Packer, the All-American Cannibal

by Ken Carpenter

I want to stress right off the bat that I am not obsessed with cannibals. The fact that I wrote about them two weeks in a row means nothing, except that I am often too long winded to say everything I want in one sitting. If you come to my house to eat, we might eat pork because it is my favorite. I promise it will not be “long pig”. The Anasazi, a Native American tribe in the Southwestern United States, were the only known cannibals from our country. Except, of course, for famous and not so famous individuals and groups. Alfred G. “Alferd” Packer is the most renowned of “accused” American cannibals, and the only convicted cannibal in Colorado history. He got a tattoo of his name, which was misspelled, but he liked it so he went by Alferd from then on except for official documents. He and five other prospectors made an ill-advised trek, fueled by gold fever, to Colorado in the winter of 1873-74. They became lost and snowbound in the Rocky Mountains, and a surprisingly hearty Alferd was the only one to survive and show up in Gunnison, Colorado in the spring. Naturally he headed for a saloon, where he ran into some members of his original group of 21, which he and his companions had left the previous winter. They had shown the good sense to refuse to tackle the mountains during the winter, and none of them believed his story of self-defense to explain the absence of his tasty companions. He did not help his cause by changing his story every time he told it. Tradition and rumor said that the following colorful death sentence was handed down by Judge M.B. Gerry a few months later. “Stand up yah voracious man-eatin’ SOB and receive yir sintince. When yah came to Hinsdale County, there was siven Dimmycrats. But you, yah et five of ’em, damn 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.” While entertaining and widely believed, this tale was not true and Judge Gerry’s words were actually much more educated. “Close your ears to the blandishments of hope. Listen not to its fluttering promises of life. But prepare to meet the spirits of thy murdered victims. Prepare for the dread certainty of death.” Packer, however, escaped the local jail and spent nine years free before his recapture. His death sentence was reversed at that time and he was instead sentenced to 40 years. He was paroled after two by the State Supreme Court on a technicality, and he then became a vegetarian and lived until 1907. The short order grill at the Student Union on the University of Colorado campus is named after Packer and has an annual festival called Alferd Packer Days. The contests include a raw-meat-eating contest. There have been books, plays, documentaries and movies made about Alferd. It seems likely that he will be remembered long after other American cannibals are forgotten. Chomp, chomp.