Saturday, August 8, 2015


Man-Eater by Harold Schechter
Little A: 8/4/15
eBook review copy, 374 pages
ISBN-13: 9781503944213

Man-Eater: The Life and Legend of an American Cannibal by Harold Schechter is a highly recommended nonfiction narrative about Alfred (Alferd) G. Packer, a prospector who was accused of cannibalism.

Six miners went into the mountains
to hunt for precious gold;
It was the middle of the winter,
the weather was dreadful cold.
Six miners went into the mountains,
they had nor food nor shack—
Six miners went into the mountains,
But only one came back.
 "The Lost Miners"(or the Ballad of Alferd Packer; nineteenth century)

In 1873 Packer and a group of five other men set off through the high mountains of Colorado to seek their fortune in gold or silver. It was winter, a brutal time to be traveling through the mountains, and the men were lost and starving. Packer was the only man to make it out alive. Though he changed his story several times, it was widely believed that he killed the others and ate them in order to survive. Packer claimed, at one point, that the men were killed by another member of the group, Shannon Wilson Bell, who Packer in turned shot before Bell killed him. Then he did eat the flesh of his deceased companions to ward off starvation. It was also believed that he may have killed the other men to rob them; he did admittedly take money from the dead men.

Schechter covers Packer's two trials, along with a plethora of historical information to place the legendary crime story in context. He includes Polly Pry's efforts on Packer's behalf, and the cultural impact of Packer's story. For example, a cafeteria at the University of Colorado Boulder is named after Packer,  several films and a musical based on the story have been made, and songs have been written about it. Schechter also discusses James Starr's efforts in to use modern forensic science techniques to resolve the questions surrounding Packer's case. 

This is one of those books that is simply interesting to read. If you enjoy nonfiction about the late 1800s, prospectors, cases of cannibalism in US history, and sensational historical figures, this may be a good choice for you. Written in 50 short, well organized chapters, the book includes chapter notes and a bibliography.

(The spelling of the name Alfred as “Alferd” is because Packer didn’t know how to spell his name when younger and used the alternate misspelling.)

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Little A for review purposes.

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