If you’ve ever driven cross-country, you know how hard it is to find a place to eat on the road. As signs of civilization become even more scant as, you find yourself praying to the elder gods to make a Carl’s Jr. or even a Denny’s appear over the next horizon. But fate and franchising doesn’t always work out that way, and so you’re forced to check the glovebox for a half-devoured tin of Altoids to hold you over just long enough to reach the next fast-food establishment. However, in days of yore when our country was just being trial-blazed, relief was not always over the next horizon. During those early days, if you didn’t kill it or pack it then you starved, and in many cases more innovative approaches to food were required. One particular case of cannibalism went on the be the main influence for the 1999 horror film RAVENOUS- the tale of Alfred Griner Packer.
Alfred Griner Packer was born to James Packer and Esther Griner on January 21, 1842 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The family relocated ten years later to LaGrange County, Indiana where James found work as a cabinet maker. In 1862, at the age of twenty, Alfred joined the 16th Infantry Regiment of the Union Army during the American Civil War, but was honorably discharged eight months later when it was discovered he had epilepsy. In 1863, he tried joining the 8th Iowa Cavalry, but was again discharged because of his epilepsy a year later. Afterward, Alfred moved to the Rocky Mountains where he took up work in the mines for the next nine years.
In 1973, Alfred joined a party of 21 men, lead by Bob McGrue, headed to Breckinridge, Colorado to find gold. The expedition made it as far as Montrose, Colorado where they set up camp with an Ute tribe led by Chief Ouray. The Chief advised the men to stay on through the winter before heading out spring, for their own safety. However, several of McGrue’s men became restless and wanted to seek shelter in a government cattle camp nearby. O.D. Loutsenheiser and three others were the first to leave, and Alfred went with them. All though it is unclear why, eventually Loutsenheiser pointed a gun at Alfred and warned him that if he didn’t turn back “there would be trouble”. S0 Alfred returned to camp.
A week later, Alfred joined another group looking to find accommodations at the Los Pinos Indian Agency. The group, made of up five men (Shannon Bell, James Humphrey, Frank Miller, George Noon, and Israel Swan), headed out with enough provisions for 10 days on February 9th, 1874. They never arrived at the Indian Agency and were soon feared missing.
Fast forward to April 16, 1874. Alfred shows up at a tavern near the Los Pinos Indian Agency. He arrives looking a little too fit for a man who had been missing in the wilderness for the last few months. Even stranger, he arrived without the five men he had left with. Preston Nutter, a member of McGrue’s original group was the first to recognizes Alfred. When Nutter asked about his missing four companions, Alfred told him that the group had left him behind.
After a brief stay in Los Pinos, Alfred was ready to return to Pennsylvania. He accompanied Nutter to a nearby outpost so that he could procure supplies for his journey. During their trip to gear up, Nutter noticed that Alfred was using one of the men’s knife. Nutter immediately began to doubt Alfred’s story. When Alfred began dropping hundreds of dollars on supplies, Nutter got even more suspicious. Apprehensive and agitated, Nutter was ready to hang Alfred until the local law stepped in. After an interrogation, Alfred made his first confession.
According to Alfred, when the food ran out Israel Swan was the first to die. The rest of the group then ate him. Five days later, James Humphrey died, and he too was eaten. A short time later Wilson Bell shot George Noon and in an act of self-defense, and then Alfred shot Bell. Alfred then raided the possessions of the dead, taking money and supplies as well as meat from them before heading off for Los Pinos.
The law was inclined to believe Alfred, but wanted to be taken to the party’s camp site to corroborate his story. During the return trip to the site, Alfred became agitated and attacked one of constables that was accompanying him. Alfred was promptly dragged off to jail and locked up. After a brief stint in the clink, which was just a log cabin, Alfred easily made his escape.
The law caught up to Alfred on March 11, 1883 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Alfred was asked to make another confession. This time he claimed that Bell had murdered everyone at the camp all at once, while he was off gathering firewood. The change in his story was all the jury needed to convict Alfred of premeditated murder and sentence him to death. Then in 1885, the Colorado Supreme Court overturned that decision. In 1886, Alfred was convicted of five counts of manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years.
Over the years, Alfred Packer’s life has been portrayed and referenced several times, in addition to the aforementioned film RAVENOUS. In 1964 Phil Ochs, a folk singer, wrote and performed “The Ballad of Alfred Packer”. SOUTH PARK creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone made the CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL in 1993 loosely based on the Packer legend. In 1990,the death metal band Cannibal Corpse dedicated their debut album EATEN BACK TO LIFE to Packer, who they called “The first American cannibal.”
In 1901, Alfred was paroled. He worked as a guard at the Denver Post, before passing away from senility on April 23, 1907. It was rumored that he became a vegetarian after being released from prison and remained such until his death.