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,
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
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
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,
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 murdered men.
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.
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 Littleton Cemetery.
Such a legendary story
was Packer's that in 1968, students at the University of Colorado in
Boulder christened their new cafeteria The Alferd E. Packer
Memorial Grill ! In 1982, a statue
honoring Packer was commissioned and can be seen on the Boulder
A figure of Packer sits in the women's cell at
the Saguache County Museum. Sheriff Amos Wall guards the
prisoner from his chair in his office. On display are
handcuffs, leg irons and
relating to the history of Alferd Packer.
Information for this story was
compiled from The Saguache County Museum, Alferd Packer's
Wilderness Cookbook by James E. Banks, and other
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