Montana Historian Ellen Baumler has died

Ellen Baumler
Posted at 12:21 PM, Dec 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-19 11:51:50-05

HELENA — Prominent Montana historian and award-winning author Ellen Baumler has died. According to sources familiar with the situation, Baumler had been battling cancer for a while. She was 74.

Baumler was an interpretive historian at the Montana Historical Society from 1992 until her retirement in 2018. Her work includes developing and writing walking tours of historic districts, creating interpretive signs and helping Montana landmarks and sites receive National Register recognition.

Fellow historian Jon Axline worked closely with Baumler on several projects through the years. For example, Axline wrote the Montana Department of Transportation historical markers and Baumler would review the drafts before Axline finalized them.

"We worked on a lot of things together over the past thirty years," Axline told MTN. "She was an excellent historian, writer and storyteller. Importantly, she knew how to present those stories so that history came alive to her audience and, in the process, generate interest in the past among her listeners. She was fun to listen to."

She authored numerous books and dozens of articles on diverse Montana topics including “Montana Chillers: 13 True Tales of Ghosts and Hauntings” and “Spirit Tailings: Ghost Tales from Virginia City, Butte, and Helena.”

Baumler had a particular love for the unusual bits of history she discovered during her research including the funny, bizarre, and interesting. She also had a great passion for the Treasure State’s ghost stories.

"She was THE Helena historian and the Queen of Halloween," Axline said. "Two roles that will never be filled in quite the same way again. She definitely had a fan club and I was the president of it. She was also my friend and I’m really going to miss her."

On Monday, the MTHS said they were deeply saddened to hear of her passing.

“Ellen’s contributions to the field of Montana history were nothing short of remarkable,” noted MTHS Director Molly Kruckenberg. “She was a champion advocate for the preservation of Montana’s historic places. She spent countless hours inspiring students and life-long learners to study history and to make history accessible. She excelled at making the past relevant, understandable, and enjoyable, making her a respected and beloved Montana historian.

“Ellen’s contributions to Montana history were as big and wide as our skies and she will be greatly missed.”

Baumler’s career can be described as helping make history accessible for all.

“A lot of times people write academic articles, and they have interesting information, but nobody ever gets to learn that stuff. And so, making it available to the public really is my mission, has always been my mission. And I feel like I’ve been fairly successful,” Baumler told MTN in August.

In 2011, she received the Governor’s Award for the Humanities. Earlier this year she received the Montana Heritage Keeper Award from the Montana Historical Society.

Baumler earned her Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in English, classics, and history.

Editor's Note: The article initially attributed the MDT Historical Markers to Baumler. Those markers were written and finalized by historian Jon Axline. Baumler would review the drafts during the process.