Alferd Packer was a bad, bad man
In the tradition of Phil Johnson's old "Monday Menagerie" blogposts, I will devote some blogspace today to an "escoteric and offbeat" subject. The subject of this post may seem somewhat macabre or grotesque to some readers, but just remember- the story of Alferd Packer is nothing compared to the crypt of the church of Santa Maria della Concezione or the Confucian concept of hell.
more proof that I have the coolest wife ever
Research for this blogpost was actually conducted on my honeymoon. The pictures below were taken on Thursday, October 13 after we were both worn out from our twelve-mile Rocky Mountain hike. Abby was very understanding and interested in finding out about the gruesome tale of Alferd Packer.
The Alferd Packer Massacre Site
This horrifying story of murder and cannibalism is forever memorialized at a site near Slumgullion Pass just south of Lake City. Abby and I arrived at the site just at sundown. This setting sounds bone-chilling, but actually the landscape all around Lake City was so gorgeous that no scary story could really make us feel nervous.
The picture below is Abby looking at the historical sign telling the story of Alferd Packer. Inside the fence, there are five white crosses where Packer's victims are buried and a metal plaque fixed to a rock with information about the victims (I couldn't get a clear picture of the words on the plaque). As I mentioned before, the landscape all around this area was gorgeous and we were not nervous at all- however, this site was right next to a house, almost in someone's back yard, and I couldn't help but think that the children growing up in that house might have trouble sleeping at night.
The next picture is of the sign Abby was looking at in the previous picture. The drawings on this sign depict the condition of the corpses as they were found in the summer of 1874. These drawings, according to the sign, appeared in Harper's Weekly magazine on October 17, 1874.
The next two pictures are close-ups on portions of the above-pictured sign. These give the basic facts of the story of the Alferd Packer massacre:
More detailed information about Alferd Packer can be found at the Court TV website. In brief, Packer swore to two conflicting testimonies about the horrifying incidents that occurred on that fateful wintry day in 1874. The details from one of Packer's testimonies- that the whole group was involved in cannibalism out of necessity and that Packer only killed one member of the group in self-defense- is recorded on the historical sign above. In his other testimony, Packer claimed that he went scouting ahead of the group and when he returned one member of the group, Shannon Wilson Bell, had killed the others by hitting them in the head with a hatchet and had begun eating them. Packer claimed Bell had then attacked him with the hatchet and Packet shot him dead in self-defense. In this testimony, Packer said that he had been snowed in and had been forced to cannibalize the other members himself. Aside from the conflicting confessions before the trial, Packer told several significant lies during the trial. According to the Court TV website (which looks well-researched judging from the bibliography), "He lied about his age, the nature of his military service, the fact that he had enlisted twice and been discharged twice, and the cause of his epilepsy, which he said had resulted from walking guard duty."
This final picture is of the crosses marking the graves of the victims:
In 1989, a modern forensic examination was conducted on the remains of the victims. Examiners found that "three of the bodies had blunt force blows to the head, as well as cuts to the arms and hands...interpreted as defensive wounds." One body also appeared to have a bullet wound. This evidence seems to indicate that either Packer's second testimony is true or that- as most people believe the evidence indicates- Packer himself killed and ate the other five members of his party.
Some people who have read this blog before may be curious as to why I would take time and space to post a story about Alferd Packer. There actually is a connection between the story of Alferd Packer and the Good News of Jesus Christ, as I hope to make clear in the remainder of this post.
In presenting the Good News of Jesus Christ, we first must be faithful to present the bad news of Man's alienation from God and hostility toward Him due to sin. This is the method of our Lord in John chapter 4 verse 18 and Luke chapter 18 verses 20 through 22 when He exposed the sins of the woman at the well and the rich young ruler. The Apostle also begins his presentation of the Good News of Jesus Christ by exposing the utter sinfulness of Man in passages such as the early chapters of Romans, Ephesians chapter 2 verses 1 through 3, and Titus chapter 3 verse 3. Now, people who are confronted with the reality of their own sin before God (in my own experience and, I think, biblically, as in passages such as Genesis chapter 3 verses 12-13) usually try to make themselves feel better about their sin by pointing to the sin of someone who has performed worse actions than they have. So, stories like that of Alferd Packer actually provide a sense of false comfort to sinners struggling with conviction- 'certainly someone like a murderer and a cannibal deserves the condemnation of God,' the reasoning goes, 'but I'm a pretty good guy, and I think that God will overlook my faults and let me into heaven when the time comes.' (I actually had a former drug-dealer who did not believe in Christ reason with me in this way- only the cannibal/killer Jeffrey Dahmer was his 'scapegoat' rather than Alferd Packer.) What we must persuade people to understand, based on the doctrine of our Lord recorded in places like Matthew chaper 5 verses 21 through 22, is that if they do not have faith in Christ alone as the substitute for their sins, then God views them as being in the same basic category as the most heinous criminal imaginable. Without true faith in Christ we are all criminals against God's Law, deserving the wrath of God, who is a righteous judge.
In addition to the assertion that all people outside of true faith in Christ are under God's just condemnation, our presentation of the Good News of Jesus must also feature the bold assertion that all people who trust in Christ alone for salvation will be entirely forgiven, no matter what evil deeds that they have previously committed. Occasionally, this matter will come up in conversations with those who do not believe in Christ- some people will be burdened by a self-centered guilt that will deceive them into believing that God could not possibly forgive them for whatever wrong that they have done. Other people will want to trust in their own good works to earn them standing before God and they will reject the message of faith because it is insulting to them that the people they previously looked down upon as examples of those who surely deserve God's anger for their actions might actually be granted a place in heaven by turning from their sin and believing in Jesus at the end of their lives. Both of these groups of faithless people will point to examples such as Alferd Packer (or, in my experience Jeffrey Dahmer or Adolph Hitler) to try to force believers in Jesus to say that some people could not possibly have their sins forgiven just by trusting in Jesus Christ- 'if someone kills a number of people,' the reasoning goes, 'they certainly must go to hell and could never be forgiven based only on believing in Jesus.' What we must persuade people to understand, based on the Word of God recorded in places like Isaiah chapter 53, is that no one's sins go unpunished. Either a person pays for their own sins in hell, or they have had their sins paid for by Jesus on the Cross. In presenting the Good News of Jesus Christ, we must proclaim that on the Cross Jesus, who had committed no sin, was exposed to the wrath of God for every sin of every person that would ever believe in Him. All of our lies, lusts, and hatred were paid for by Christ on the Cross. And if a murdering cannibal [a completely hypothetical situation in the particular case of Alferd Packer, but a very real situation among primitive cultures reached by frontier missionaries] ever came to true faith in Christ, we could be sure that on the Cross Jesus was voluntarily punished before God as a murdering cannibal. The sins of believers in Jesus are completely paid for by Christ, our perfect substitute, who conquered sin and death so that He alone receives all the glory.