Category Archives: Colorado

1883: Not Alferd (sic) Packer, #nerdprom attendee

The National Press Club is probably best known for its White House Correspondent’s Dinner. This site prefers to think of it as the site of the Alferd Packer plaque, a memorial to a cannibal who avoided hanging.


(cc) image from Kurt Riegel.

The plaque is rather unassuming, its simple polished brass declaring: “The Alferd Packer Memorial Grill — In Memory of Stan Weston 1931-1984.” Weston was the public affairs officer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who came up with a 1977 contest to name the USDA’s new cafeteria. But hold that thought for now.

Packer was born in Pennsylvania in 1842. He made his way west and joined the Union Army in Minnesota, then ambled on into the Rockies as a pioneer after the Civil War. In a particularly stunning feat of incompetence, he and five others separated from a larger expedition and tried to make it across a mountain pass in January 1874. Three months later, Packer arrived on the other side, declaring that he got separated from the other five.

But Packer had taken money and effects from them, which made the remaining members of his expedition more than a little suspicious. Caught out in a lie, Packer confessed to a carnivorous progress through his comrades: Israel Swan froze to death, and he was eaten; James Humphreys died a few days later, and he was eaten; then Frank Miller was likely murdered and eaten; and George “California” Noon fell to the pistol of Wilson Bell. With Bell armed and dangerous, Packer claims to have killed him and taken a bit of a snack for the road.*

Packer was arrested shortly after his return, but he slipped his bonds and escaped to Wyoming. There the law finally caught up to him. He was returned to Colorado, where a judge sentenced the cannibal to death.

The hanging was not to be. Packer appealed the conviction, which was ultimately overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court; on retrial he was remanded for a 40-year prison sentence instead. He was paroled in 1901, took a job as a guard at the Denver Post (who had, incidentally, helped him make parole), and died in 1907.

Back to the memorial grill.

Why would the USDA honor such an odd historical figure? Politics.

In 1977, newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland had a beef with the General Service Administration, which refused to terminate the Nixon-era contract award for cafeteria services and food. Bergland’s response? Let the disgruntled employees name** and shame. The USDA cafeteria became the Packer Memorial Grill,† and Bergland paraded the press through the facility, taking every opportunity to point out just how similar he felt the food was to the diet of the honoree.

The contract was rescinded later in 1977. The plaque, meanwhile, was taken off the wall just a week after its installation. Initially, the GSA claimed it was not approved prior to installation, but it turns out the building manager, a GSA employee named Melvin Schick, simply found the name distasteful.

All of which begs the question of how it ended up gracing the National Press Club’s bar, emblazoned with Stan Weston’s name. The answer probably lies in Wesley McCune, founding member of the “Friends of Alferd Packer” and member of the National Press Club. Schick returned the plaque to Weston after the goings-on at the USDA cafeteria, and Weston hung it in his office. McCune’s group met most Aprils to hold an Alferd Packer dinner at the National Press Club. Stanley D Weston died in July of 1984, and while it’s unclear when the plaque went up, by 1989, this unusual object had a permanent home.

* A memorial was placed at Cannibal Plateau in the 1920s.

** The plaque was originally purchased by Bob Meyer and Stan Weston.

† And it wasn’t the first! The University of Colorado has had an Alferd Packer Restaurant & Grill since 1968.

1884: Maggie and Michael Cuddigan lynched in Ouray

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

Shortly after midnight on this date in 1884, a mob of masked men dragged Michael and Maggie Cuddigan out of the Delmonico Hotel in the Rocky Mountain mining town of Ouray, Colorado, marched them to the town limits, and lynched them. Michael was hanged from a tree and his wife, who was visibly pregnant, was hanged from the ridgepole of a cabin on the opposite side of the road. It was later said that the whole business “was quietly and neatly done.”

The Cuddigans had adopted Mary Rose Matthews from St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum in 1883. She was about ten years old at the time; she had been sent to the orphanage after her mother died and her father found himself unable to care for her. On January 13, 1884, only a few months after her arrival at the Cuddigans’ ranch ten miles outside Ouray, the child died.

That day a hunter found Mary Rose crouched beside a haystack near the Cuddigans’ home. It was freezing cold and she was underdressed for the weather. Michael and Maggie were notified and took her home, but she died a few hours later. The next day they buried her themselves, quickly and with some secrecy, in a distant part of the ranch. Anyone who asked was told she had accidentally fallen down the cellar steps and been killed.

Mary Rose’s sudden and mysterious death gave rise to suspicion of foul play. The neighbors who had seen her in the days and weeks prior to her death noted that she’d been visibly bruised and barefoot in spite of the frigid January temperatures. They approached the coroner and asked him to investigate.

When the body was exhumed and a postmortem performed, there were clear signs that the little girl had been cruelly abused and overworked. Her remains showed numerous scars, bruises, broken bones and knife wounds, as well as severe frostbite to both feet and one hand. There was also evidence of sexual abuse. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.

The Cuddigans were arrested, as was Maggie’s brother, John Carroll, and charged with murder. They were held in temporary custody at the Delmonico Hotel between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. That’s when the lynch mob intervened, overpowered the sheriff and his deputies, and took the suspects away.

Carroll was questioned separately from his sister and brother-in-law, roughed up, and threatened with death. There are reports that the mob actually did string him up, but changed their mind and lowered him to the ground before he actually died. At any rate, he claimed he wasn’t at the Cuddigans’ ranch when Mary Rose died and he was able to convince his captors to release him. Michael and Maggie were not as fortunate, and both died a slow death from strangulation.

Until January 21 their bodies were displayed in public view in town; hundreds of people saw them. The community remained incensed about Mary Rose’s murder. The so-called bed she’d slept in at the Cuddigans’ ranch during the final months of her life was also on public display: it consisted of four gunnysacks stitched together, nothing more.

Before Mary Rose’s death, Michael Cuddigan had not had a bad reputation in the community, but after the lynching, the locals in Ouray mostly believed he and his wife got what they deserved.

Officials at Cedar Hill Cemetery refused to allow the Cuddigans to be buried there, and the local Catholic priest, although he harshly condemned the lynching, refused to officiate at their funerals. Michael Cuddigan’s own two brothers (who had been present and heavily armed when he and Maggie were taken from the hotel, but had done nothing to intervene) wanted nothing to do with it either. Finally the coroner had them buried on their own ranch, expenses covered by the $240 that had been in Michael’s pocket at the time of his death. No mourners attended.

The body of Mary Rose Mathews taken back to her hometown of Denver after the lynching and presented before the public, so they might see how she had suffered. Approximately 12,000 men, women and children viewed the corpse before it was buried in a Denver cemetery, but reports of her ghost haunting the former Cuddigan ranch have persisted ever since.

Maggie Cuddigan was the first woman known to have been lynched in Colorado history, and it should be noted that that state has never judicially executed a woman.

An editorial in the Leadville Daily Herald opined that

The citizens of Ouray have distinguished themselves by a most outrageous and barbarous act of lawlessness … It is the boast of Americans that a woman’s weakness will shield her from violence at the hands of a true American … The men of Ouray can find no apology for their brutal conduct by the plea that the woman was guilty. All the world knows that a woman may be coerced by the power of her husband and compelled to do a thing at which she herself would naturally revolt.

Michael and Maggie Cuddigan left a sizable estate, valued at $4,500 once their debts were paid. The inheritance was placed in trust for their baby son, who was raised by relatives.

No one was ever arrested for the lynching.