Quoting the Old West

Alferd Packer Old West Cannibal

There must be hundreds of delicious “quotes” that help define and reveal the Old West. They’re always colorful, always memorable, and some of them are actually for real. So it’s disappointing that one of the most outrageous quotes ever cited is a fake. Perhaps the best fake quote in western lore. The 1883 quote is attributed to Judge Melville Gerry as he was sentencing the only man ever charged with cannibalism, Alferd Packer: “Stand up, you voracious, man-eating son of a bitch, stand up! There was seven democrats in Hinsdale County and you up and ate five of them. God damn you. I sentence you to be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead, as a warning against reducing the democratic population of our state!” But the official entry in the county records show the only part of the quote we know to be accurate is the line “until you are dead, dead, dead.” Tracing back, the rest of the colorful quote came from a barkeep and former acquaintance of Packer’s named Larry Dolan, who told it to a reporter who printed it in the Sunset Slope. And in the end, Packer did not hang until he was dead, dead, dead. He got a new trial and was sentenced to 40 years in prison, but he didn’t serve that, either. In 1901, he was paroled by Colorado Gov. Charles Thomas and spent the last ten years of his life in Littleton.

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