Let’s be honest … history was one of my worst subjects! I just found the topic boring and uninteresting most of the time. That is, unless it had to do with the history of my home state of Montana. Here I discovered that I became fascinated with the vigilantes and agents, and how it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the two. The story of ultimately, the death by hanging of infamous Clubfoot George still remains with me today (and his clubfoot still remains on display at a museum in Virginia City)! On my recent trip back through Montana, I picked up a handful of reads touching on the history of the Big Sky State. They tend to be a bit outside your mainstream history books, but they all provide an interesting peek into the past.
Montana Chillers is a book meant for the young adult crowd, but can be an interesting read for all ages. Baumler has researched a number of Montana sites known for hauntings and tried to come up with something from history that could provide an answer for the ghostly activity. Complete with illustrations and photographic evidence, the stories come to life off the pages. I preferred Baumler’s approach of trying to seek answers for the paranormal activity by reaching into history and providing hard facts as explanation. Whether you are a believer or not, I would recommend this quick read!
Stevens takes a different approach in her book, Haunted Montana, chronicling her own adventures into ghost hunting. She has sought out some of the rumored paranormal activity throughout the state of Montana (some of the same activity as mentioned in Montana Chillers) and paid each of the sites a personal visit to see what she experiences. Though I thought it was an interesting read, most were anticlimactic. I simply was looking for more and had a tendency to prefer reading the brief histories she provided and the rumored hauntings, then about her own personal experiences.
In More Montana Campfire Tales, Walter takes snippets of time and location, sharing personal histories that are important to the state of Montana. He includes tales from the movement of Native Americans on to reservation lands, from both a White and Native American perspective. He details the life of the infamous buffalo named Big Medicine, who was covered in a rare white coat. And, stories are told about train robberies, the making of the capital city, and the strength of all those that lived in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Despite the fact that I loved my Montana history class (and actually paid attention!), this book shared stories that I had never heard of before. I remember visiting the museum in Helena that is the location of the preserved white buffalo, but the importance of this animal was not imprinted on my memory. I knew that there was tension in the state, but I had no idea how deep that tension ran in the race for the present-day state capital. And, I knew that Jeannette Rankin was a key female politician in both the state and the country, but I had no idea that she stood so alone in her fight against war (as evidenced by the 388-1 vote in the House of Representatives in December 1917). I found these stories to be sad, yet fascinating and shocking, yet inspirational. Walter did a thorough job on his research, sticking to the facts, yet allowing the reader to easily dive into the history of Montana through his writing.
Upstairs Girls is a MUCH different book detailing the history of the West – the women who served as prostitutes and the women who managed the working girls. Though I mention this here under Montana history, Rutter actually covers prostitution of the entire American West, with the Big Sky State being mentioned multiple times. The first half of the book details the job itself – the history , the demographics of the girls, the reasons why they turned to prostitution, the risks they faced, and the hierarchy of the trade. The second half of the book profiles some of the most famous working girls and madams. As a whole, I found the book fascinating on many levels, including the history of the profession as well as the personal stories. It truly provided an eye-opening account much different than one sees in Hollywood’s westerns or any that one would find in any textbook.
Do you find yourself picking up books from your home state to satisfy your curiousity? Does the old west ever intrigue you to read more?