HELENA — Barbara Cheryl Fifer, born in Ohio to Stan and Martha Fifer, was named by her father after Barbara Stanwyck, the model of a fiercely independent woman. His career instilled her love of writing, while her mom fostered her musical creativity with the piano. She adored stories she heard from her Uncle Wade, her best bud during those early years. It’s no wonder she became known as a writer on Lewis and Clark, Montana and Western History, as well as a respected editor of fiction and non-fiction, alike.
Tracking history became inspiration for her eighth-grade science fair project on Radiocarbon dating, for which she placed second in the state. An independent thinker, she was editor of her high school newspaper for Sidney (Ohio) Daily News. Then, continued for two more summers at SDN as an intern. She often credited Bill Amos of Amos Publishing with honing her professional writing skills. She graduated from Ohio University with a BA in creative writing in 1969. Later that year she married Cliff Rackley in Helena beginning her love for Montana. Vivian Palladin mentored her at Montana, the Magazine of Western History, where Barbara became Assistant Editor. An interval in Pennsylvania working at Bro-Dart taught her additional cataloging, indexing and layout skills.
But Montana persisted. She returned to Helena where she lived until the end of her life. She worked for Montana magazine, then, turned to freelance writing of more than 17 books. Her final book co-written with Jerry L Bryant continued the love of the west: a nonfiction biography of Deadwood’s Al Swearingen. She used her experience, creativity and analysis to form raw manuscripts into books ready to be published. For these effects she was recognized by Sidney High School in their Hall of Fame in 2011.
She loved Jazz, Dixieland, and Reggae and Eastern Indian food. Was no costume scary enough for her favorite holiday, Halloween. She believed in the Rainbow Bridge, certainly, by now, meeting with Scannon, Sam and Lavina, and creature. She expertly critiqued short stories, novels, films and music. She liked a lively discussion, a biting satire, supporting womens’ and workers’ rights, was fluent in Spanish and had a photographic memory. She knew the power of showing, not telling, in her prose and editing. She loved the stories from each of the stamps on her passport, feeling most alive when experiencing something new.
Barbara passed on a fine summer day in June 2018, having 70 revolutions around the sun. Her parents and former husband, Cliff, preceded her in death. She is survived by her sister, Linda (Jimmy) Burkhard; cousins: Chris Bynum, Terry Weatherhead, Tomala, Jim, and Doug Spillers, and the Weatherhead Clan from Columbus: Cynthia, Martha, Beth, and Ginger.
Cremation has taken place. To honor Barbara, please consider donating to these organizations:
Montana Association for the Blind, P.O. Box 465, Helena, MT 59624
Lewis & Clark Humane Society, P.O. Box 4455, Helena, MT 59604
Various Chapters of the Lewis & Clark Heritage Trail Foundation