baumler considers the archaeological records of early interments in rock ledges, under cairns, in trees, and on open-air scaffolds.

Contact with Europeans at trading posts and missions brought new burial practices. Later, crude “boot hills” and pioneer graveyards evolved into orderly cemeteries. Planned cemeteries became the hallmark of civilization and the measure of an educated community. Baumler explores this history, yet untold about Montana. She traces the pathway from primitive beginnings to park-like, architecturally planned burial grounds where people could recreate, educate their children, and honor the dead.

The Life of the Afterlife in the Big Sky State is not a comprehensive listing of the many hundreds of cemeteries across Montana. Rather it discusses cultural identity evidenced through burial practices, changing methods of interments and why those came about, and the evolution of cemeteries as the “last great necessity” in organized communities. Through examples and anecdotes, the book examines how we remember those who have passed on.

Author Bio

Ellen Baumler was the interpretive historian at the Montana Historical Society from 1992 until her retirement in 2018. She is the author or editor of numerous books, including Girl from the Gulches: The Story of Mary Ronan and Dark Spaces: Montana’s Historic Penitentiary at Deer Lodge. Baumler won Montana’s Governor’s Award for the Humanities and the Peter Yegen Jr. Award from the Montana Association of Museums for excellence and distinction in fostering the advancement of Montana’s museums.


"This well-researched and finely written book makes a significant contribution to the larger literature on death and burial practice in the American West."—Micah T. Chang, South Dakota History

"Baumler says she hopes to 'appeal to those who love history, and quiet places, and wandering among the dead' (p. xvii). The Life of the Afterlife certainly does that, and much more. Its musings on life and death, forty black and white illustrations, tombstone stories, and well-researched history will be of interest to students of American culture, Montana history, grave markers, and anyone who loves a good tale."—Annette Stott, Social History

“Ellen has been called a ‘rock star of history’ in honor of her love of historical places and her long-standing commitment to telling the stories of our past in ways that make history accessible to all.”—Montana Preservation Alliance, Individual Achievement Award

“A prolific and talented writer with the rare ability to author scrupulously researched yet broadly appealing publications.”—Montana Historical Society staff tribute

“[Ellen Baumler] has made history come alive for young and old. When history calls, Ellen listens.”—Montana Governor’s Award for Excellence

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations    
Chapter 1. Death and Burial among the First Montanans    
Chapter 2. Mortuary Customs of the Upper Missouri Tribes    
Chapter 3. Tragedy beyond Description    
Chapter 4. Before There Was Billings    
Chapter 5. Conflict, Misfortune, and Uneasy Transitions    
Chapter 6. Death in Montana’s Early Communities    
Chapter 7. Dead and Buried Twice    
Chapter 8. The Evolution of Beautiful Burial Grounds    
Chapter 9. Cemetery Diversity    
Chapter 10. Homage to the Dead    
Chapter 11. How We Miss Them    
Bibliographic Essay    

Also of Interest