On a rainy day we traveled 50 miles south of our RV park on Blue Mesa Reservoir to visit Lake City deep in the San Juan mountains. It is a few miles east of Silverton via either Engineer or Cinnamon passes. The town was reached by a Denver & Rio Grande branch but the rails were torn out long ago.
One of Lake City’s dubious claims to fame is that the Alferd Packer cannibalism case began here. Mr. Packer has signed his first name both Alfred and Alferd, perhaps depending on his mood. Alfred is on this birth record, and Alferd was tattooed on his arm. I will use Alferd here.
He was born in 1842. In 1873 he agreed to guide 5 prospectors from Utah to Los Pintos Indian Agency in Colorado. Although warned by no less than Chief Ouray when his party was near Montrose CO not to enter the San Juan mountains in the winter, Alferd led them there anyway. They became lost near present day Lake City (which not exist in 1874). The party experienced severe weather and ran out of supplies. Only Alferd Packer survived. In the spring the bodies of his companions were found, with signs of their having been murdered and eaten. Alferd was arrested and jailed in Saguache. Before he could be tried, he escaped and was on the loose for 9 years.
Alferd’s first jury trial was in this courthouse in Lake City. It is the oldest courthouse in use in Colorado. The courtroom is on the second floor. He was convicted of 5 murders and sentenced to hang.
This sign in the courthouse explains the story and has a time line of events of Alferd’s life.
This is the courtroom in which Alferd was tried the first time. It is still in use.
The courtroom had on display two nice Elk mounts (6 x 6).
This account appears at the site of the “massacre”. Alferd’s death sentence was set aside on appeal, and upon retrial in 1886 in Gunnison after a change of venue, he again was convicted but this time of 5 manslaughters and sentenced to 40 years at the Canon City penitentiary. After serving 15 years he was paroled in 1901 and lived in the Denver area until he died in 1907.
This is the memorial site at the place of the camp about 5 miles outside Lake City. The bones of all of the victims are buried here. They were studied by forensic anthropologists in 1989, and other studies were made in 1994 and 2000. They concluded that the bodies indeed were cannibalized and that they had died violent deaths.. There was some evidence to support Alferd’s defense that another member of the group killed the remaining members while Alferd was away from camp and that upon his return Alferd shot him in self defense.
This plaque names the victims buried there.
Alferd is memorialized at the cafe on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder. It is named Alferd Packer Grill - Have a Friend For Lunch. Another sign was in the grill for a while reading The Alferd Packer Memorial Grill with a motto: “Serve All Mankind”. Another account was that the motto was Serving All Mankind Since 1874.
A book is available on Amazon titled Alferd Packer’s Wilderness Cookbook in which the author goes into detail abut Alferd and gives a few recipes.
Fall colors were nearing their height around Lake City.
This store is a popular stop for 4 wheelers driving the Alpine Loop from Silverton over Engineer or Cinnamon passes to Lake City.
How long has it been since you have seen a soda fountain like this? It is inside the store shown above.
Yes, a bank actually does business in this quaint building.
And here is a bar named for Alferd.
On the way back from Lake City we saw this area of changing colors ranging from green, to yellow green, to yellow, to nearly orange.