Facets of Lucy

Looking at the various side of a life


Fresh From the Pages of History – The Alferd E. Packer Memorial Grill

Hurricane Sandy has me stuck indoors today so I have some time on my hands to find a new topic to write about.  I was flipping through pages of an old scrapbook and found a small newspaper article about  a new controversial cafeteria plaque being installed in the US Department of Agriculture.  “Perfect”, I thought, “Its just the right kind of perverse story for today.”  So I apologize if you know the tale but if not, here’s the tale of Alferd E. Packer.

Photo credit:
Photos From the Collection of Alan W. Petrucelli/Public Domain

Alferd E. Packer was a prospector who sometimes led groups west.  He was born in Pennsylvania in 1842 and later moved to Indiana with his family.  Alferd joined the Union Army during the Civil War, enlisting in Minnesota.  He was discharged for epilepsy but enlisted again in Iowa.  Discharged for the same reason again, Alferd decided to try his hand at prospecting. In 1873, he was hired to lead a group of 20 men on a prospecting trip through the San Juan mountains of Colorado. He claimed to have experience and could lead them to valuable gold ore but there doesn’t seem to be evidence of that.

Heading out, they stopped at the village of Chief Ouray, known as White Man’s Friend, warned the group that they’d be smarter to wait out the dangerous winter weather and begin again in the Spring.  After hearing that, Packer and five others decided to continue; the others to wait it out.

Packer and the others quickly got lost in the mountains  and ran out of their provisions.  They were lost for 60 days.  The rest of the group looked for them when they started out again in early spring.  Then in April, Packer walked into a saloon in Colorado looking healthy and ran into members of the second party.  He told them various versions of what had happened.  In one, he’d been wounded and left behind.  In another, one of the others had gone bezerk and shot other prospectors; Packer claimed he killed him in self defense. A few months later, strips of human flesh were found on the trail and, in August, the camp of the 5 missing men was found.  Packer was arrested by escaped.  He was later arrested again and put on trial.

Packer made 3 confessions.  In the first, he said:

 “Old man Swan died first and was eaten by the other five persons, about ten days out from camp; four or five days afterwards Humphrey died and was also eaten; he had about one hundred and thirty three dollars. I found the pocket-book and took the money. Some time afterwards while I was carrying wood, the Butcher was killed as the other two told me accidentally and he was eaten. Bell shot “California” with Swan’s gun, and I killed Bell; shot him – covered up the remains, and took a large piece along. Then traveled fourteen days into the “Agency.” Bell wanted to kill me, struck at me with his rifle, struck a tree and broke his gun.”

In his second confession , Packer blamed another prospector who he said had gone crazy:

When I came back to camp after being gone nearly all day I found the redheaded man [Bell] who acted crazy in the morning sitting near the fire roasting a piece of meat which he had cut out of the leg of the german butcher [Miller] the latters body was lying the furthest off from the fire down the stream, his skull was crushed in with the hatchet. The other three men were lying near the fire, they were cut in the forehead with the hatchet some had two some three cuts – I came within a rod of the fire, when the man saw me, he got up with his hatchet towards me when I shot him sideways through the belly, he fell on his face, the hatchet fell forwards. I grabbed it and hit him in the top of the head. I camped that night at the fire, sat up all night, the next morning I followed my tracks up the mountain but I could not make it, the snow was too deep and I came back, I went sideways into a piece of pine timber set up two sticks and covered it with pine boughs and then made a shelter about three feet high, this was my camp until I came out. I went back to the fire covered the men up and fetched to the camp the piece of meat that was near the fire. I made a new fire near my camp and cooked the piece of meat and ate it. I tried to get away every day but could not so I lived off the flesh of these men, the bigger part of the 60 days I was out.

His third confession explained:

“…our supplies were exhausted by the time that we reached the Green River, at the head of the Colorado. And now, my kind friend let me impress upon you the painful fact that thus early in our journey we were suffering most terrible from the pangs of hunger…Starvation had fastened its deathly talons upon us, and was slowly but most tortuously driving us into the state of imbecility; in fact, Bell, the strongest and most able-bodied man of our party, had succumbed to the power of mental derangement and was causing the party to be very much afraid of him, as well as that which they felt to be the inevitable doom of each, mentally.In the morning I ascended the mountain for the next purpose of ascertaining if there were any visible signs of civilization on the opposite side…As I neared the camp on my return I was confronted by a terrible sight. As I came near I saw no one but Bell. I spoke to him, and then, with the look of a terrible maniac, his eyes glaring and burning fearfully, he grabbed a hatchet and started for me, whereupon I raised my Winchester and shot him. The report from rifle did not arouse the camp, so I hastened to the campfire and found my comrades dead.

Can you imagine my situation – my companions dead and I left alone, surrounded by the midnight horrors of starvation as well as those of utter isolation? My body weak, my mind acted upon in such an awful manner that the greatest wonder is that I ever returned to a rational condition.

In looking about I saw a piece of flesh on the fire, which Bell had cut from Miller’s leg. I took this flesh from the fire and lay it to one side, after which I covered the bodies of my dead comrades. I remained here with them during the night. In the morning I moved about 1,000 yards below, where there was a grove of pine trees. I distinctly remember of taking a piece of the flesh and boiling it in a tin cup. I also know that I became sick and suffered most terribly. My mind at this period failed me. But I am satisfied that I must have eaten some of the flesh, but my mind was a total blank for a considerable period of time.”

Alferd E. Packer was put on trial, the first case of cannibalism tried in the United States court system.

He was found guilty and folklore stays that the judge, upon declaring his sentence said, “There were only six Democrats in all of Hinsdale County and you, you man-eating (expletive deleted), you ate five of them. I sentence you to hang by the neck until you’re dead, dead, dead as a warning against further reducing the Democratic population of the county.”

As it turns out, he was never hung.  The Colorado Supreme Court reconsidered his case and changed his sentence to 40 years.


If you remember, I introduced this story by mentioning a controversial plaque at the cafeteria of the US Department of Agriculture. In the 1970s, employees of the US Department of Agriculture, disgruntled about the quality of food served in the cafeteria, spent their own money on a plaque renaming it.  The plaque declared it ” The Alferd E. Packer Memorial Grill”, proclaiming that his case “”exemplifies the spirit and the fare of this Agriculture Department cafeteria.”  When the Agriculture Secretary found out who Alferd E. Packer was, the plaque was removed.

What follows is the article I clipped in 1977 from the Washington Post which was what got me looking up Mr. Packer today.  What does it say about me that I’ve had this clipping for over 30 years?

August 9, 1977 Washington Post article



The American Spirit

The  poem, composed by my son when he was 10, in the days following September 11, 2001 has been removed except for the last few  lines so that it does not become trite.  No reproduction is allowed without explicit permission.


 The American Spirit

Even though the Twin Towers and Pentagon were hit,
The eternal light in our hearts remains lit.
This light, the American spirit, our solace
Along with our infinite longing for justice.

God Bless America.

This poem is the personal property of Facets of Lucy and may not be reproduced for any purpose without explicit permission.

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Fresh From the Pages of History: Female Ingenuity

In most wars, it’s the young men who are off to battle, leaving mostly women, and the very old  or infirm men and the young boys to keep things going at home.    From what I’ve read, we women usually manage to step in and do what’s necessary to get by.  Maybe that’s why I love this illustration of female ingenuity taken fresh from the pages of Revolutionary War history by way of “Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, 1726 – 1871” [1]:

“An incident of the Revolution, which occurred in Augusta, is related in the memoir of Mrs. Jane Allen Trimble.  The women and children of that era were left in charge of the homesteads, and many females displayed as much patriotism and courage as the male members of their families.  Rigid economy and untiring industry were practiced in every household, and many families, whose sons and brothers were in the field as soldiers, were dependent upon their neighbors for the means of living.

A German family dwelling near the Stone Church seemed to be out of the pale of sympathy that pervaded society.  They contributed neither men nor means to aid the cause, and were regarded as Tories, but afraid to avow their principles.

An officer of the Virginia line visited his family in Augusta in 1777, and was at a social party composed principally of females, when the conduct of the family alluded to was commented upon.  A majority of the party urged that the Tories should be driven out of the neighborhood.  Jane Allen and one of the Misses Grattan opposed the proposition, saying that the people, if driven away, would probably go to North Carolina and swell the number of active enemies.  It was therefore agreed that the case should be put into the hands of the young women named, to be managed by them.

The two heroines made their plan and proceeded to execute it at once.  Disguised as Continental officers, it is said, they repaired to the house of the German, two miles off, late in the evening.  The dogs announced their approach, and the men, seeing officers coming, hid themselves, the female head of the family presenting herself at the door of her dwelling.  “Madam,” said one of the recruiting officers, “more soldiers are needed.  You have four sons and can spare two.  Your family has been protected by your neighbors, while you have contributed nothing to relieve the women and children around you.  You must either furnish men for the army, or supplies for the neighborhood.”

The old woman exclaimed, “Mine Fader, vot vill ve do!”  A voice from the loft cried out: “O give de money or provisions, and let de men stay at home.”  The husband was thereupon ordered down, and the contract then ratified was observed during the war.

The young women returned and made their report.  Profound secrecy was enjoined and preserved, as to the persons engaged in the enterprise.  The evening’s entertainment was closed with a hymn, and a prayer for the Divine blessing, led by the good-man of the house.

1 Joseph A. Wadell (ed.), Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, From 1726 to 1871 (2d ed.; Staunton, Virginia, C. Russell Caldwell, 1902, pp. 276-77.

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Fresh From the Pages of History: The Great Snow Storm of 1857

Much of the U.S. has suffered through a couple extreme heat waves this summer  without enough rain.  I thought it might be refreshing to take our minds down a different path, to the Great Snow Storm of 1857 as told in the “Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, 1726 – 1871” [1]:

We must not omit to mention the great snow storm of January, 1857, which is still often referred to in conversation, and  by the newspapers.  Snow began to fall about 7 o’clock Saturday night, the 17th, and continued without cessation for twenty-four hours.  All day Sunday, the 18th, the mercury stood at zero, and the wind blew in a gale from apparently every point of the compass, driving the snow into houses through every crack, piling it up many feet deep in some places, and in others sweeping the earth bare.

  The running of trains on the Virginia Central railroad was suspended for ten days, and as there was then no telegraph line to Staunton, the people of the town and county were cut off from communication with the outside world.  But never did good-fellowship and all the social virtues prevail so generally in the community.  Two issues of the Staunton newspapers were brought out during the embargo, and the editors were put to the trumps for copy.[Definition from the 1913 Webster’s dictionary- “to force to the last expedient, or to the utmost exertion.”]  At length after dark Tuesday evening, the 27th,  the town was startled and elated by the unaccustomed sound of an engine whistle, and a large part of the population rushed to the depot to learn the news.  Did Richmond, Washington and New York survive, or had they been smothered to death by the snow?  The train proved to be only an engine with one car attached, bringing the passengers who had started from Richmond on the 18th.  The regular western train of that day was arrested by the storm at Louisa Court-house, and the passengers were detained there till the 21st.  They then worked their way by some means to Gordonsville, where they had to remain until the 25th.  Starting again,  they spent a night in the railroad car, and reached Staunton, as stated, on the 27th.  They brought no mail nor news except the account of their own adventures.  At 4 o’clock Wednesday, January 28th, the first train from Richmond arrived with thirty bags of mail for the Staunton post office.

Reading how cut off they were from any news is so different than today.  Every major weather event is covered endlessly now on all television channels and  radio stations. And certain the internet has no lack of stories – no “put to the trumps” for today’s news reporters.  I always feel sorry for the lowest – ranking TV  correspondent, who reports “live” from the busiest intersection,  interviewing the poor shmucks whose cars have slid down the hill or gotten stuck on the road while the camera man films every slide, every accident and every time the correspondent, in quiet moments, steps in deep snow to see how deep it is, and whether its light or heavy (“a wet snow”?).

To read a riveting tale about passengers stuck on a train in the snow, I encourage you to read “All Wiped Out!” : Wellington Avalanche at   Map of Time: A Trip into the Past .

1 Joseph A. Wadell (ed.), Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, From 1726 to 1871 (2d ed.; Staunton, Virginia, C. Russell Caldwell, 1902, pp. 448-49.

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Fresh From the Pages of History: And You Have Issues With Your Parents?

Photo Source: Wikopedia

If you haven’t already had the pleasure, meet Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of King George II, and father of King George III.    On November 1, 1738, the General Assembly of the Colony of Virginia passed an act establishing and naming two counties in honor of him and his wife, the Princess Augusta.  As I make my way through the book I inherited from my great, great grandmother and my grandfather, “The Annals of Augusta County”, this piece of history did not exactly grab me ; that is, until I noticed the long note and poem at the bottom of the page.  What I read sent me looking for a source which could explain.  I found this link which shared some insight.

Unfortunately his mother and father, George II and Queen Caroline, hated Fred.

Queen Caroline is reported as saying ‘Our first-born is the greatest ass, the greatest liar, the greatest canaille (Definition: one of the lowest class of people)  and the greatest beast in the world, and we heartily wish he was out of it’.

‘My God’, she said, ‘popularity always makes me sick, but Fretz’s popularity makes me vomit’. Not a case of ‘motherly love’ then!

His father, George, suggested that perhaps ‘Fretz might be a Wechselbag, or changeling’.

When in 1737 Queen Caroline lay dying, George refused to let Fretz say goodbye to his mother, and Caroline was said to be very thankful.

She said ‘At last I shall have one comfort in having my eyes eternally closed, I shall never have to see that monster again’.

Frederick didn’t live to a good old age as he died in 1751 after being struck on the head with a cricket-ball.

His son, the future George III, who was a teenager at the time, was genuinely unhappy when his father died. He said ‘I feel something here’ (putting his hand on his heart) ‘just as I did when I saw two workmen fall from the scaffold at Kew’.

Makes you want to go hug your parents, doesn’t it?

Oh, and the note and long poem at the bottom of the page?  An epigram (defined as is a brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statement) which was written and became popular when he died.

Here lies Prince Fred,
Who was alive and now is dead:
Had it been his Father,
I had much rather;
Had it been his brother,
Sooner than any other;
Had it been his sister;
There’s no one would have missed her;
Had it been his whole generation,
Best of all for the Nation;
But since it’s only Fred,
There’s no more to be said.

At least his wife missed him, right?  Not so much.  The rest of the notes states that her reputation suffered after her husband died, as she was accused on “undue intimacy” with her confidential adviser.

After you hug your parents, kiss your spouse.  Poor Fred!

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Fresh From the Pages of History: The Story of the Drunken Hogs

Photo Eric Brady | The Roanoke Times

I inherited a wonderful treasure from my grandfather.  It is an old book, copyrighted 1901, and passed down from my great-grandmother. On the surface, it does not seem so special;being entitled “Annals of Augusta County, 1726-1871” [1].  Several things make this the treasure it is. First, it is annotated by both my grandfather and great-grandmother – I am looking at her handwriting!  They have also clipped newspaper articles that are relevant and left points which help me trace a side of my family I didn’t know much about.  And the book itself, I believe, is a treasure.  The author, Joseph A. Wadelll states in his preface that he received much criticism for not emphasizing famous citizens of the area.  He chose instead to  relate stories of the “common man”, to better show the times and the manners and customs of the people.  I find I’m having trouble reading it straight through because there are so many side stories that draw me in.  I may share a few now and then because I think they have value for us all. I want to start with an amusing anecdote, a story told first-hand by the affected family.

The Story of the Drunken Pigs

” A  ludicrous incident occurred in Staunton, in connection with the war preparations, in or about 1812.  The captain of one of the town companies, who was a man of strict sobriety, felt it incumbent on him to “treat” his men, in accordance with the custom of the times.  His wife, then confined to her chamber, had on hand a large supply of brandied cherries, which the captain appropriated and distributed liberally to his company.  Of course, he had to partake of them himself, and being unaccustomed to the use of liquour, a very few made him very jubilant and very affectionate to everybody, his wife especially.  Hurrying home, he quite overwhelmed the lady with caresses, and she soon discovered the cause of the unusual demonstration.  Calling a servant, she ordered that the remaining cherries be emptied into the street gutter.  Pigs running at large fell upon the dainties, and after devouring them became drunk and went reeling through the streets like any other topers, to the great amusement of the town people.  As far as known, this was the Captain’s first and last spree.*

* The Captain was John C. Sowers.  The incident was related to me by one of his daughters.”

1 Joseph A. Wadell (ed.), Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, From 1726 to 1871 (2d ed.; Staunton, Virginia, C. Russell Caldwell, 1902, p. 392.