Wild Country: Frontier Cannibals

by Max Sparber

I used to live in the French Quarter of New Orleans, just a few blocks from a Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, which they called Odditoriums. Among the many strange items on display at the museum, there was a mummified head that the museum claimed belonged to one Alferd Packer, a Colorado guide who ate up the men he was guiding in 1873.

I lived by and even worked for some actual celebrities in New Orleans, but none of them excited me nearly as much as Packer, who, after all, was my neighbor, at least in part. I've felt an affection for the man ever since, and am not alone: Country and country inspired music occasionally looks back at frontier cannibalism with what can only be called a peculiar sense of the comical. Here are some of my favorite examples.

“Timothy,” The Buoys (1971)

For whatever reason, this slightly country flavored bubblegum pop song about cannibalism in a collapsed mine, authored by “Pina Colada’s” Rupert Holmes, charted in 1970. The chorus, consisting of the band shouting “Timothy” over horn stings, refers to a miner that the others consumed, and they feel bad about it.

“Comin’ Back for More,” C.W. McCall (1990)

A weird later song from the creator of “Convoy,” with an almost New Wave arrangement and McCall rapping over the top. He revisits the story of Alferd Packer as though the cannibal were a short-order cook at a roadside cafe.

“Donner Party Boogie,” Memphis Morticians (2006)

A rattling psychobilly number encouraging the listener to join in with the singer in a new dance, the steps of which include biting and chewing.

Murder, Cannibal, Thief!” Michael Packer (2013)

The singer claims to be a nephew of Alferd Packer, the Colorado Cannibal, and he sings a bluesy tale of Alfred’s decision to stop acting as a guide to a group of men and instead just eat them up.

“Alferd Packer,” Rob Lincoln (2014)

Sung in a hysterical high pitch over a campfire acoustic guitar, the song tells of Packer’s deed from the cannibal's point of view, arguing that he was mostly punished by a Democratic judge for the fact that he ate entirely Democrats, an old joke that I think comes from Will Rogers, and still works.

“Donner’s Pass,” Mississippi John Doude (2015)

A rollicking cowboy song telling of the tragic end of the Donner Party. The song is frequently interrupted by ghostly wails from a chorus, which are very welcome.


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