According to Tom Palmer’s Book, “Helena: The Town and the People,” the pronunciation of Helena is attributable to a group of ex-confederates that left the south and made Montana home. The town’s name was originally proposed by a Minnesota man, wanting to name the town after Helena, Minnesota, pronounced Hel-EE-na. But the ex-Confederates in town objected, preferring HEL-eh-na, after Helena, Arkansas, instead. Over time, the southern pronunciation stuck, and it’s still used today.
In 1860, prior to the Civil War, Helena, Arkansas, the seat of Phillips County on the banks of the Mississippi River, was home to 14,877 people, 8,941 of which were slaves.