Colorado is noted for the majestic beauty of its mountains and the nobility of its people, and those qualities have inspired many wonderful songs. Like anywhere else, though, there is also a bit of weirdness around these parts; and that, too, has been the subject of a song or two. “The Ballad of Alferd Packer,” by Phil Ochs, is of the latter category.
Alfred Griner “Alferd” Packer was born in 1842 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. When the American Civil War broke out, he twice enlisted in the Union Army, but each time he was soon discharged because of epilepsy. Legend has it that during his second enlistment, Packer had his name tattooed on his arm, but the tattoo artist misspelled it as “Alferd.” For some reason, he liked that name better than Alfred, so he began using it.
After his second short enlistment, Packer seems to have headed West and spent the next decade prospecting and working at various jobs in mining camps. In the winter of 1873, he was in Utah, and joined a party with 20 other prospectors to travel to Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. It was a hard winter that year, and in January of 1874, when the party reached the camp of Ute Chief Ouray, they were advised to delay their expedition until spring. Most of the miners heeded that advice, but five of them decided to push on through the mountains, and they hired Packer to guide them.
Ten weeks later, in early April, Packer turned up alone at the Los Piños Indian Agency located between the towns of Saguache and Gunnison. He said that he had been injured and fallen behind his companions. However, it was reported that he had several wallets in his possession, with rolls of money in each – and none of the other miners had been seen.
About a month later, he began to admit that the others had died or been killed, and that he had eaten parts of their flesh in order to survive. The details of his story changed considerably over time, so it is not known exactly what happened. Packer was arrested, but he escaped from the jail and remained free for nine years until he was found in Wyoming and re-arrested. After a trial, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. According to the local newspaper, the presiding judge, one M. B. Gerry, pronounced the sentence as follows:
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. Continue reading