Cannibal of the San Juans

Excerpt – Rio Grande Ripples
– Mabel Steele Wright

   Tonight when the kitchen was filled to capacity, as usual, with the overflow sitting in the dining room, and I at my typewriter answering the day’s correspondence and the rest occupying chairs, stairs and floor space, “Juicy” Owen remarked that surely there must be some newcomers—he really said “victims”—who hadn’t heard the Packer story. Response was immediate. “I have, but not for ages—besides Miss X hasn’t, I’ll bet, and maybe Susan.” Miss X was a reserved but pleasant type from Vermont, dean of women at a college Susan attended.

   So Juicy began the tale — “With your assistance, Mabel” — of Alfred Packer, who slew five companions—history says all of them were Democrats—beside the little crystal stream above Lake City, in Hinsdale County, Colorado, and ate of their flesh, thus giving him meat to tide him over until weather and snow conditions permitted him to get to the Los Pinos Indian Agency post for vegetables. It is a gruesome tale—and even I, who grew up in the shadow of the same mountains that looked down upon the scene of savagery, and have heard the story from cradle days, find it so.

   “And when spring came, Packer was seen stumbling along the trail to the Agency doors”—Juicy; “. . . With a leg, they think, belonging to the youngest of the five, over his shoulder, at which he nibbled from time to time” — Mabel.

   At this point, poor Miss X, who had been staring in horror as our tale unfolded, began turning a greenish hue about the lips and muttering something. “Excuse me,” she said, and left the kitchen. Susan followed in concern, and next morning told me that Miss X was much ashamed of her squeamishness, especially since she “knew” there wasn’t even a modicum of truth in the entire yarn!

   Anent this: I know a grandmother — Truda McLarty — who uses this as a bedtime story for her many grandchildren. They clamor: “Tell us about the man that ate the five dead muskrats, please Trudie!”

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