Alfred Packer (sometimes spelled Alferd Packer) was the only man ever tried and convicted in the United States of cannibalism. His story is strange and convoluted, and in the end, only Al knew what really happened in the San Juan mountains that winter.
Alfred Packer led a group of prospectors into the San Juan mountains of Colorado in the winter of 1873. He claimed to know the area well, due to his supposed experience as an ore wagon driver in the area, but in truth, he knew little about the area. When the group was warned by Chief Ouray, a Ute chieftain, that continuing into the mountains in the winter would be deadly, 15 of the group decided to wait the winter out with the Utes. Packer and five other men decided to continue on. Of those six men, only Packer lived to tell the tale of what went on in those snowy mountains.
Alfred Packer emerged from the mountains the next spring carrying large sums of money and appearing healthy and well fed. When questioned about the rest of the party, his first story was that he had injured his leg and been left behind, but his story was to change several times in the next few years. The scenario that he decided to stick with was that he had been scouting alone for food, and returned to camp to find one of the men (Bell) sitting alone at the campfire roasting a large piece of meat. The remaining four men lay nearby in the snow, slaughtered by the crazed Bell. When Bell came after Packer with a hatchet, obviously intending to add him to the menu (sorry, I couldn't resist), Alfred was forced to shoot him in self defense.
Alfred was jailed on suspicion of murder, but he escaped and lived incognito in Wyoming for nine years, until he was recaptured and eventually convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. A colorful story of the time (one which few people actually believe today) was that when the judge passed down Packer's sentence he said: " "...There was siven Dimmycrats in Hinsdale County! But you, yah voracious, main-eatin' son of a bitch, yah et five of them, therefor I sentence ye t' be hanged by the neck until y're dead, dead, dead!". Packer's death sentence was later overturned and his conviction was changed to manslaughter and he was ordered to serve 40 years. He was paroled in 1901, thanks to the efforts of a group of publishers of the Denver Post who wanted to exhibit Mr. Packer as part of a circus. As an outgrowth of the Packer affair, the publishers were both shot by attorney, William Anderson who was tried three times before being acquitted. The judge told Mr. Anderson "your motive was admirable, but your marksmanship abominable".
Alfred went on to live in relative obscurity, but his reputation lives on in Colorado. There is an annual Alfred Packer 50 mile hike in Denver, an Alfred Packer barbecue cook-off held every May in Gunnison, and a trail mix sold in Colorado called "Alferd Packer Gorp". One of the main dining halls at the University of Colorado is The Alferd Packer Grill and features El Canibal, a Mexican food station that is very popular. For 27 years, Colorado University at Boulder students had an annual Alferd Packer Day that featured eating contests and themes including "A kinder Tastier Nation", "Taste the Thigh Country". In 1977 the New York Post ran an article describing the removal of a plaque dedicated to Alfred Packer from a cafeteria wall at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A movie entitled The Legend of Alfred Packer was released in 1980. There's a film by Trey Parker (who later went on to create South Park) called Cannibal! The Musical which boasts "Seven wonderful songs, magnificent mountain vistas and a flesh-eating madman. History re-written in the style of Rogers & Hammerstein in this musical adaptation of the Alfred Packer legend. Yes it's "Cannibal Apocalypse" meets "Oklahoma" as we follow the trail and witness the trial of one of the Old West's most notorious pioneers." I'm sorry, but that's just WRONG and very very funny.
The name spelling controversy has also been examined quite closely. According to most accounts, Alfred got a tattoo of his name in which the tattooist misspelled his name. Alfred adopted the mistake as an unofficial nickname, and his tombstone features the name "Alferd Packer".
I'll close this rather silly write-up with a link to a fine write-up about a song written in 1964 by Phil Ochs entitled The Ballad of Alferd Packer. I'd also like to add that when Alfred Packer died, he was a vegetarian.