Alferd Packer – “The Colorado Cannibal”

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Alfred Griner “Alferd” Packer (January 21, 1842 – April 23, 1907) was an American prospector who confessed to cannibalism during the winter of 1874. He and 5 other men attempted to travel through the high mountains of Colorado during the peak of a harsh winter. When only Alfred reached civilization, he claimed that the others had killed each other for food, and confessed to having lived off the flesh of his companions during his snowbound state and to having used it to survive his trek out of the mountains two months later. After his story was called into question, he hid from justice for 9 years before being tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Packer won a retrial and was eventually sentenced to 40 years in prison for manslaughter.

In November 1873, Packer joined Bob McGrue’s party of 21 men, who left Provo, Utah for the Colorado gold country around Breckenridge. On January 21, 1874, the party met Chief Ouray, known as the White Man’s Friend, near Montrose, Colorado. Chief Ouray recommended they postpone their expedition until spring, since they were likely to encounter dangerous winter weather in the mountains. Ouray kindly offered to allow the men to stay with his tribe until the winter had passed.

Some men in the party became restless and decided to ignore Ouray’s advice and attempt to find the government cattle camp near the Los Pinos Indian Agency. O.D. Loutsenheiser and three other men left first; Packer attempted to follow them, but Loutsenheiser pointed a revolver at Packer and told him that “if [he] saw him after [they] passed the point of the mountain there would be trouble.” Packer returned to the camp. The following week, on February 9th, Packer and five others left for the Los Pinos Indian Agency. Besides Packer, the group was made up of Shannon Wilson Bell, James Humphrey, Frank “Reddy” Miller, George “California” Noon, and Israel Swan. The leader of the outfit, Bob McGrue, guided Packer’s party until his horses could not continue. McGrue unloaded the men’s provisions and went back to Ouray’s camp. What happened after this is not clear.

On April 16, 1874, Packer arrived at the Los Pinos Indian Agency near Gunnison. When Preston Nutter, a member of McGrue’s original group, asked Packer what happened to the rest of his party, Packer claimed that he “got his feet wet and frozen” and the others abandoned him. Packer claimed he was broke, and sold the Winchester rifle he had in his possession to Major Downer, the justice of the peace, for $10. After a short stay at the Agency, Packer said he wanted to return to Pennsylvania, and accompanied Nutter and two other members of McGrue’s original group to Saguache, where he could buy supplies. During the course of this journey, Nutter saw that Packer had in his possession a skinning knife that had belonged to Frank “Reddy” Miller and began to have doubts about his story.

When the party reached Saguache, Packer made arrangements to room in Dolan’s Saloon. Larry Dolan, the owner, claimed that Packer spent around $100 during his stay, and that Packer even offered to lend him $300. Packer also spent $78 in Otto Mears’ general store. Nutter and other members of McGrue’s original party became very suspicious of Packer and threatened to hang him. General Adams, head of the Los Pinos Indian Agency, stepped in just in time to save Packer.

After being interrogated by General Adams, Packer signed his first confession:

“Old Man Swan died first and was eaten by the other five persons about ten days out of camp. Four or five days afterwards Humphreys died and was also eaten; he had about one hundred and thirty three dollars ($133). 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 also eaten. Bell shot “California” with Swan’s gun and I killed Bell. Shot him. I covered up the remains and took a large piece along. Then traveled fourteen days into the agency. Bell wanted to kill me with his rifle—struck a tree and broke his gun.”

General Adams believed that if Packer was telling the truth, he would have no problem leading a party of men to the original campsite; the physical evidence would either prove or disprove Packer’s story. Packer originally consented to lead the party, but after claiming to be lost and rushing at Constable Herman Lauter with a knife, he was jailed in Saguache. The jail at that time was little more than a log cabin, and after being passed a makeshift key for his irons and given some supplies, Packer easily escaped.

On March 11, 1883, Packer was discovered in Cheyenne, Wyoming, living under the alias of “John Swartze”. After Packer was apprehended, General Adams persuaded him to make his second confession, which he signed on March 16. Instead of claiming that the men gradually killed each other to survive, Packer now claimed that Shannon Bell had killed the others while he was out scouting. On April 6, a trial began in Lake City, Colorado, and seven days later Packer was found guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced to death by hanging.

According to a local newspaper, the presiding judge, M.B. Gerry, said:

“Stand up yah voracious man-eatin’ sonofabitch and receive yir sintince. When yah came to Hinsdale County, 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.”

Court records, however, reveal that Judge Gerry’s prose was much more educated:

“Alfred Packer, the judgement of this court is that you be removed from hence to the jail of Hinsdale County and there 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 Hinsdale 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 country of Hinsdale, and between the hours of 10 A.M. and 3 P.M. of said day, you, then and there, by said sheriff, be hung by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead, and my God have mercy upon your soul.”



Alferd Packer Cannibal Massacre Site

Hwy 149, Lake City, CO

2.5 miles south of the Lake City miniature golf course. Turn left off of Hwy 149 at the Alferd Packer Massacre Site sign.


Relics Of Alferd Packer, American Cannibal:

Hinsdale County Museum
130 Silver St., Lake City, CO

In the Hinsdale County Museum. Corner of 2nd and Silver

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Showing 2 comments
  • John Rehorn

    Thanks for posting this article. I’d read this piece of Colorado history before, but it’s always good to have a refresher. Having gone to school in Gunnison at Western State, we all had a keen interest in Packer, being only a few dozen miles from Lake City. If they haven’t changed the name, the dining hall is named after Packer and features a mural of a crazy bearded Packer about 8 feet tall.

  • John Rehorn

    I meant to write that the dining hall is at C.U. in Boulder … if you can add that for me I’d appreciate it.

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