BY GIL POTTS
As every cowboy knows, gettinâ€™ hungry out on the trail is just no fun at all. The lack of alternative groceries has led to more than one hungry cowboy when uncooperative critters refused to participate in dinner preparations. Yes indeed, ill preparedness certainly can lead to a poor menu selection for the cowboy who doesnâ€™t plan ahead. So you wonder what this odd but true chronicle from the annals of history could have to do with politics? Well just hang on â€˜cause thereâ€™s a very important political moral to the story.
In the early days of what we now refer to as the old west, prospectors were to the mountains of Colorado, what cowboys were to the plains states. They were fellers who thought nothinâ€™ of spendinâ€™ months at a time out in the wilds of nowhere, in a sense, lookinâ€™ for the end of the trail, much like their flatland counterparts whom we all have admired so much.
One such feller was an ornery olâ€™ scalawag by the name of Alfred Packer. Back in the early winter of 1874, Packer and five of his gold hungry chums set out in the San Juan mountains of Colorado in search of that all elusive shininâ€™ yellow rock. The story, told by Packer himself from the bottom of a whiskey bottle, brought back memories and blood curdlinâ€™ thoughts of the Donner Party expedition more than two decades earlier in the high Sierra Mountains, almost a thousand Milesâ€™ due west of the great Rockies.
Well, in case youâ€™ve forgotten the gruesome ordeal that led to the notoriety of the Donner Party in 1843, death and starvation forced these rugged pioneers to resort to cannibalism for their own survival. And in that fashion, Alfred Packer got hungry and ate his buddies.
Caught in a blizzard and out of grub, the July 11, 1874 Rocky Mountain News account of the ordeal reported that the first to die of exhaustion was a prospector by the name of Israel Swan. His remaining five companions sliced him up, cooked him, and saved themselves from starvation. After cleaninâ€™ the bones of the second to die, the remaining four began lookinâ€™ at each other wonderinâ€™ who would be the next to provide dinner for the rest. In the end it was Alfred Packer who outlasted his friends and lived to tell the story.
Later convicted of manslaughter for exercising his gruesome apatite, Packer was somewhat benumbed at his sentence. A politically concerned District Judge by the name of Melville Gerry expressed his anger at Packer with this stunning declaration of admonition: “Alfred Packer, you voracious, man-eating, S>O>B! There were only seven Democrats in all of Hinsdale County, and youâ€™ve done ate five of them.â€ He was then sentenced to hang by the neck until dead as a warning to others who might have thoughts of reducing the Democratic population of the state of Colorado. Amazingly, Packer never was hanged, but died of natural causes in 1907, all alone at his remote mountain cabin.