In February 1874, Colorado prospectors Alfred Packer, George Noon, Frank Miller, Israel Swan, James Humphreys and Shannon Bell left the Uncompahgre for Saguache, intending to go by way of the Ute Agency on Los Pinos. Packer appeared at the Agency alone, insisting that his companions had abandoned him while he was ill.
Suspicions were aroused when he displayed money he had not had before and property belonging to his companions. Confronted, he told a story of privation, murder and cannibalism. After confessing, Packer was jailed but managed to escape.
The following summer, Packer’s last camp was discovered, with the bodies of four men still wrapped in their blankets and a fifth sitting up, with his hands tied under his knees and an arm broken. The flesh had been partially stripped from some of the bodies and a butcher knife still stuck in Miller’s thigh.
For several years Packer went free, but was finally arrested in Wyoming and returned to Colorado for trial. Packer was first tried in Lake City in April 1883 before Judge M.B. Gerry. Evidence indicated that the winter of 1873-74 had not had much snow in the mountains, game was plentiful and there had been nothing to justify the eating of human flesh. After three hours of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict.
As soon as the jury delivered its verdict, one spectator, an Irish saloonkeeper named Larry Dolan rushed from the courthouse with the first word of the verdict, delivering this memorable interpretation:
“Well, byes. it’s all over; Packer’s t’ hang. The Jedge says, says he. ‘Stand ip, ye man-eatin’ son iv a gun, stand ip!” Thin, p’intin’ his tremblin’ finger at Packer, so ragin’ mad he was, ‘They was siven Dimmycrats in Hinsdale County an’ ye et five iv thim, God damn ye! I sintins ye t’ be hanged by th’ neck, ontil ye’re dead, dead, dead, as a warnin’ ag’in reducin’ th’ Dimmycrat popylation iv th’ state!”
Nota Bene: Judge Gerry was one of only a handful of Democrats in the county and endured much teasing in this regard, which probably explains saloonkeeper Dolan’s view of the proceedings.
I have heard this tale since I was a wee lad. It has been the subject of several ballads, including one of my own and this one by Phil Ochs.
Ballad Of Alferd Packer (Yes, the man couldn’t spell his own name)
Sometimes it’s downright dangerous to be a Dimmycrat. 😀
“I think there is a moral here for every politician:
If you can’t get the votes, just get your rival in the kitchen.”
It was in the San Juan Mountains six bold miners they did go,
in search of shining silver hidden underneath the snow,
for gold and shiny silver hidden underneath the snow.
There was Noon and Swan and Humphreys, and Shannon Bell and Miller
and little Alferd Packer too, who was the hungry killer,
hungry little Alferd, so soon to be a killer.
The miners were not mountain men and soon supplies ran low.
They could not go out hunting in the deep and drifting snow,
the savage mountain blizzards and the icy, endless snow.
Now Alferd’s head was made of flint, his heart was even flintier.
He killed his companions, to see him through the winter.
He filled his dinner pail with them to last him out the winter.
He was caught and thrown in jail but he soon had broken free,
til they caught him Wyoming, in 1883,
in the valleys of Wyoming, in 1883.
He had to face a jury then, twelve loyal men and true.
The foreman of the jury said, “That was an awful stew!”
The foreman of the jury said, “Oh, Alferd, shame on you!
We find that you are guilty and we hope that you will die
for turning your companions all into prospector pie,
for roasting all your comrades underneath a winter sky.”
Then they stood little Alferd up in front of old Judge Gerry,
who felt that Alferd’s eating habits were not sanitary,
and had a grudge moreover, because Alferd was – so hairy.
“They was only sivin Dimmycrats in Hinsdale Countee,
and them five men you et, sir, they was Dimmycrats, you see.
Yea them five votes that you vetoed they was Dimmycrats – like me!”
“So I sintice you, sir, to dangle by the throat
as a warnin’ ‘ginst reducin’ the Dimmycratic vote,
for tryin’ to make a luncheon of the Dimmycratic vote”.
I think there is a moral here for every politician:
if you can’t get the votes, just get your rival in the kitchen.
You can win elections from the comfort of your kitchen.
Gold dust, gold nuggets, wire silver!
Oh look now Mister Packer what you’ve done!
Gold dust, gold nuggets, wire silver!
You killed and ate your comrades every one.