Alfred Packer

Slumgullion Pass & Uncompahgre

Lake City 1968

alfred packer the san juan cannibal

The Packer case was the first, and possibly the only incident of cannibalism tried in the U.S. court system.

He was born in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in 1842 and migrated west in 1862. There is some confusion about the spelling of his first name. His tombstone reads "Alferd" and some say he spelled it this way.

In the winter of 1873 he was hired as a guide in Salt Lake City by 20 men for a prospecting trip into the San Juan mountains of Colorado.

He claimed to have driven an ore wagon in some of the mining camps of Colorado and that he could lead them to the valuable ore they were looking for. In truth, he knew very little about this region.

In January 1874 the group stopped over at the village of Chief Ouray and were warned not to try crossing the mountains until spring. Packer and five of the group decided to continue on into the mountains.

During early spring the rest of the group traveled across the mountains and inquired about the Packer party. A search team was then sent out to look for the missing men.

Two months earlier, Packer had appeared at the Los Pinos Indian Agency looking fit and well fed. His primary interest was in obtaining some whiskey, not food, and he had a large roll of money to pay for it.

He first said that he had been left behind by the others due to a leg injury. His story was to change several times...later being that one of the men went beserk and killed the others and that he had shot the man in self-defense.

An Indian guide found strips of human flesh on the trail and Packer was questioned. In August of 1894 the camp of the five missing men was found near Slumgullion Pass, 2 miles from Lake City.

Packer was jailed in Saguache and later escaped to Wyoming, and for 9 years lived under an assumed name until his capture. Packer was returned to Lake City in 1883 to stand trial.

The verdict was guilty, with death by hanging. The legend was that Judge Melville B. Gerry, on pronouncing sentencing said..."...There was siven Dimmycrats in Hinsdale County! But you, yah voracious, main-eatin son of a bitch, yah et five of them, therefor I sentence ye T' be hanged by the neck until y're dead, dead, dead!". This was probably not the exact statement made by the judge as he was a well educated man, but makes for good story-telling.

Later the sentence was reduced to manslaughter and he was given 40 years to be served at the prison in Canon City.

A reporter at the Denver Post became interested in the case and a campaign for Packer's release was started. He was paroled in January 1901 and moved to Denver where he hung around the Post building as an unofficial security guard until his death by natural causes in April 1907. Packer was buried at Littleton's Prince Avenue Cemetery near Denver.

Years later the citizens of Lake City built a monument at the site of the Packer Massacre and then celebrated the event by throwing a huge fish fry with all the trimmings for the public.