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Alfred G. "Alferd" PACKER
A.K.A.: "The Colorado Cannibal"
Classification: Murderer ?
Number of victims: 5
Date of murders:
1874 / Escape / March 11, 1883
Date of birth: January 21, 1842
Victims profile: Shannon
Wilson Bell, James Humphrey, Frank Miller, George Noon and Israel
Method of murder:
Location: Lake City, Colorado, USA
Status: Sentenced to death April 13, 1883. Reversed. Sentenced
to 40 years in prison on June 8, 1886. Paroled on February 8,
1901. Died April 23, 1907
Convicted of cannibalism after killing
and eating five companions in the Colorado Territory.
Evidently Packer was amused when a dyslexic tattoo
artist misspelled his name as "ALFERD" and it became sort of an in-joke.
Alfred Packer and 20 others depart Provo, UT
for the San Juan Mountains in the Colorado
Alfred Packer and five other men break away
from the rest of their group and head for
Alfred Packer emerges from the woods alone.
Alfred Packer signs his first confession.
The corpses of Alfred Packer's five missing
companions are found, two miles outside Lake
Alfred Packer escapes from jail.
11 Mar 1883
Fugitive Alfred Packer captured in Cheyenne, WY.
Packer had been living under the alias John
16 Mar 1883
Alfred Packer signs his second confession.
Alfred Packer signs his third confession.
Alfred Packer paroled by the governor of
23 Apr 1907
Alfred Packer dies and is buried in Littleton,
Crimes: Al Packer killed the other 5
members of his prospecting party - Swan, Miller, Humphrey, Noon and
Bell, when they got stranded in the Rocky Mountains for the winter. He
then proceeded to eat them to keep himself alive.
Method: According to forensic evidence,
Packer bludgeoned his victims to death, using a hacksaw and a rifle butt.
Sentence: At first Packer was sentenced
to death by a Democrat judge. But after a retrial by a Republican judge
(the victims were Democrats) Packer served only 15 years.
Interesting facts: At the time of the
trial Packer claimed that he had not killed the men, but that Bell,
another prospecter, had, and that Packer had shot Bell in self-defence.
In 1989, Professor James Starrs unearthed the remains of the dead men.
This study showed that none of the bodies had been shot, but that they
had put up a struggle before they were killed. Due to lack of evidence
of physical characteristics, it is still uncertain which of the two men
really did kill the others.
(January 21, 1842 – April 23, 1907) is popularly known as one of only
two Americans ever imprisoned for cannibalism, alongside Albert Fish.
First tried for murder, Packer was eventually sentenced to 40 years in
prison after being convicted of manslaughter.
Packer was born (as Alfred G. Packer)
in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. He served in the American Civil War,
on the Union side presumably in an Iowa regiment, but was mustered out
due to epilepsy.
In November, 1873, Packer was with a
party of 21 who left Provo, Utah, bound for the Colorado gold country in
Breckenridge. On 1874-01-21, he met with Chief Ouray (known as the
White Man's Friend) near Montrose, Colorado. Chief Ouray recommended
they postpone their expedition until spring, as they were likely to
encounter dangerous winter weather in the mountains.
In spite of Ouray's advice, a party
of six that included Packer left for Gunnison, Colorado on February 9.
The other five men were Shannon Wilson Bell, James Humphrey, Frank
Miller, George Noon and Israel Swan.
At an unknown date, the party got
hopelessly lost, ran out of provisions, and became snowbound in the
Rocky Mountains. Packer allegedly went scouting and came back to
discover Bell roasting human meat. According to Packer, Bell rushed him
with a hatchet; Packer shot and killed him.
On April 16, 1874, Packer arrived
alone at Los Pinos Indian Agency near Gunnison. He spent some time in a
Saguache, Colorado bar, meeting several of his previous party. He
initially claimed self-defense, but his story did not pass in court.
During the trial, the judge is widely reputed to have said:
Alferd Packer! There were seven Dimmycrats in Hinsdale County and you
ate five of them!"
An alternate version of the judge's
depraved Republican son of a bitch! There were only five Democrats in
Hinsdale County and you ate them all!"
Both versions are considered
Packer signed a confession on August
5, 1874. He was jailed in Saguache, but escaped soon after, vanishing
for several years.
On March 11, 1883, Packer was
discovered in Cheyenne, Wyoming living under the alias of "John
Schwartze." On March 16, he signed another confession. On April 6, a
trial began in Lake City, Colorado, Hindsdale County.
On April 13, he
was found guilty and sentenced to death. Packer managed to temporarily
avoid punishment again: in October 1885, the sentence was reversed by
the Colorado Supreme Court as being based on an ex post facto law.
However, on June 8, 1886, Packer was sentenced to 40 years at a trial in
On June 19, 1899, Packer's sentence
was upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court. However, he was paroled on
February 8, 1901 and moved to Deer Creek, in Jefferson County, Colorado.
He is widely rumored to have become a vegetarian before his death,
reputedly of "Senility - trouble & worry" at the age of 64. He
was buried in Littleton, Colorado and was formally pardoned of his
crimes on March 5, 1981.
Recent evidence suggests that Packer
was a cannibal, but not a murderer. On July 17, 1989, 115
years after Packer consumed his companions, an exhumation of the five
bodies was undertaken by James E. Starrs, then Professor of Law
specializing in forensic science at George Washington University.
Following an exhaustive search for the precise location of the remains
at Cannibal Plateau in Lake City, Colorado, Starrs and his colleague
Walter H. Birkby concluded "I don't think there will ever be any way
to scientifically demonstrate cannibalism. Cannibalism per se is the
ingestion of human flesh. So you'd have to have a picture of the guy
Through some unexplained process,
Packer's head, dissected and carefully preserved, has come to be in the
possession of Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum in the French Quarter of
New Orleans, where it is on permanent display.
Packer is a legend in popular
culture. He has been quoted as having said, in jest, "the breasts of
man...are the sweetest meat I ever tasted." In 1968, students at the
University of Colorado at Boulder named their new cafeteria grill the
Alferd G. Packer Memorial Grill with the slogan "Have a friend for
lunch!" Even today students can enjoy the meat-filled "El Canibal"
underneath a giant wall map outlining his travels through Colorado. In
1982 the university dedicated a statue to Packer, and graduate Trey
Parker, creator of South Park, made a student film, Cannibal!
The Musical, based loosely on his life in 1993. Also, in 1982, Jim
Roberson made The Legend of Alfred Packer, a film that,
surprisingly, took many more liberties with the story than Parker's did,
including having Bell fall on a knife, exonerating Packer of any
Folksinger Phil Ochs composed a song
about his life, included on "The Broadside Tapes 1". The singer C.W.
McCall also wrote (with Chip Davis) and sang a song about Packer called
"Comin' Back for More." Death metal band Cannibal Corpse's 1990 debut,
Eaten Back To Life is dedicated to Packer with the inscription
"This Album is dedicated to the memory of Alfred Packer, The First
American Cannibal (R.I.P.)"
A 1999 movie, Ravenous, was
loosely based on aspects of the Alferd Packer story, which screenwriter
Ted Griffin says he first encountered when reading The Thin Man
by Dashiell Hammett.
Notes and references
The spelling of Alferd/Alfred Packer's name has been the source of much
confusion over the years. Official documents give his name as Alfred
Packer, although he may (according to one story) have adopted the name
Alferd after it was wrongly tattooed on to one of his arms. Packer
sometimes signed his name as "Alferd", sometimes as "Alfred", and is
referred to by both names. In many documents, he is referred to simply
as A. Packer or Al Packer.
Nash, Robert Jay (1994). Alferd Packer. In Encyclopedia of Western
Lawmen & Outlaws. Da Capo Press. pp. 250-251. ISBN 0-306-80591-X.
Google Print. Retrieved 2005-04-13.
3. Grove, Lloyd
(1989). Just How Many Democrats Did Al Packer Eat? GWU Professor Digs
Into the Legend. The Washington Post.
and Jo (1968). Al Packer: A Colorado Cannibal. Denver.
Gantt, Paul H
(1952). The Case of Alfred Packer, The Man-Eater. Denver:
University of Denver Press.
F (1980). Alferd G. Packer, Cannibal! Victim? Frederick, Co.:
Platte 'N Press.
The Story of
Alferd E. Packer
"The Colorado Cannibal"
On February 9, 1874, Alferd Packer and five other men
departed from the camp of Ute Chief Ouray, near what is now Montrose,
Colorado. They were resuming a trek that had begun several months
earlier in Provo, Utah, hoping to reach newly discovered gold prospects
in Breckenridge, Colorado.
While the original party was considerably larger, only Packer (as guide)
and Israel Swan, Shannon Wilson Bell, George Noon, James Humphrey, and
Frank Miller dared risk the sometimes brutal Colorado winter in search
of riches. And brutal it was, as not long after leaving the safety of
Chief Ouray's camp, the group was engulfed in a furious blizzard near
the present site of Lake City, Colorado.
Packer was next seen on April 16, 1874, straggling into the Los Pinos
Indian Agency with little more than a rifle and a skinning knife
belonging to members of his party. The story Packer told at that time
was that, once the storm hit, he had set up camp while the others went
forward in search of food. They never returned, and Packer subsequently
headed out for Los Pinos.
After recovering, Packer left for Saguache, Colorado, where by some
accounts he suddenly became a 'big spender' at the local saloon.
Unfortunately for Packer, in Saguache he encountered several men from
the original Provo group who were dubious about his version of the story.
Indian Agent Charles Adams took Packer back to Los Pinos for questioning
about the matter, and on May 8, 1874, extracted the first of Packard's
two conflicting confessions. According to Packer, Israel Swan had died
and the others, being without food, had eaten him. Subsequently, three
others had died from exposure and starvation. Then, Packer admitted to
killing Shannon Bell, claiming it was in self-defense.
Packer was transported back to Saguache and jailed outside of town, not
in the town's jail house as some have told. In August, Packer escaped
from custody and wasn't seen again until March, 1883, when Frenchy
Cabazon, one of the original prospecting party, found him quite by
accident in Douglas, Wyoming.
By coincidence, on the day of Packer's escape from Saguache, the ghostly
remains of the missing prospectors were found in a valley overlooking
what is now Lake City, Colorado. There was evidence of a struggle and
foul play. The gravesite is now marked and fenced as a tribute to the
In March, 1883, Packer was taken to Denver, Colorado, and questioned
again about the incident. In his second confession, Packer stuck with
his original claim of self-defense, but admitted to stealing the rifle
and $70 in cash from the dead men. Packer was charged with the murder
of Israel Swan, the first to die, and was taken to Lake City for trial.
The jury wasted no time in finding Packer guilty of murder, and Judge
Melville B. Gerry pronounced that Packer "be hanged by the neck
until you are dead, dead, dead..." .
Packer appealed his conviction to the Colorado Supreme Court where the
verdict was reversed. He was tried again and this time found guilty of
manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in the state penitentiary.
After serving only 17 years of his sentence, Packer's cause was
championed by a grass-roots campaign in Denver. In 1901, Governor
Charles S. Thomas granted Packer's parole request.
Packer moved to Littleton, Colorado, where by all accounts he became a
model citizen, well liked by all of his neighbors. He died of natural
causes on April 23, 1907, and was buried with military funeral in
American Folk Figure. Known was the "The Colorado Cannibal". His name is
often misspelled as "Alferd," an error that stems from his own
His victims were Frank "Butcher" Miller, Israel Swann,
James Humphreys, George Noon, and Shannon Wilson Bell.
Born in Pennsylvania, he enlisted on April 22, 1862
in the 16th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, and was
mustered out at Fort Ontario, New York on December 29, 1862 suffering
from epilepsy. On June 10, 1863, he reenlisted again, in the 8th Iowa
Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, and was mustered out again just ten months
later in Cleveland, Tennessee, again due to his epilepsy.
In 1873, he was in Provo, Utah, looking for gold in
the rich Utah hills. In November 1873, he was with a party of 21 that
left Provo for Colorado, to attempt to find gold in the Rocky Mountains.
In early January 1874, the party met with Cheyenne Chief Ouray at the
Indian encampment near Montrose, Colorado. On February 9, 1874, he and
five others decide to push on for gold, leaving the others behind in the
Two months later, on April 6, Alfred Packer arrived
alone at the Los Pinos Indian Agency near Gunnison, Colorado.
A month later, he wrote his confession, stating that
Bell killed the other men, and he killed Bell in self defense. Since
there was no food, and they had brought inadequate provisions, he lived
by eating the dead men. (A second confession, written in March 1883,
gives more detail, and a third confession, written on August 7, 1897, is
even more detailed. However, each confession contradicts the earlier
confession in numerous details as to how the men died, and who killed
whom. The only consistent "facts" are that Packer admits to killing Bell
after Bell attacks him, and that he ate some of the dead men's flesh due
to starvation hunger).
A search party that was dispatched to the site foubd
the bodies as described. Alfred Packer escaped from jail, and went into
hiding under the alias "John Schwartze." In March 1883, a former fellow
miner, Frenchy Carbazon found him hiding out in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He
was arrested and returned to Colorado, where he was tried and sentenced
In 1885 his death sentence was reversed by the
Colorado Supreme Court due to a "grandfather's clause," and he was
retried and sentenced to forty years in prison.
In January 1901, Colorado Governor Thomas, convinced
by newspaper muckraker Poly Pry, granted Packer conditional parole, and
he was freed from prison but not allowed to leave the state of Colorado.
Upon release from prison, he moved to Deer Creek, Jefferson County,
Colorado, where he lived for the rest of his life, as a vegetarian. He
died in Phillipsburg, Colorado. In 1980, the story was made into a movie,
"The Legend of Alfred Packer," and a folk song was written about the
incident by Phil Ochs.
Alferd Packer (also spelled Alfred)
This was the first case of
cannibalism to have been tried in the U.S. Courts, and while he has many
supporters to this day who believe his consumption of human flesh was
justified by starvation, a modern forensic analysis has dispelled all
doubt about what he really did.
In 1874, Packer was hired to guide five
prospectors through the Colorado Mountains, the youngest of whom was a
teenager. Six weeks after they set out, Packer came alone into the Los
Pinos Indian Agency looking fit and well-fed, and spending money from
several wallets. He claimed that the harsh weather had killed the
others, but then strips of human flesh were found along the trail. That
cast some doubt on his shifting story. A few months later, the five
skeletons were located, and Packer fled across the state line.
Nine years went by
before he was caught and brought to Lake City, Colorado, for trial. A
prospector who had seen the victims in their decomposing state described
hatchet wounds on one of the skulls, and on slim evidence Packer was
convicted of premeditated murder. In a second trial, held due to
legislative error, he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to
forty years in prison. Eventually supporters won him a pardon in 1901.
His reputation restored, he was viewed as a victim of circumstances.
Then a forensic
expedition in 1989 exhumed the bones, which were in a surprisingly good
state of preservation, and the analysis was conclusive: there were
defensive wounds on some of the victims, and clear evidence that they
had been attacked by a hatchet and defleshed by a knife. Packer had
been an outright cannibal.
The Other Side Of The Coin
by Helen E. Waters
Alferd Packer (and that is believed to be the way he
usually spelled it), like the bad penny, turned up often enough in his
day to satisfy a lot of people.
But, while history records his bad reputation, there
is another side to the coin.
Packer, Colorado's alleged cannibal, spent his final
years at Phillipsburg, and a number of people in the Littleton and Deer
Creek Canyon area remember him kindly. They say Packer liked children -
and they were children at the time. It has been recorded that children
followed Packer "like the Pied Piper". One account states that Packer
died from natural causes in 1907 in Littleton, Colorado, and was mourned
by the children, for whom he had bought candy and spun yarns in his
The Packer story has been told many times. Briefly,
he was the sole surviver of a party of six who disregarded warnings and
left Chief Ouray's camp on a prospecting trip in the fall of 1873, bound
for gold fields near Breckenridge.
Beset by storms, the party took a wrong turn and
became hopelessly lost, and ran out of provisions.
According to one of Packer's confessions - and there
are several - he left his friends and climbed higher on the mountain to
scout around. When he returned, he said, he found only one of his
companions alive. This one man, he said, was in the act of roasting a
piece of human meat. When the man saw Packer, he allegedly came at him
with a hatchet, and Packer shot him in self-defense.
To shorten a long story, whose details are available
in many books, Packer then stumbled, sick and half frozen, (according to
one of several versions of the story) into the Los Pinos Indian Agency
on Cochetopa Creek in April, 1874.
When it was later discovered that the other five men
had been killed, Packer was jailed. He escaped, and for nine years,
under the name of John Swartze, remained free. He was subsequently
brought to trial and imprisoned for 17 years before his parole in 1901.
One of the more colorful stories states that a judge
spat at Packer, "There were seven Dimmycrats in Hinsdale County and you
et five of them!" The truth, apparently, is that the judge was a very
literate man and made no such statement.
Packer, in about 1905, moved to a cabin in
Phillipsburg near the site of the present building, once known as the
Lone Pine Dance Hall. He is said to have had a number of mining claims
in the area.
Fred Clark, former resident of Phillipsburg, and
one-time owner of the dance hall, now living in Littleton, described
Packer as having "kind of short, black whiskers, and his hair was a
little long, not too long, and he seemed to have awful piercing black
eyes." Clark, who was a little boy at the time, said he saw Packer only
Another lifelong resident, the late William Couch,
said, "Packer lived between the store and the dance hall. There were
four slab buildings there then. He worked on ranches." He continued, "He
was an awful nice man. I was a kid, and he used to talk to my dad. He
did what he did to protect himself. He never was the kind of man they
say he was."
About the murder of the five men, all of whose deaths
were blamed on Packer, Couch said, "Packer went off for something to eat,
and when he came back, one man came at him with an ax and he had to
shoot him. They were starving to death. Packer said he tried to eat a
piece of the one man's hip, but it made him deathly sick and he never
did it again. Just after that, they found him, I guess."
Alma Clawson Thorpe of Littleton said she lived in
Phillipsburg before Packer did, and didn't know him, but that she saw
him several times after she moved to Littleton. "He was said never to
eat meat after he came back," she reported. She said she didn't believe
the cannibal stories about him, and that Packer gathered children about
him and gave them candy and told them stories.
Laura Kuehster, who spent most of her life at
Critchell, a few miles south of Phillipsburg, said Packer lived at
Critchell before going to Phillipsburg, and that one Christmas, he gave
her a doll.
"I was a little kid four or five years old," she said,
"and I thought he was great."
In late 1906, so the story goes, a state game warden
found Packer unconscious in the yard of the Conaly Ranch about a mile
from his home. A Mrs. Van Alstine assumed his care for the remaining
months of his life. Clark said Mrs. Van Alstine's home was where the
McKinney Ranch now stands. According to the U.S. Geological Survey map,
the ranch lies along "Van Alderstien Gulch."
In 1940 Bishop Frank Hamilton Rice led six of his
followers plus a goat to the Packer gravesite in the Littleton Cemetery,
and in a macabre ceremony absolved Packer and his victims of sin,
transferring those sins to the goat, who, according to record, was
Whatever you may believe of the Packer story, and
Alferd Packer seems to have engendered strong feelings either for or
against him from those who knew him, the little wide spot known as
Phillipsburg has its permanent place in Colorado history as the last
home of Alferd Packer.
Alferd Packer, a Cannibal, was born in
Allegheny County, PA., January 21st, 1842. He was by occupation, a
shoemaker. At the age of 20, he enlisted in the Union Army, April 22nd,
1862, at Winona, Minnesota, and was honorably discharged December 29th,
1862, at Fort Ontario, New York, due to disability. He went west working
at his trade and engaged in prospecting.
On November 8th, 1873, as a guide for a party of 21
men, he left Bingham Canyon, Utah to go to the gold fields of the
Colorado Territory. Part of their food supply was accidentally lost
crossing a river on a raft. A most severe winter made travel extremely
hazardous. The food ran out. Late in January of 1874 they found shelter
and food at Chief Ouray's camp near Montrose, Colorado. On February 9th,
Packer and five companions left the camp, contrary to the advice of
Packer arrived alone at the Los Pinos Indian Agency,
near Saguache, Colorado on April 16th, 1874. He was fat and had plenty
of money. His conduct invited suspicion and questioning by Otto Mears
and General Adams. Packer broke down and made two confessions. He
admitted that he had lived off the flesh of his five companions the
bigger part of the sixty days he was lost between Lake San Cristobal and
the Los Pinos Agency.
The five bodies were found. Packer was placed in a
dungeon in Saguache, but made good his escape through the aid of an
accomplice on August 8th, 1874. He was arrested eight years later near
Fort Fetterman, Wyoming, March 11th, 1883. He was tried in Lake City,
Colorado, April 6th-13th, 1883, found guilty and sentenced to death.
The Lynch Mob was ready to take over. To prevent this,
Packer was moved during the night to the Gunnison jail, where he
remained for three years. His case was appealed to the Colorado Supreme
Court and reversed on October 30th, 1885 (8 Colo. 361, 8 Pac. 564) due
to a technicality, because he was charged after a Territorial law, but
tried under a State law. The second trial was held in Gunnison,
Colorado, August 2nd-5th, 1886. The jury returned a verdict of guilty of
manslaughter for each of the five victims, or a total of forty years.
Packer served in the penitentiary at Canon City,
Colorado from 1886-1901. Sob sister Polly Pry of The Denver Post, and
lawyer Wm. W. "Plug Hat" Anderson were given the task of getting Packer
paroled. "Plug Hat" came up with the proposition that the offense,
having occurred on an Indian Reservation, the trial should have been in
a Federal court and not a State court. There appears to be merit to this
Bonfils and Tammen, owners of The Denver Post and the
Sells-Floto Circus, wanted Packer as a sideshow freak. Governor Charles
S. Thomas sent to Salt Lake City for ex-Gunnison County sheriff, Doc
Shores. Doc told of intercepting Packer's mail. Doc testified that Al
was filthy, vulgar, selfish, and to sum it up, a disgrace to the human
race. The Post was winning the fight, but the Governor had an ace up his
sleeve. On January 10th, 1901, Packer signed a parole agreement that
provided, "He (Packer) shall proceed at once to Denver, and there remain,
if practicable, for a period of at least six years and nine months from
Packer had earned about $1,500 making hair rope and
hair bridles while a prisoner. He paid "Plug Hat" a fee of twenty-five
dollars. Bon and Tam demanded half of the fee. An argument developed in
Bonfils' office. Present were Bonfils, Tammen, Polly Pry and Anderson.
Bonfils struck Anderson across the face. Anderson went across the street,
got his gun and returned to the office, entered without knocking and
shot Bonfils in the neck and chest and Tammen in the shoulder and chest.
Both ducked under Polly's full skirt. Anderson had fired four times and
had one shot left in his gun. He was waiting to use that last bullet.
Bonfils raised Polly's skirt to see what was going on. Anderson noticed
that Bonfils was shaking like a leaf and that he was dripping wet. This
struck Anderson's funny bone, and he jumped up and down and rocked with
laughter. That laughter saved the lives of the owners of The Post.
Anderson was tried three times for the crime of
assault with the intent to murder. The first trial started April 19th,
1900 and lasted nine days. The jury disagreed and was discharged. The
same result was produced after a nine-day trial on August 2nd, 1901. The
third trial started November 12th, 1901, and four days later the jury
returned a verdict of "not guilty."
The defense attorney, Col. John G. Taylor, made the
statement, "I believe that The Denver Times was fairer to us than any
other paper. The tone all the way through showed the facts exactly as
they were, and I desire to give due credit to the stand the paper took
in the matter." The trial judge said to Anderson: "Your motive was
admirable, but your marksmanship was abominable."
Packer died April 23rd, 1907 and is buried in
Littleton, Colorado. Thousands of tourists visit his grave every summer.
Gene Fowler, Ralph Carr, Herndon Davis, and Fred
Mazzulla popularized the Packer Story. The four men organized "The
Packer Club". For one dollar fifty, one could buy a Packer
sandwich along with an official membership card. The card read: "They
was siven Dimmycrats in Hinsdale County, but you, yah voracious, man-eatin'
son of a bitch, yah eat five of thim!" At the bottom of the membership
charter form it continued: "I agrees to eliminat five Nu Deal Dimmycrats
witch makes me a mimber of th' Packer Club of Colorado". Even official "Execution
Of Alferd Packer" invitations were drafted and signed by the sheriff of
Let's not condemn poor Packer
Nor crowd his soul with abuse
Though he hardly would merit approval,
"Hunger" is a valid excuse.
Politicians, historians and authors
Have scoured his very last bone.
Yet out through the timeless forever
His soul wanders alone.
- - Olive Nagel Porter - -
ALFRED PACKER: THE
MANEATER OF COLORADO
By Katherine Ramsland
A Fateful Journey
In the ColoradoRockies
Where the snow is deep and cold
And a man afoot can starve to death
Unless he's brave and bold
Oh Alfred Packer
You'll surely go to hell
While all the others starved to death
You dined a bit too well
---from The Ballad of Alfred Packer
The strange odyssey of Alfred G. Packer has generated
much controversy over the years, from those who believe he murdered and
cannibalized five men for his own profit to those who insist he was
innocent of murder and merely ate human flesh to survive. He's
considered something of a local hero in some parts of
Colorado, and despite evidence
that supports his more nefarious side, people continue to defend him.
From books to newspaper accounts during the time of
tabloid journalism to official documents in the Colorado State Archives,
there are nearly as many versions of the story as Packer himself told.
All rely on him as the sole witness, with the exception of those who saw
the results of what he had done.
In 1873, Alfred Packer, 31, went with a group of 20
other prospectors from
Utah, near Salt Lake
City, into the San Juan Mountains
in Colorado to seek wealth
from mining minerals, including gold. He claimed to have been the guide
for this expedition, but there is evidence that this may have been an
exaggeration if not an outright fabrication. Apparently some of the food
supply was lost along the way, and the would-be miners grew hungry and
The party arrived in January 1874 into Chief Ouray's
Ute camp in northwestern
Colorado, near Montrose, where
they were cared for and urged to remain until spring. At that time of
year, the mountain passes were treacherous, the Ute said, and snow could
bury men. It would not be wise to proceed.
Nevertheless, a handful of these prospectors could
not wait. They wanted to get to the mines before anyone else. Five of
them, frenzied by the prospecting spirit, decided to risk all and
continue over the mountains to the Los Piños Indian Agency on Cochetopa
Creek near Saguache and
Gunnison. Packer joined them. They left on February 9. (Many
years later, Packer claimed that another group of five had gone out
With a 10-day supply of food for a 75-mile trip (they
apparently thought it was 40), the doomed men who left Chief Ouray's
camp with Packer were Shannon Wilson Bell, Israel Swan, James Humphrey,
Frank "Reddy" Miller, and George "California" Noon, who was only 18.
Aside from Packer, that was the last time anyone saw these men alive.
More than two months passed and people wondered where
they were. The next event is confusing. Either a party of prospectors
came through in the spring and asked about them, sending out search
parties, or Packer himself emerged. The popular story has it that Packer
came out alone from the winter wilderness and walked into the Los Piños
Indian Agency. It was April 16 (the Colorado State Archives say April
6). Some witnesses say they saw him in the nearby town of
Saguache more than a week earlier.
Oddly, when he arrived, he had several wallets in his
possession from which he extracted rolls of money, and although he
professed having gone for more than a day without food, he asked for
nothing to eat. He just wanted some whiskey. He mentioned that he'd hurt
his leg and had fallen behind, so he was not sure where the others from
his party were. He had expected them to beat him out of the mountains.
But the prospectors had not been seen. People who
listened to his tales at the saloon thought that he'd taken the dead
men's possessions. Then, an Indian guide walking along the trail found
strips of meat, which turned out to be human flesh. Packer's tales began
to sound like outright lies. From all appearances, he had killed the
others, survived off their meat, and enriched himself with their assets.
The pressure was on to get a coherent account out of
About a month after he emerged from the wilderness
alone, Packer admitted that he knew what had happened to the others in
his party and he was willing to provide details. On May 8, his
confession was given and signed under General Charles Adams' supervision
at the Los Piños Indian Agency.
Right away, poor weather conditions hindered the
party's progress, Packer said, and their supplies eventually ran out.
Streams and lakes were too frozen or treacherous to fish, and wild game
was scarce. They could not turn back, but they were not optimistic about
going forward, either. Since they were already starving, their situation
looked bleak. Packer's statement to General Adams indicated that the
other five men had died at various stages of their journey, either as
starvation overtook them or as they were killed in self-defense from one
another's hunger-maddened attacks. Ultimately, the bodies were found at
various places along the trail.
Israel Swan, being the oldest at around 65, died
first, about 10 days after the group departed, and the survivors had all
taken pieces from him to eat. Then four or five days later, James
Humphrey died and "was also eaten." He proved to have $133 in his pocket
and Packer admitted that he had taken it. The man was no longer going to
need it, so why not? Why the other two did not search the body or
question Packer's theft is not clear.
The third man to die — Packer referred to him as "the
Butcher" — was Frank Miller, in an "accident" that occurred while Packer
was searching for wood. He did not specify what kind of accident. The
other two who were still alive decided to eat him, since he was dead,
and Packer returned to find this activity already in progress. The next
to go was the boy, George Noon. Packer reported that while he was off
for several days hunting for game,
Bell had shot "California"
with Swan's gun. Packer had returned and together
they ate him. That left only Packer and
Despite the fact that they had just dined, it seems
Bell decided that he was going to be
the only survivor.
wanted to kill me," Packer's report indicates, "struck at me with his
rifle, struck a tree and broke his gun." So Packer had killed him first.
And that left only one.
Why Packer had not offered this tale immediately upon
returning to the settlement is not made clear in his confession, and
perhaps was not even questioned. He swore that this statement was the
truth "and nothing but the truth, so help me God."
Knowing that the five prospectors lay out in the open
somewhere, a search party went out, led by a reluctant Packer. He took
them where he believed he had last seen the others, but they failed to
find the missing prospectors.
It seems clear in retrospect, in view of what came
next, that Packer was scheming for a way to clear himself or get away.
But before he could do anything, he was arrested and jailed in Saguache
on suspicion of murder.
Apparently the authorities did not believe his
account. Their suspicions were soon confirmed. As it turned out, the
lost prospectors had not been killed one by one and left along the way.
Packer's confession was a lie.
A Grisly Find
In August 1874, John A. Randolph, an artist sent out
to Colorado for Harper's Weekly Magazine, came across a startling
sight at Slumgullion Pass: Five sets of human remains lay in a cluster
near the bank of the lake fork of the Gunnison River, just two miles
from present-day Lake City. He realized at once that this had to be the
prospectors. (One account states that a road-building crew found the
remains first, but there are no records about the find at that time, so
it's likely untrue that anyone had discovered them before
Among the remains were pieces of torn clothing,
blankets, and some shreds of flesh, but weather and animals had clearly
done damage to the evidence. Their feet were still bound in the blankets
that they had torn for that purpose, and
Randolph found no shoes, cooking
utensils, or guns around them. It appeared that they had not only been
murdered where they lay but also horribly ravaged, and one set of
remains was missing its head. Two had pieces of flesh cut out, one out
of the breast and one out of the thigh, and one appeared to have put up
Randolph spent some time at the site,
sketching them all in a detailed composition that would be immortalized,
and then reported his discovery.
The HinsdaleCounty coroner, W. F. Ryan, hurried
to the spot with 20 other men to hold an inquest, but unfortunately for
history, he put nothing into writing. A member of the original party
that had left Utah, Preston Nutter, identified the remains as those of
his former companions, and by a process of elimination it was determined
that Frank Miller was the one without a head.
The coroner made sure that the witnesses all got a
good look for the approaching trial and then had the bodies buried
together in graves on a high bluff nearby, overlooking the spot of their
discovery. Individual slabs were set up to memorialize each of the
Randolph also sketched the burial
place, and the area became known as "Dead Man's Gulch."
After they finished this grisly deed and returned to
town to confront Packer with his obvious lies, they learned that he had
escaped from the sieve-like jail at Saguache. Some said he'd had the
assistance of an accomplice. Where he might have gone, no one knew.
Alfred or Alferd?
There's long been confusion over the correct spelling
of Packer's name. Official documents from the military, court
proceedings, and even his tombstone list it as Alfred G. Packer. Yet
during his first stint in the military, he had written it as Alferd, and
had that spelling tattooed on his arm. (Or the tattoo artist made the
error, which amused him, and he subsequently adopted it—depending on
which account is to be believed.) He was known to spell it this way on
other occasions as well. The invitations to his hanging followed suit.
Packer was born on November 21, 1842 (some say
January 21) in
Pennsylvania. As he grew up, he learned the
cobbler trade. Then the Civil War broke out, involving
Pennsylvania, and he was of the
right age to enlist.
When he was 19, he went west and enlisted in the 16th
U.S. Infantry in Winona, Minn., but by the end of
the year, epilepsy had forced him out with an honorable discharge. By
June 1863, he was back, enlisting in the 8th Regiment in the Iowa
Calvary. Once again, he didn't last. He was "mustered out," due to
epilepsy. One report says that he served with General Custer, as a
Ten years later, he was among those who left
Utah on a mining expedition. He
said that he'd driven ore wagons in some mining camps, which gave him
the expertise to guide, but it turned out to everyone's misfortune that
he actually knew very little about the area to which they were going.
The fact that he had taken the opportunity to escape
from jail, rather than face a tribunal of his peers, suggested to many
that he was a liar, thief, and murderer.
Yet it was a big country and he knew his way around
the wilderness, so it seemed probable he might disappear rather than be
brought to justice. Months went by, and then years.
Packer managed to elude the law for nine years by
living under the assumed name of John Schwartze. No one knows how he
made a living for all that time or why he ventured back so close to
where people knew him, but finally in March 1883, Frenchy Cabizon, a
former member of the original party, recognized his laugh in a saloon in
Fort Fetterman, Wyo. Packer was captured only 300 miles from
where he'd begun to run. Unmasked and rearrested, he went before a grand
jury, which returned five indictments against him for the hatchet
murders of the five hapless prospectors. Packer offered yet a second
confession on March 16, 1883,
again under the supervision of the same General Adams.
He said that he and the others had left Chief Ouray's
camp with seven days' worth of food provisions for one man—in other
words, not much. After two or three days, they encountered a snowstorm.
As they moved from mountain to gulch, they found the deep snow
impenetrable in places. By the fourth day, they had only a pint of flour
left out of all their provisions. They just kept going.
Ten days into their treacherous trek, as they were
surviving on rosebuds and pine gum, some of them showed signs of serious
depression, even madness. They came upon a lake and cut holes in the ice
to fish, but had no luck. They continued on.
Swan was growing angry and told Packer to go up the
mountain with the rifle and scout out the terrain. Packer claimed that
he was a guide for the others. He said that when he went scouting, all
he could find was more snow. The situation looked hopeless, especially
Bell had been acting crazy that
morning, as if hunger were twisting his mind.
When Packer returned with nothing positive to report,
he said that he found Bell sitting by a fire roasting a large piece of
meat, "which he had cut out of the leg of the German butcher," i.e.,
"The latter's body was lying the furthest off from
the fire down the stream, his skull was crushed in with a hatchet. The
other three men were lying near the fire, they were cut in the forehead
with the hatchet. Some had two, some three cuts."
As Packer approached the fire,
picked up the bloody hatchet to attack him, too. In self-defense, Packer
claimed, he shot the man through the stomach, sideways. When
Bell dropped his hatchet and fell
onto his face, Packer grabbed it and used it on him, hitting him in the
top if the head to ensure that his would-be attacker was indeed dead.
Then he spent the night in despair. He tried to leave the camp the next
day, leaving the four dead men behind, but the snow was too deep, so he
had to return to the gruesome arena. He covered the dead, but for
several weeks, lived on the flesh that Swan had already cut from one of
Each day, he made a renewed attempt to leave, but
each day the snow thwarted him, so he took more flesh from the dead. He
estimated that he survived this way for about two months. "I could not
eat but a little at a time."
Finally, when the snow looked to be thawing and
crusting over, Packer packed a few pieces of human flesh, a gun, $70
dollars he had found on the men, and went on his way. Just before he
reached the Agency, at his very last camp, he consumed the last pieces
of meat. (He does not account for how some strips of human flesh were
found along the way.)
He admitted that when he had led the 1874 party in
search of the bodies, he had not gone all the way back because he had
not wanted to venture closer to that site.
Packer added that he had escaped from jail by using a
penknife as a key and had initially gone to
Arizona before heading to
Once again, he claimed that this was a true
confession, voluntarily made and sworn before a notary public. It was
not his final version of the story.
Tried for Murder
Alfred Packer's trial began on
April 6, 1883, at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in
Lake City, Colorado, for
the murder of the elderly Israel Swan. According to witnesses, Swan's
remains had shown evidence of a hand-to-hand struggle, implicating
Packer in a much more violent episode than shooting a man in self-defense.
Besides, it was not Swan he had claimed to shoot, but Bell. So why had
Swan appeared to have struggled to save himself?
Judge Melville B. Gerry presided. Preston Nutter, who
had identified the five victims in the clearing, testified as a lay
witness to what he had seen and what he knew. Using illustrations, he
described for the jury the positions of the bodies as they had been
found and said that all but one bore hatchet wounds to the head. That
lone individual had been struck hard in the back of the head, which was
Oddly, the coroner — the man in the best position to
offer a professional analysis — did not testify at all. He wasn't even
called to do so. Since he had never recorded his observations of the
condition of the remains, there was nothing in writing about the details
to which the court could refer. In fact, no one who was experienced in
criminal investigation testified at this trial. It was mostly a matter
of who the jury would believe, and no one was a true eyewitness of the
events save Packer himself.
When recalled later in the trial, Preston Nutter
described a hole he had seen in a bone severed from one of the bodies,
and in his layman's opinion said it looked like a gunshot wound. He also
described how the clothing of the deceased men had been "cut and ripped
up." He offered no explanation as to what he meant.
Taking the witness stand, Packer defended himself for
more than two hours, and in the process told several significant lies.
He lied about his age, the nature of his military service, the fact that
he had enlisted twice and been discharged twice, and the cause of his
epilepsy, which he said had resulted from walking guard duty.
Addressing the issue at hand, he denied any blame in
the deaths of most of the party, but he admitted that he had shot and
killed a hatchet-wielding Wilson Bell in self-defense. He also spoke of
the deaths of the others, and said that some of those who had survived
longer had eaten the others to stay alive (a direct contradiction of his
second confession, in which only
Bell had done this). However when
all of this gruesome activity allegedly had occurred, Packer himself had
been scouting for a trail or for food. He returned to find human remains
already boiling in a stewpot, although he did admit to taking meat from
the bones of two of the deceased (Bell and Miller) to stay his own
Because he'd offered several versions of his
experiences at different times, and had admitted to taking the victims'
belongings and money, despite his superficial patter, things did not go
well for him. Worse still, on the witness stand, he was quarrelsome and
flippant. Some of his fabrications were transparent attempts to save
Like most liars, Packer believed he had made his case
with his detailed presentation, but the jury did not accept his version
of the tale. On Friday the 13th of April in 1883, nine years
after he had emerged from the wilderness, Alfred Packer was convicted of
the premeditated murder of Israel Swan.
Legend has it that Judge Gerry then pronounced the
sentence as "Stand up yah voracious man-eatin' sonofabitch and receive
yir sitince. When yah came to
HinsdaleCounty, there was siven dimmycrats.
But you, yah et five of 'em, goddam yah. I sintince yah t' be hanged by
th' neck ontil yer dead, dead, dead, as a warnin' ag'in reducin' th'
Dimmycratic populayshun of this county. Packer, you Republican cannibal,
I would sintince ya ta hell but the statutes forbid it."
What Gerry, a literate man, actually said, according
to court documents, was, "Close your ears to the blandishments of hope.
Listen not to the flattering promises of life, but prepare for the dread
certainty of death." He was apparently convinced that the motive for the
murder was robbery, not survival or self-defense.
In a long statement, Gerry claimed that the sentence
was painful for him to pronounce: "I would to God the cup might pass
from me!" He mentioned that the murder was "revolting in all its details"
and that the trial had been fair, with a jury of 12 impartial men.
Gerry's version was that the five victims laid down to go to sleep and
Packer exploited their trust and vulnerability to effect his attack.
Although he had been convicted only of the death of Israel Swan, the
assumption in Gerry's admonition was that Packer had willfully murdered
the entire crew.
"To other sickening details of your crime I will not
refer," said Gerry. "Silence is kindness." Clearly, he was referring to
the cannibalism of human remains.
He did seem to think that Packer's conscience had
bothered him all these years and kept his crimes fresh in his mind. "You,
Alfred Packer, sowed the wind. You must now reap the whirlwind Your life
must be taken as the penalty for your crime."
Alfred Packer was condemned to be hanged on
May 19, 1883, "until you are dead, dead, dead, and may
God have mercy upon your soul."
Contrary to many stories told years later, and even
today (see Internet biographies), Packer was never charged with, tried
for, or convicted of cannibalism, or crimes related to cannibalism.
But it was not over yet. The Maneater was not about
to be hanged, and he had one more version of the story to tell.
Two years later, Packer won the right to a new trial,
to take place in
Gunnison, about thirty miles away. The Colorado Supreme
Court had set aside the murder conviction, based on a technical
legislative oversight: Packer could not be tried in 1883 for a crime he
had committed in 1874, because there had been no state murder statute in
1874 that allowed for it. In other words, he had been arrested when
Colorado was a territory but tried
when Colorado was a state.
Some later said that he had committed the crime on an Indian reservation,
so by all rights he should have been tried in a Federal court, not a
State court. At any rate, he was retried in 1896 for all five deaths —
not just Israel Swan — on a different charge: voluntary manslaughter.
The jury in that trial also convicted him (some
reports say it was the same jury) but they only sentenced him to 40
years (eight for each of the five deaths) in the state penitentiary.
On August 7, 1897, he wrote a letter to D.C. Hatch of
the Denver Rocky Mountain News, with the longest version yet of
the events that had taken place on that snowy mountain pass. Much of it
was reprinted in the newspaper—though dramatized a bit.
He claimed that even before the six men set out, the
entire party of 21 had been suffering from extreme hunger due to lack of
planning and supplies on the trip from Utah.
They were living on horse feed. Chief Ouray gave them assistance and
they camped near his settlement. He told them that the mountains were
He then said that a man named Lutzenheiser and four
others decided to go on across the mountains to the Agency. Ouray
supposedly told them that it was only 40 miles away, when in fact it was
80. They soon ran out of supplies and cast lots to see who would become
food for the others. But they spotted a coyote, and so spared anyone
from being killed. Not long after, they came across a cow and killed
that as well. The cow's owner followed Lutzenheiser's tracks and took
him back to a camp. He found the others and aided them as well. When
they revived, they started out again. (Packer claims that this was all a
matter of court record.) They were again picked up near exhaustion and
At this point, Packer returns to the experience of
his own party of six. They left about a week after Lutzenheiser's party
and took a different trail. Their provisions lasted about nine days.
Three days after the food ran out, they cooked and ate their rawhide
moccasins, wrapping their feet in blankets.
"Our suffering at this time was most intense," he
wrote, "such in fact, that the inexperienced cannot imagine."
They kept going, since the snow quickly buried their
trail from behind. He again points out that Wilson Bell suffered mental
derangement from starvation, and everyone else was frightened of him.
They finally descended to the lake fork of the
GunnisonRiver and camped there. In the
morning, Packer went to look for signs of civilization. When he returned,
Bell alone, just as he had related
in a prior telling. But in this retelling,
Bell came at him, he shot in self-defense,
and then he realized that the other men were murdered.
"Can you imagine my situation? My companions dead and
I left alone, surrounded by the
horrors of starvation as well as those of utter isolation?"
He could hardly believe he had ever returned in a
rational frame of mind.
He sat down and saw the flesh that
Bell had cut from Miller, cooking on
the fire. But he did not partake. Instead, he laid it aside and covered
his slain comrades. Finally in the morning, he ate some of the flesh and
it made him feel ill. "My mind at this period failed me." He did not
want to believe it but he thought he must have eaten some of the flesh.
He could not recall.
He stayed there for some time, he did not know how
long, but in his wandering, looking for food, he somehow stumbled into
the Agency. Without realizing it, he had traveled 40 miles.
Although by all reports, he came in looking quite
healthy, he claims in this letter that he had to be taken care of for
three weeks. He learned the Lutzenheiser and his party also made it out,
and the rest of the 21 men who had begun the trip had come over with the
Ute. Packer says that he confessed at once that he had killed
Bell but had attributed the deaths of the others
Bell (not consistent with his
initial confession before General Adams). He claimed that he had been
unable to show anyone where his comrades had lain because deep snow had
driven them back.
He was then arrested and he said that it was the
sheriff who actually let him go and told him to go away. The sheriff
apparently had taken compassion on him for all that he had been through.
(He does not explain why, if he was freed by the law, he then had to
live under an assumed name.)
"Am I the villainous wretch which some have asserted
me to be?" he asks. "No man can be more heartily sorry for the acts of
twenty-four years ago than I."
He felt he had been unjustly dealt with, there having
been no motive for why he would attack his fellow man. The ghosts of the
dead men, he believed, knew that he was innocent.
Eventually, with some political assistance, he was
freed from prison.
The Maneater's Last Days
After serving 16 years in prison, Packer made a
petition for parole. His case was reviewed and parole was denied. A
reporter at the Denver Post, Polly Pry, grew interested in his
case and believed he was innocent. She began a campaign for Packer's
release, and with the paper's support, got the attention of the governor.
Packer made another application for parole, based on
his deteriorating physical condition, and in 1901, the parole was
approved. The prison physician had certified that Packer was suffering
from Bright's Disease, which made further confinement dangerous in terms
of its aggravating factors. In addition, Packer had persuaded prominent
men around the state, notably reporters and the owners of the Denver
Post, to sign a petition on his behalf. The owners believed they
could get Packer to be a side-show freak in the Sells-Floto Circus for
The governor had not changed his mind about the
offenses, so Packer was not pardoned, but he did see warrant in
permitting him to be released from imprisonment.
He went to Denver
and worked at the newspaper as a guard, but city life did not please him,
so he moved to
JeffersonCounty. Yet he did not have long to
enjoy his freedom. His final years were spent managing two mines and
telling children the stories of his adventures as he dealt with his
liver and stomach ailments. Many said that he was a nice old man.
Late in 1906, a state game warden found Packer
unconscious a mile from his home, and for the few months that remained
to him, he came into the care of a Mrs. Van Alstine. Just before he died
on April 24, 1907,
from a stroke (listed as "senility—trouble & worry"), he wrote a letter
to the governor to request a full pardon. No action was taken. Buried in
Littleton, Colorado, at Prince Avenue Cemetery, Lot 65, he had (and
continued to gain) many supporters who believed that he was a victim of
circumstance and had killed other men because he was starving --
although at both of his trials, he himself had eschewed this claim.
He was buried at government expense, because he was
considered a military veteran and for years had received a disability
pension of $25 a month—for which he had filed from prison claiming his
epilepsy had derived from his stint in the military.
The military also paid for a tombstone, which read, "Alfred
Packer, Co. F. 16 U.S. Inf."
According to the Littleton,
Colorado newspaper, the Independent,
Packer's last words before he died were, "I'm not guilty of the charge."
Years after the fact, in 1928 (or 1968), the citizens
LakeCity erected a monument for the
victims and threw a community fish fry. Exactly where the victims had
been buried, however, proved to be a source of some contention.
In 1981, Governor Lamm denied Judge Kushner's
posthumous pardon of Alfred Packer. Then in 1989, an event occurred that
drew the nation's attention back to this man.
Another Look at the Victims
James E. Starrs, a law professor from The George
Washington University in
D.C. visited Gunnison
one day in 1989 and heard some of the stories. Having long been curious
about Packer's two trials and his chosen defense, he looked for the spot
where the victims had been buried. Townspeople directed him to various
places like Dead Man's Gulch, but no one was altogether certain. Starrs
decided to ask the owners of the property on which a monument with the
victims' names had been erected if he could dig down and find evidence
of the remains. They granted permission, he obtained insurance and
several grants, and planned for an archaeological dig. He wrote about
the experience in his own newsletter, Scientific Sleuthing Review.
The dig commenced on July 17, 1989, a bright sunny
day, with a team that included anthropologists, archaeologists,
photographers, student diggers, a lawyer, and other forensic personnel.
Local media were on hand from around the state to document anything that
was found. After checking the soil composition and pH level, Starrs
started the dig with a team of experts who had brought in a ground-penetrating
radar device. After they ran the machine over the area, they told him
they suspected that whatever anomaly was below the surface was not very
deep—possibly only a foot. They advised against using a backhoe, lest
the shovel crush bones that might be close to the surface.
So the anthropologists and students took over with
hand trowels and it wasn't long before they discovered human remains.
Digging for the rest of the day, they uncovered all five victims, laid
out side-by-side. The bones were not intermingled, which made things
easier for the forensic anthropologists, and they were photographed,
boxed, labeled, and taken to the anthropology lab at the
There the bones were laid out and carefully examined,
while a few pieces were sent on to the anthropological curator of the
Smithsonian Institution, Douglas Ubelaker, for dating and age analysis.
Using known data, they managed to figure out the
identities of each set of remains, and then did a more detailed
examination for bone damage.
It can be difficult to make decisions about cause of
death on skeletal remains unless there has been a wound from bullet,
knife or blunt force that penetrated or broke a bone. In this case,
given the various witness accounts, they did expect to find trauma, so
they were careful to document everything.
One of the anthropologists, upon seeing the bones,
had shouted that there was a bullet hole in one set of remains, but it
turned out to be a hole that animals had gnawed and could not be
ascertained as having been made by any weapon. (Nevertheless, the story
got into the newspapers erroneously.) Three of the bodies had blunt
force blows to the head, as well as cuts to the arms and hands, which
Professor Starrs interpreted as defensive wounds. He also believed that
nicks on the bones that appeared to have been made by a knife was
evidence of defleshing.
While not everyone on the team agreed about how much
actual support there was for making a definitive statement, Starrs went
on record as saying that Packer was a murdering cannibal and liar.
The remains were reburied in a wooden box in the same
spot, with a solemn ceremony.
In the meantime, in 1997, a curator for the
collection of the
Museum of Western
Colorado in Gunnison,
claimed to have discovered Packer's revolver, an 1862 Colt. It had been
collected from the massacre site, he said, when the victims were
initially discovered. It was loaded, with three bullets in the chamber.
According to some reports, including curator David Bailly's, this
discovery corroborates the details of Packer's account—or at least of
one of his confessions.
Starrs disputes that Packer owned such a gun and says
there are no records that a revolver was recovered when the victims'
remains were found.
Regardless of whether Packer owned such a gun, the
fact that he'd shot a bullet or two is no indication that he killed in
self defense. He might have shot at some game, or he might have outright
murdered one or more of his party. Even a bullet hole located on any
member of the party would not clarify that issue.
Packer's guilt or innocence may always remain a
mystery, but his story continues to fascinate scholars and lay people
The Legend Lives On
People have not forgotten Alfred (or Alferd) Packer.
While a collected archive of documents exists in
Colorado, from his prison record to the court
cases to his bid for parole, other forms of entertainment poke fun at
Boulder named their student
cafeteria The Alfred Packer Memorial Grill, apparently as a derisive
statement about the food served there.
A documentary movie was made, The Legend of Alfred
Packer, as well as two musicals (which appear to be mostly a joke).
One is supposedly called Cannibal! The Musical, and the other
Alferd Packer The Musical. The former is said to have been made by
the creators of
Park, while the latter is a clearly
amateur attempt either at film-making or Internet practical jokes.
Roadside attractions on the way to
LakeCity, along "Cannibal Trail," make
light of the fact that five men died with caricatures and cannibal
At the HinsdaleCountyMuseum, one can see an alleged skull
piece from one of the victims, the shackles that Packer wore in prison,
and buttons from the clothing of the victims.
Thousands of tourists visit his grave every year.
Colorado State Archives - The Alfred Packer
Old man Swan died first and was eaten by the other
five persons, about ten days out from camp; four or five days afterwards
Humphrey died and was also eaten; he had about one hundred and thirty
three dollars. I found the pocket-book and took the money. Some time
afterwards while I was carrying wood, the Butcher was killed as the
other two told me accidentally and he was eaten. Bell shot "California"
with Swan's gun, and I killed Bell; shot him - covered up the remains,
and took a large piece along. T hen traveled fourteen days into the "Agency"
Bell wanted to kill me, struck at me with his rifle, struck a tree and
broke his gun.
I A.G. Packer do solemnly swear that the above statement is true and
nothing but the truth So help me God.
A. G. Packer
Sworn to and subscribed before me this 8th day of May A.D. 1874. James
P. Downer J.P.
The above is noted to be a "copy of statement made by
Alfred Packer at Los Pinos Agency 1874" which was "filed April 4/83"
Arthur P. Cook, Clerk.
I, Alfred Packer, desire to make true and voluntary
statement in regard to the occurrences in Southern Colorado during the
winter of 1873 - 1874. I wish to make it to General Adams because I have
made one once before about the same matter.
When we left Ouray's camp we had about seven days of
food for one man, we traveled two or three days and it came a storm. We
came to a mountain, crossed a gulch and came onto another mountain,
found the snow so deep, had to follow the mountain on the to p and on
about the 4th day we had about a pint of flour left; we followed the
mountain, until we came to the main range, do not remember how many days
we were travling then - about 10 days - living on rosebuds and pine gum
and some men were crying and pr aying. Then we came over the main range
we camped twice on a stream which runs into a big Lake, the second time
just above the lake. The next morning we crossed the lake cut holes into
the ice to catch fish, there were no fish so we tried to catch snail s,
the ice was thin, so some broke through. We crossed the lake and went
into a grove of timber, all the men crying and one of them was angry -
Swan asked me to go up and find out whether I could see something from
the mountians - I took the gun and went up the hill. Found a gulch and
came onto another mountain, found a big rosebush with buds sticking
through the snow, but could see nothing but snow all around. I was a
kind of a guide for them but I did not know the mountains from that side.
When I ca me back to camp after being gone nearly all day I found the
redheaded man [Bell] who acted crazy in the morning sitting near the
fire roasting a piece of meat which he had cut out of the leg of the
german butcher [Miller] the latters body was lying the fu rthest off
from the fire down the stream, his skull was crushed in with the hatchet.
The other three men were lying near the fire, they were cut in the
forehead with the hatchet some had two some three cuts - I came winthin
a rod of the fire, when the ma n saw me, he got up with his hatchet
towards me when I shot him sideways through the belly, he fell on his
face, the hatchet fell forwards. I grabbed it and hit him in the top of
the head. I camped that night at the fire, sat up all night, the next
morn ing I followed my tracks up the mountain but I could not make it,
the snow was too deep and I came back, I went sideways into a piece of
pine timber set up two sticks and covered it with pine boughs and then
made a shelter about three feet high, this was my camp until I came out.
I went back to the fire covered the men up and fetched to the camp the
piece of meat that was near the fire. I made a new fire near my camp and
cooked the piece of meat and ate it. I tried to get away every day but
could not s o I lived off the flesh of these men, the bigger part of the
60 days I was out. Then the snow began to have a crust and I started out
up the creek to a place where a big slide seemed to come down the
mountian of yellowish clay there I started to get up b ut got my feet
wet and having only piece of blanket around them I froze my feet under
the toes and I camped before I reached the top of the hill making a fire
on top of a log - and on two logs close together [and] I camped [there].
I cooked some of the flesh and carried it with me for food. I carried
one blanket. There was seventy dollars amongst the men I fetched it out
with me and one gun. The redheaded men had a 50 Dollar Bill in his
pocket all the others together had only 20 Dollars. I had 20 Do llars
myself. If there was any more money in the outfit, I did not know of it
and it remains there. At the last camp just before I reached the Agency
I ate my last pieces of meat This meat I cooked at the camp before I
started out and put it in to a bag and carried the bag with me, I could
not eat but a little at a time. When I went out with the party to search
for the bodies, we came to the mountains overlooking the stream but I
did not want to take them further. I did not want to go back to the camp
myself. If I had stood in that vicinity longer I would have taken you
[Mr. Adams] right to the place, but they advised me to go away [refusing
to tell the names of the parties]. When I was at the Sheriff in Saguache
I was passed a key made out of a pen knife blade with which I could
unlock the irons I went to the Arkansas and worked all summer for John
Gill 18 miles below Pueblo, then I rented Gilberts ranche still further
down, put in a crop of corn, sold it to John Gill and went to Arizona.
State of Colorado
County of Arapahoe
I, Al Packer, of my own free will and voluntarily do
swear that the above statement is true, the whole truth and nothing but
So help me God
(s) Alferd Packer
Subscribed and sworn before me this 16th day of March
"It becomes my duty as the Judge of this Court to
enforce the verdict of the jury rendered in your case, and impose on you
the judgment which the law fixes as the punishment of the crime you have
committed. It is a solemn, painful duty to perform. I wo uld to God the
cup might pass from me! You have had a fair and impartial trial. You
have been faithfully and earnestly defended by able counsel. The
presiding Judge of this Court, upon his oath and hid conscience, has
labored to be honest and impartial in the trial of your case, and in all
doubtful questions presented you have had the benefit of the doubt.
A jury of twelve honest citizens of the county have
set in judgment on your case, and upon their oaths they find you guilty
of willful and premeditated murder - a murder revolting in all its
details. In 1874 you in company with five companions passed th rough
this beautiful mountain valley where stands the town of Lake City. At
this time the hand of man had not marred the beauties of nature. The
picture was fresh from the hand of the Great Artist who created it. You
and your companions camped at the b anks of a stream as pure and
beautiful as ever traced by the finger of God upon the bosom of the
earth. Your every surrounding was calculated to impress upon your heart
and nature the omnipotence of Deity, and the helplessness of your own
feeble life. I n this goodly favored spot you conceived your murderous
You and your victims had had a weary march, and when
the shadow of the mountains fell upon your little party and night drew
her sable curtain around you, your unsuspecting victims lay down the
ground and were soon lost in the sleep of the weary; and whe n thus
sweetly unconscious of danger from any quarter, and particularly from
you, their trusted companion; you cruelly and brutally slew them all.
Whether your murderous hand was guided by the misty light of the moon,
or the flickering blaze of the camp fire, you can only tell. No eye saw
the bloody deed performed, no ear save your own caught the groans of
your dying victims. You then and there robbed the living of life, and
then robbed the dead of the reward of honest toil which they had
accumulated; at least so say the jury. To other sickening details of
your crime I will not refer. Silence is kindness. I do not say these
things to harrow your soul, for I know you have drunk the cup of
bitterness to its very dregs, and wherever you have gone, the sting of
you conscience and the goadings of remorse have an avenging Nemesis
which have followed you at every turn in life and painted afresh for
your contemplation the picture of the past. I say these things to
impress upon your mind the awful solemnit y of your situation and the
impending doom which you cannot avert. Be not deceived, God is not
mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. You, Alfred
Packer, sowed the wind; you must now reap the whirlwind. Society cannot
forgive you for the crime you have committed. It enforces the old
Masonic law of a life for a life, and your life must be taken as the
penalty of your crime. I am but the instrument of society to impose the
punishment which the law provides. Will society cannot f orgive it will
forget. As the days come and go, the story of your crimes will fade from
the memory of men.
With God it is different. He will not forget, but
will forgive. He pardoned the dying thief on the cross. He is the same
God today as then - a God of love and of mercy, of long suffering and
for kind forbearance; a God who tempers the wind to the sho rn lamb, and
promises rest to all the weary and heart-broken children of men; and it
is this God I commend you.
Close up your ears to the blandishments of hope.
Listen not to its flattering promises of life; but prepare for the dread
certainty of death. Prepare to meet thy God; prepare to meet that aged
father and mother of whom you have spoken and who still lo ve their dear
For nine long years you have been a wanderer upon the
face of the earth, bowed and broken in spirit; no home; no loves; no
ties to bind you to earth. You have been indeed, a poor, pitiable waif
of humanity. I hope and pray that in the spirit land to w hich you are
so fast and surely drifting, you will find that peace and rest for your
weary spirit which this world cannot give.
Alfred Packer, the judgment of this Court is that you
be removed from hence to the jail of Hinsdale County, and there be
confined until the 19th day of May, A.D. 1883, and that on said 19th day
of May 1883, you be taken from thence by the Sheriff of Hins dale County,
to a place of execution prepared for this purpose, at some point within
the corporate limits of the town of Lake City, in the said County of
Hinsdale, and between the hours of 10 A.M. and 3 P.M. of said day, you
then and there, by the said Sh eriff, be hung by the neck until you are
dead, dead, dead, and may God have mercy upon your soul."
Mr. D.C. Hatch, 842 Larimer Street, Denver, Colo.:
My Kind Friend - Your welcome favor of the 22nd inst.
Has been received, and in reply to your request I gladly comply by
giving to you as complete a statement as it is possible for me to, viz:
In the fall of 1873 a party of men left Salt Lake City by wag on, there
being teams and pack animals. In leaving we were deficient in supplies
for the entire journey. But this matter can hardly be attributed to
either myself or anyone else of the party of twenty one (21), for the
agreement was that the men who own ed the teams were to furnish our
sustenance. But unfortunately our supplies were exhausted by the time
that we reached the Green River, at the head of the Colorado. And now,
my kind friend let me impress upon you the painful fact that thus early
in our journey we were suffering most terrible from the pangs of hunger.
For about five days we had been surviving on horse feed, which was
chopped barley. Just at this point we ... Ouray and a band of fifty
Indians, from whom we received assistance. And, bei ng informed by Chief
Ouray that the mountains were impassable, owing to the great amount of
snow, we availed ourselves of his invitation and camped within two mile
of him, and from whom we purchased supplies.
After having been in this camp for about one week a
man by the name of Lutzenheiser and four other men started for the
agency, having been informed by Chief Ouray that from his camp to the
Indian Agency it was forty miles, while in fact, buy air line, it was
eighty miles. Lutzenheizer and his party had no other provisions, only
what each man carried, they being on foot.
As a result their provisions soon became exhausted.
And these five men had concluded to cast lot to see who should be food
for the others. But just at this time a coyote was seen, which was
immediately killed, and was the means of saving one of that pa rty from
a tradgical fate. And, as this party neared the cattle camp where
Gunnison now stands, Lutzenheiser saw a cow fast in the snow and he
crawled up to her and shot her with his revolver. The man who had charge
of the cattle, happening to be out lo oking for his herd saw the tracks
which Lutzenheiser had left, and, following these tracks, he soon found
Lutzenheiser in an exhausted condition. He took him into this camp and
followed his trail back and found the remaining four of the party, whom
he al so took into the camp, a man by the name of George Driver being
the last, who was carrying the head of the coyote. Here they remained
until they had become physically recruited, when they started for the
Los Pinos agency, which was forty miles into the m ountains, at which
place they were again picked up in a fainting condition. All of which
was sworn to at the time of my trial and is a matter of court record.
And now I return to my own party, which composed six
men, myself included. There being two trails to the agency, about one
week after Lutzenheiser's party left, we took the upper trail for the
purpose of reaching the same destination. We also were on f oot, and
carried what provisions we could in blankets. After nine days our
provisions were entirely exhausted. The snow being deep, we were
compelled to keep on top of the divide, in order to travel at all. And
these divides led to the top of the Rocky mountains. Our matches had all
been used, and we ere carrying our fire in an old coffee pot. Three or
four days after our provisions were all consumed we took our moccasins,
which were made of raw hide, and cooked them, and, of course, ate them.
Our s uffering at this time was most intense, such, in fact, that the
inexperienced cannot imagine. We could not retrace our steps, for our
trail was entirely drifted over. In places the snow had been blown away
from patches of wild rose bushes, and we were g athering the buds from
these bushes, stewing them and eating them. In following these divides
we soon gained the tip of the Rocky Mountains, and the snow being blown
away from the top of the mountains and our feet encased in pieces of
blankets, we were e nabled to travel along steadily. Now my friend, you
can imagine our condition, on top of the mountains, with nothing to kill
for food and not even any of those rose bushes.
Starvation had fastened its deathly talons upon us,
and was slowly but most tortuously driving us into the state of
imbecility; in fact, Bell, the strongest and most able-bodied man of our
party, had succumbed to the power of mental derangement and was c ausing
the party to be very much afraid of him, as well as that which they felt
to be the inevitable doom of each, mentally. I am at a loss to fully
express our feelings at this stage, but we consulted each other and
conclude to come down off the mountai n. For we could not tell whether
we had passed the agency or not, for it was either snowing or blowing
constantly. And, as it happened, we descended to the lake fork of the
Gunnison river. We camped one night just above the lake. In the morning
I asce nded the mountain for the next purpose of ascertaining if there
were any visible signs of civilization on the opposite side. The snow
being very deep, it required the entire day to make this trip and return.
As I neared the camp on my return I was confronted by
a terrible sight. As I came near I saw no one but Bell. I spoke to him,
and then, with the look of a terrible maniac, his eyes glaring and
burning fearfully, he grabbed a hatchet and started for me, whereupon I
raised my Winchester and shot him. The report from rifle did not arouse
the camp, so I hastened to the campfire and found my comrades dead.
Can you imagine my situation - my companions dead and
I left alone, surrounded by the midnight horrors of starvation as well
as those of utter isolation? My body weak, my mind acted upon in such an
awful manner that the greatest wonder is that I ever re turned to a
In looking about I saw a piece of flesh on the fire,
which Bell had cut from Miller's leg. I took this flesh from the fire
and lay it to one side, after which I covered the bodies of my dead
comrades. I remained here with them during the night. In the morning I
moved about 1,000 yards below, where there was a grove of pine trees. I
distinctly remember of taking a piece of the flesh and boiling it in a
tin cup. I also know that I became sick and suffered most terribly. My
mind at this period failed me. But I am satisfied that I must have eaten
some of the flesh, but my mind was a total blank for a considerable
period of time. When my mind returned I found, by my tracks, that I had
been visiting around the adjacent territory, seeking rose buds, whi ch I
apparently found, for I noticed that by force of habit I had been
stewing them in my tin cup. The record of time now becomes a nonentity.
I do not know how long I remained here. I did not know how near I was to
the close of the year. I could not tell how near spring was. But the
weather began to moderate and I wandered around seeking rose buds for
food, when all of a sudden I was confronted by the Los Pinos agency. It
would be a mild assertion for me to say that I was surprised. And most
agree able it was, too. I found out that in my searching for food and
civilization I had traveled forty miles from the lake fork of the
For three weeks I was taken care of at the agency. I
have learned that Lutzenheiser and his party had crossed the mountains
into Siwatch. The remaining of the twenty-one men now at the end of this
three weeks came through with a band of Indians. They questioned me as
to where my comrades were. I replied that I had killed Bell and that
evidently he had killed the others. In a day or two we left the agency
and started with the teams to go over to Siwatch. We remained in Siwatch
until General Adams, t he Indian agent, returned from Denver. I then
explained to the general all I knew about my dead comrades, and an
expedition was fitted out to return and bury them. We had not gone far
on this journey before we were compelled to turn back to the agency,
owing to the great depth of snow and the crust which was upon it. After
returning to the agency I was turned over to the sheriff of Siwatch,
with whom I remained until the middle of July. At this time the sheriff,
Amos Wall, asked me if I could realize what I had passed through. In
reply I gave him as complete an explanation as I could, after which he
told me to go away and not permit it to longer worry me.
I did as he advised, so far as to the going away, and
after the lapse of ten years I was arrested in 1885 upon the charge of
having murdered my companions. The result of my trial is well known to
all; how the supreme court granted me a new trial, and ho w I was
convicted of manslaughter upon five different indictments, tried by one
and the same jury, receiving an accumulative sentence of forty years,
being eight years for each.
Now, my kind friend, in conclusion permit me to say
that I am to-day, as ever before, a member of the human family, although
isolated and away from that which is dear to the heart of every man. Am
I the villainous wretch which some have asserted me to b e? No man can
be more heartily sorry for the acts of twenty-four years ago than I. I
am more a victim of circumstances than of atrocious designs. No human
being living can say that I in cold blood, with evil intent, murdered my
companions upon that awf ul occasion. What could be the object of my
taking their lives in a wanton manner? I bear no malice towards living
man. Even though I may feel that I have been unjustly dealth with, still
that Supremacy which rules over all knows that I forgive as I wo uld
wish to be forgiven.
In this the darkest hour of my earthly existence I
feel, as I have long felt, that I would have far better off had my
execution taken place years ago, and I might now be with those
companions, whose ghosts, I assure you do not haunt me, for if the soul
h as existence beyond this mortal life, each and every one of those
unfortunate men knows that I am innocent. As it is there is some
unexplainable power which retrains my hand from freeing my soul. Hence
all the brightness in the firmament of my earthly f uture is centered in
the hope that I may eventually be given an opportunity of proving to the
world that I am "less black than has been painted." And to all my kind
friends I can but reiterate that my heart to-day, as before, abounds
with thankful gratit ude for your many expressions of good will. I
should like to be set at liberty under the banner of a pardon, but if
that should not be deemed best, I would gladly avail myself of the
opportunity that a commute would give of showing that I came into exist
ence under circumstances similar to that of others, and that I still
possess a desire to live and do right. O! my friend! Were it not for the
flame of hope which forever burns within the human heart, life would
certainly be beyond endurance. Gratefully Yours,
Alfred Packer #1389, heretofore made application for
parole, at which time his case was examined and parole denied. He has
since renewed his application which has been approved by the properly
constituted authorities, the principal additional ground there of being
upon his bad physical condition. It is certified by the prison physician
that he is suffering from hydrocele and Brights' Disease, which with his
advanced age makes his condition extremely precarious and continued
confinement dangerous. He also presents a petition signed by leading men
of different sections of the State urging his release under the
provisions of the indeterminate sentence act. Without changing my
opinion concerning the offense, and because of the second recommendation
and additi onal grounds therefore, I am constrained to grant the
application confining the prisoner, nevertheless, within the limit of
the State of Colorado.
It is, therefore, ordered that the said application
be granted and that the said Packer be paroled and permitted to go at
large, but within the State of Colorado subject to the terms and
conditions of said act, and the rules prescribed and to be prescribe d
thereunder, and the agreement to be signed by him as a condition thereof.