In 1842, Alferd Packer was born in Pennsylvania. The son of a cabinet maker, young Alferd had a taste for adventure, and in 1862 joined the Union Army to fight against the rebel Confederates. Sadly, he lasted 8 months, being discharged for a pesky case of epilepsy. Unthwarted, the thrill seeking Packer chose to go west and seek fortune and glory in the Rocky Mountains.
He struggled to find his place in the world, toiling for treasure for years, until he decided to team up with a crew of fellow miners in Provo, Utah. Their mission: the gold rich area of Breckenridge in Colorado Territory. The six man group set forth, but were soon halted by a friendly Indian chief, warning them of treacherous weather in the mountain pass. The young men were anxious to get to that Colorado gold, and set off despite the Chief’s warnings. Here, is where the mystery begins.
This is what is known for certain; on April 6, 1864, Alferd Packer stumbled into the Los Pinos Indian Agency in Saguache, Colorado. According to Packer, his expedition became lost and abandoned him in the mountains. The people of Saguache pitied the stranger’s story. They offered Packer breakfast, which he refused. When asked how he survived in the wintery mountain pass, Packer claimed to have lived on a diet of “roots and rosebuds”.
Packer settled into life in Saguache, but some found his behaviour suspicious. He refused to eat meat, after apparently starving for weeks. He was buying drinks for strangers, despite being reportedly broke by acquaintances who had known him just a year ago. Eventually, town authorities asked Packer to retrace his steps to hopefully find his companions, but they found nothing. Later, an artist hiking through an area called Slumgullion Pass, found a grizzly scene. Five bodies, some with pieces of flesh cut from their corpses, were laid together. They were later identified as Packer’s companions.
Back in Saguache, Packer was arrested and imprisoned in a wooden shack. Miraculously, he escaped and went on the run for 8 years, until he was found in Wyoming.
Packer claimed to have killed one of the miners, Shannon Bell, in self defence. It was Bell who killed and ate the others, Packer swore. No one believed him, and Packer became the first American in history to be convicted of cannibalism.
He spent 17 years in jail and was released on parole. The Denver Post hired him as a janitor, apparently to thank him for so many great headlines. Packer became a vegetarian, and lived as quietly as possible, until he died in 1907.