(Located on private property; please be respectful)

While Lake City was still undeveloped, people explored the mountains in search of gold and silver. Five gold-seeking men hired Alfred Packer to guide them from Salt Lake City to the Los Pinos Agency, near present-day Gunnison, Colorado. When Packer’s group left the Ute camp of Chief Ouray, near present-day Delta, in February 1874, they were warned that they would never make it through the mountains because of severe winter storms. The prediction came true, for everyone but Alfred Packer.

That April, Packer stumbled into the Los Pinos Agency alone. In his possession were the belongings of one of his clients and plenty of cash. Packer said that the party became lost in a severe winter storm, they lost their direction, and they ran out of food. He claimed that as each man died, the others were forced to eat the flesh of the dead to stay alive. Packer claimed he was forced to kill his last surviving client in self-defense.

The following summer, the bodies of the five explorers were discovered at this site, with evidence that their skulls had been crushed as they slept. Alfred Packer was accused of cannibalism and murder. He fled the Agency. Nine years later, Packer was captured in Wyoming and brought back to trial in Lake City. Judge M.B. Gerry, an ardent southern democrat, found Packer guilty. The guilty verdict was reversed due to a loophole in Colorado law, so Packer was once again tried in Gunnison in 1886. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to serve 40 years. The governor paroled him in 1901. He died six years later, still claiming innocence. Buried in Littleton, Colorado, Packer was never found guilty of cannibalism but will always be known as the Colorado Cannibal.

AlferdPacker 1883

A white cross at the entrance to the Alferd Packer site marks where Lake City’s well-loved Sheriff Coursey was killed by modern-day outlaws at this same junction in November 1994 after stopping two fugitives in the early morning hours on the Silver Thread. After a month-long manhunt by the Lake City community, the two culprits were found dead of an apparent murder-suicide under a nearby tree in deep snow.

Silver Packer Blizzard

PACKER’S TRIAL

Many stories came from this trial. One observer of the Lake City trial, when pressed for details at a nearby saloon, had this account:

“Th’ Judge says, says he, ‘Stand up, y’man-eatin’ son iv’a bitch, STAND UP!’ Thin, p’intin’ his tremblin’ finger at Packer, so ragin’ mad he was, ‘they was sivin Dimmycrats in Hinsdale County an’ ye et five iv thim, God Damn ye! I sintins ye t’ be hanged be th’ neck ontil ye’re dead, dead, DEAD, as a warnin’ ag’in reducin’ th’ Dimmycratic popyalachun in th’ state!”

Alferd Packer Massacre Site colorado historical society F 3822

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Credits and Acknowledgments

The research, writing and production of this interpretive booklet were made possible by grants from the following generous organizations: Federal Highway Administration Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), colorado Historical Society, Western Colorado Interpretive Association (WCIA), Hinsdale County Lodging Tax Panel, Lake City Chamber of Commerce, the Creede and Mineral County Chamber of Commerce, the Silver Thread Scenic and Historic Byway Council, and the Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team. Special thanks to Grant Houston of the Hinsdale County Historical Society, Lynna Jackson of Creede, Nancy Houston, and the authors, Laurene Farley and Sandy Thompson of the U.S. Forest Service, Gunnison, Colorado. Layout and design update by B4 Studio, Creede.