Alferd Packer

alferdpacker1280He was actually born Alfred Packer on November 21, 1842, but a somewhat illiterate tatoo artist mispelled his name while he was a scout for General Custer. He found the mistake amusing, and often took that spelling as the official one. Due to his epilepsy, he missed Custer’s famous last stand. For five fellow travellers, that oversight of fate led to a grisly end. A portion of a ballad goes as follows:

In the Colorado Rockies
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

Maybe he was an early influence for the fictional Hannibal Lecter or a more evil version of the Donner party, who’s famous misfortune happened when Alfred was but four years of age. It is also possible that he is just an unfortunate soul, who had to do the unthinkable to survive, but his path of lies threw doubt upon his innocence.

When Alfred was 31, he went into the mountains near Montrose in the Northwestern part of Colorado with 20 other prospectors, hoping to strike it rich. By January of 1873, they had reached Chief Ouray’s Ute camp and were urged to stay until spring thawed the dangerous passes they would need to cross. Five foolhardy souls decided they couldn’t wait, and would try to reach their destination in the harsh winter. Alfred claimed to be a guide and offered to lead them to the prospecting site. Alfred wasn’t a guide for this area, because he didn’t know it, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to be the first to arrive.

Two months later, Packer walked into the Los Piños Indian Agency on April 16th. Although he claimed to have gone without food for more than a day, he only asked for whiskey. He mentioned hurting his leg and his fellow prospectors going on ahead of him. He expected them to already have arrived here. That was the first of his lies. An indian scout found strips of meat along the trail that Packer had arrived by, that turned out to be human flesh. They also found the wallets of his unlucky prospecting companions.

Under pressure, Alfred Packer confessed to eating his companions, but the story of the exact events changed drastically between upcoming legal battles. He dodged the hangman’s noose in the first trial in 1883, because at the time of the incident in 1874, Colorado was a territory and not a state. Thus there were no murder statutes on the books. In 1896 he had his second trial and was convicted of voluntary manslaugher and sentenced to forty years, which was eight years for each of the five men. After serving sixteen years, with the aid of the Denver Post he made an application for parole, based on his deteriorating health. The govenor denied it, but later in 1901, with only a short time to live, he did receive parole but not pardon.

In 1907, he died of a stroke. The place where the bones of the five men he ate were found, became known as “Dead Man’s Gulch.”