Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

Out of State - Internet presentation

Version 072013


Alfred Packer

By Neal Du Shane

July 20, 2013

Grave site: N39 36 18.50, W105 0 59.66 (WSG84)



Grave of Alfred Packer, in the Littleton Cemetery in Littleton, Colorado.

It reads; ALFRED PACKER CO. F 16 U.S. INF.

Photo by Neal Du Shane



Speculation and theory has been presented over the years regarding this incident by many learned individuals and historians. Primarily focusing on the cannibal aspect and all blame put on one person, Alfred Packer! Not having researched Mr. Packer to any degree, but I’ve always pondered; I wonder what REALLY happened? I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on the subject or Mr. Packer. This normally is the best way to approach research as it limits, to a greatest degree possible the bias, and ability to view information with an open mind.



Photo taken pre-trial










You may notice that my attitude toward Mr. Alfred Packer has come into clear focus to me. I now respect him and the life threatening predicament he was in. No demeaning names or disrespectful slang will be used by me from this day forward, so compelling was my research at this grave. I have come close to this experience at time or two but this is the most rewarding research I’ve completed to date. I must acknowledge what I’m about to share is my belief; based on the information I gained doing this research at his grave site. Most of what I will share is new information to me and may or may not conflict with what has been previously written.















Looking at the back of the headstone - notice two unexplained bolts to left of the headstone.

Photo by Neal Du Shane

First and foremost, this is the actual grave of Alfred Packer. His position in the grave follows Christian belief in that he is facing east, feet to the east and head to the west below the headstone. One obvious fact that was apparent, his is one of the finest grave’s in this cemetery. Not elaborate but well thought out and has had tender loving care over all these years. Laid to rest in a cement enclosure with a headstone, while all other graves in this section are headstones only, covered by grass. Obviously someone cared and respected him very much to provide this type of grave.


There are neither flowers nor ornamental trimmings (they are not allowed by the cemetery). However there are two bolts that were placed in the cement when it was formed. (To the left of the headstone in the photograph on the right) No explanation as to what they might have had attached to them other than possibly a Civil War Veteran acknowledgement, but this is speculation on my part.


Alfred Packer indicated he was a Mormon. He had a wife that stayed in Utah and they had been married for six months. There were no children that he was aware of. His epilepsy was a handy cape and restricted his abilities with others. He never returned to her because of the shame he felt he may bestow on her and her family.


Alfred and 20 others left Utah and traveled to Montrose, CO. leaving approximately 15 others in their prospecting party in Montrose to spend the winter and wait for spring before proceeding. In the high country of Colorado you are lucky to not have snow on the ground from late June, July, August and it can start snowing in September in the high country. Growing season in Leadville (elevation 10,000’) is only 10 days, which means there is only 10 days without frost.


If you have experienced Gold Fever you realize it’s addiction. Gold Fever is a reality and can be fatal, as it blocks logic and common sense. A person is so driven to find gold they become oblivious to reality. Robert W. Service in “Tales of the Yukon” describes it best . . . “It’s not the gold . . . so much as finding the gold” that fuels the fever. If you approach it logically, “What’s wrong with this picture” . . . only .001% actually find a Bonanza and everyone else literally dig themselves into poverty with a hole in the ground, spending almost every cent they have or can beg, borrow or steal, looking for the elusive wealth that never finds them, in most cases they are lucky to cover their expenses. But I digress J


So it was with the Packer group . . . One burning question in my mind after exploring the San Juan’s from Lake City, to Silverton to Ouray, for many years is; there was all kinds of prospecting opportunities going on in that area, why didn’t they stay in Lake City?


It seems they were one year early for the development of actual mining in this area. The Ute Indian’s lost the rights to this land in 1873 with the signing of the Brunot Treaty. Lake City at that time was a primitive community with no permanent buildings and businesses operating from tent structures. The first documented home site in Lake City was that of Enos Hotchkiss in August, 1874, after filing the Hotchkiss claim (Golden Fleece) with Henry Finley and D.P. Church. Lake City was officially incorporated on August 16, 1875 and quickly become a supply hub and smelting center for individual prospectors and operation in the region. It is documented there may have been up to 500 structures within the district, but not necessarily in Lake City.



Blue line indicates authors line of travel in and about the grave site in the Littleton Cemetery in Littleton, CO.

Created by Neal Du Shane 07/18/2013


Another unanswered question; from where they were stranded, they were only 2.34 miles from Lake City. The terrain was almost level as there is only 188’ elevation gain in that 2.34 mile distance and they were within a few feet of the river. One lesson learned early and quickly when exploring in the mountains, if lost; always follow the river/creek downstream until you reach safety, guaranteed you will find it if you follow this rule. Was the Packer group so “Green” they didn’t know this or were they so driven with “Gold Fever” they would NEVER go back, possibly too macho to admit failure? If they were logical they would have turned around as safety was only a day or two at the most away even in deep show, but was it


As remote a location as Lake City is even today, realizing wild life migrate to lower elevation during the winter months. It is logical that any inhabitants in Lake City at that time would leave for lower elevations in the winter months which leave’s three or four months in the summer with residents inhabiting Lake City. Only the most fool hardy individual would try to stay the winters. It is logical that any safety offered by the placement of Lake City was not in existence to the Packer party. In later years as mining developed it is possible year round residents did try to stay the winter and work the mines. Brutal snow and cold would be the major reason for migrating to lower elevations.



Decorative stone work on grave

Photo by Neal Du Shane


Two unexplained bolts (on the right) in the cement

Photo by Neal Du Shane


It is my belief that Alfred had been out searching for the route to reach safety and had been away from camp for a considerable amount of time, speculating a day or two. In Alfred’s absence Shannon Wilson Bell had gone insane killing the other members of their party. Bell’s insanity and demented rage was caused by his desperation for sustenance, he killed and proceeded to start cannibalizing, Frank “Reddy” Miller, Israel “Old Man” Swann, James Humphreys a.k.a. Humphries and George Noon. It is logical that several of these individuals were so feeble from lack of food they offered little or no resistance to Bell’s advances. When Alfred returned to camp, he was so distraught over the situation, and instantly realizing Bells mentally bazaar state, his instinct’s told him, he was next in Bell’s insanity there was no other options. A confrontation ensued and Bell started to come after Alfred in a crazed rage. Realizing his life was in peril, he shot and killed Bell. Simply stated it was the frontier code “Kill or be killed”.


Up to this point Alfred had consumed no human remains. Theory is Bell killed the others with a hatched/axe in their sleep or weakened state. First to be killed was James Humphrey a.k.a. Humphries, second was Frank Miller, third was Israel Swann, and fourth was George Noon.


Why didn’t Packer traverse the 2.34 miles back to Lake City to report the incident? It is reasonably unlikely there was anyone at Lake City to report anything to. Remember the 15 other prospectors in their party that were in their original party that stayed in Montrose. Packer believed the people that were killed were friends of the others, specifically Bell and they wouldn’t believe Alfred’s accounting of the happenings and he would be killed by them. Of course it is likely Alfred himself was suffering from mental fatigue also, and wasn’t thinking logically. Survival was the most important thought he possessed. Alfred in an attempt to have strength to proceed started consuming the remains of George Noon and Shannon Bell but not the others. It is believed Packer did take some of the remains with him to consume along the way.



Coins placed as remembrance to Alfred from honored visitors.

Photo by Neal Du Shane


Two unexplained bolts on right and example of other markers in this cemetery.

Photo by Neal Du Shane


These mountains could be described as some of the toughest miles in the San Juan’s and if he made one or two miles a day he was extremely fortunate, even with homemade makeshift snow shoes. Keep in mind snow can be 10’ or 20’ deep in the San Juan’s during the winter.


It appears Gold Fever was so strong they were oblivious to prospecting opportunities that presented itself along the route they had already traversed, I.e. Area around Lake City, Creede all presented prospecting opportunities?


The confessions Alfred gave were intentionally conflicting. This is due in part to the fact he was forced and shamed into giving them.


Alfred did suffer mental issues derived from this incident trying to survive and was half crazed when he finally reached safety but being of strong character he endured.


It was the pistol he used to shoot and kill Bell that was found years later at the murder site. He shot two rounds at Bell before going into hand to hand combat with Bell and eventually killed Bell.


Alfred is not at peace in his afterlife due to the shame and public humility he suffered trying to survive and being labeled as a Cannibal.


As with all history research, the more you research the less you know as there are always more questions than answers.


One has to realize current roads didn’t exist in those days. However, most trails and primitive roads did follow wild life trails and rivers to reach their destinations. I questions why they were in Lake City to begin with? Were they completely lost, or were they there before there was a Lake City? What was there actual final destination? Really doesn’t matter as this was where they were when the situation happened regardless of my questions.


Any thoughts and theories would be greatly appreciated. I can then go back and revisit his grave. Interesting the responses were very marginal when I started but got stronger as the realization of my intent.


A modern scientific evaluation by Museum of Western Colorado (2009) (complete PDF study) was completed and a recreation of the original trial was held. This is the most research that I’ve come across that delved into what really happened. As Alfred indicated the pistol was accidently left behind by him after the shooting of Bell. Fortunately I had not read any information such as this before I visited Alfred’s grave. Alfred admitted his guilt of eating flesh and killing Bell in self defense but had nothing to do with the murders of the other four. If the trial were held today with all the forensic techniques it is believed Alfred would have been acquitted and set free. My bottom line research at his grave site also follows this line of thinking based on my research.


Unanswered Questions and To-Do List


1. Did they have pack animals?

2. Did they have horses?

3. Were these animals consumed before they turned to cannibalism?

4. What was their final destination? Saguache, Gunnison, Creede, Breckenridge?

5. Research the grave site off Slumgullion Pass where the other five are interred.


The summation I believe, based on my research at Alfred Packer’s grave, is that Alfred Packer did not kill the four other individuals, Shannon Wilson Bell did. It is my belief Alfred Packer didn’t plan nor instigate the killing or consumption of the others. Alfred admitted, he did kill Wilson Bell in self defense and did eat some remains of two of his fellow prospectors in an attempt to save his own life. His options were to die or eat their remains, which was the absolute last possible way to save his own life. If he had not eaten their flesh, he would have starved to death as there was absolutely no other food available to him.


I hope none of us have to make this decision, but the human instinct to survive is strong and limitless beyond our perception of reality. Every so often we read about an individual that had to amputate their own limb to free themselves from a particular life threatening situation. Individuals in mountainous areas in winter plane crashes doing the exact same thing as Mr. Packer. Lest we can be the first to cast a stone, can we stand in judgment? I certainly can’t . . . I know what I believe I’d do . . . do you?


Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project

Out of State - Internet presentation

Version 072013


WebMaster Neal Du Shane


Copyright © 2013 Neal Du Shane
All rights reserved. Information contained within this website may be used
for personal family history purposes, but not for financial profit or gain.
All contents of this website are willed to the Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project (