© 2009 Utah Humanities Council
In 1873, a man by the name of Preston Nutter traveled with a friend to Provo after hearing rumors that miners in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains were striking it rich. When they reached Utah County, Nutter and his companion joined up with a group of nineteen men also itching to make fortunes in the Colorado gold fields. But according to Nutter, the group foolishly selected as their guide a man named Alfred Packer, a choice that at least for some of the men in the party would turn out to be disastrous.
By the time the expedition reached Colorado it was late in the season, making any attempt to cross the high mountain passes reckless at best. Chief Ouray of the Utes tried to convince the party to stay with him and wait for the spring thaw. Nutter and most of the miners decided to wait it out with Ouray. But five men followed Packer, who claimed he was familiar with the San Juan country, into the mountains. When spring came, Nutter crossed over to the Los Pinos Indian Agency near present-day Gunnison, Colorado, just as Packer arrived in town, remarkably fat and healthy, despite a long, miserable winter in the high country. Nutter was immediately suspicious as were local authorities, who questioned him about his time in the mountains. Eventually, Packer cracked and admitted that his group had become trapped in the heavy winter snows and fell into cannibalism. He was the lone survivor, he confessed, because he’d killed his last remaining companion and had eaten him.
Packer was arrested and convicted of murder, though his sentence was eventually commuted. Nutter, my contrast, became a wealthy Utah cattle baron. No doubt he was happy he hadn’t made the mistake of trooping into the Colorado mountains with “man-eater” Alfred Packer.
See Virginia N. Price and John T. Darby, “Preston Nutter: Utah Cattleman, 1886-1936,” Utah Historical Quarterly 32 (Summer 1964): 232-251 Also see Paul H. Gannt, The Case of Alfred Packer, The Man-Eater (Denver: University of Denver Press, 1952).