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.
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.
“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