Lake City, Colorado

Lake City is one of the most isolated major 19th century Colorado silver camps. Located on the eastern side of the San Juans, Lake City is the seat of Hinsdale County, the least populated county in the state. Prospecting began in the area around 1871, with good claims throughout the region. However, full development of the mines was dependent on cheap transportation of ore.
The Denver & Rio Grande began to survey a branch to Lake City in 1881. Grading was actually begun by the Fall of 1881, but soon stopped. It was not until 1889 that track laying on the Lake City branch was started. The first official train entered Lake City on August 15, 1889.
The Lake City branch was the location of the highest trestles on the entire Denver & Rio Grande narrow gauge. Bridge 343A, the "High Bridge", located 7 miles below Lake City, spanned the Lake Fork of the Gunnison for 800 feet at a height of 124 feet above the river. Bridge 340A over Elk Creek, 10 miles below Lake City, was over 200 feet long and 112 feet above the water. Both of these trestles were wooden decked and ballasted in 1896 to avoid the risk of fire.
The Lake City branch was served by Class 56 Consolidations, C-16 Consolidations (Class 60) and T-12 Ten Wheelers. The last D&RGW run on the branch prior to abandonment was made on May 25, 1933 by T-12 No. 168 and combine 214. Prior to scrapping, the owner of the Ute-Ulay Mine attempted to run the branch by leasing the right of way from the D&RGW and running it as the San Christobal Railroad. He used a railbus similar to the Rio Grande Southern Galloping Geese. Unfortunately, the Depression caused the Ute-Ulay Mine to close down in 1935. With the closure of the mine the SCRR faded away.
Lake City is located approximately 40 miles south of Gunnison on Colorado 149. The town is a center for fishing, hiking and jeeping in the San Juans. The Engineer and Cinnamon Pass jeep trails lead in and out of town. Four miles south of Lake City is Lake San Cristobal, the second largest natural lake in Colorado. Beyond Lake San Cristobal, Colorado 149 continues south up Slumgullion Pass. The views from the summit of the pass may be the best that can be seen from a paved highway in Colorado.


Lake City History

Gold prospectors settled in the county in 1871. Disputes with local Indian tribes ensued.

1873 - The Ute Indians signed the Brunot Treaty relinquishing Hinsdale and surrounding counties. Alferd Packer became Lake City's cannibal.

1874 - Lake City toll road opened

1877 - The Lake City Silver World printed its first guidebook, the town had 1000 homes, and the first church bell arrived across the mountains.

1879 - The first telegraph arrived, and a great fire destroyed many buildings.

1881 - The first telephone arrived.

1883 - The opera house opened.

1889 - The narrow gauge railroad arrived in Lake City.

1900 - The population was 700. With the decline of mining, this continued to dwindle over the coming years - it is at present around 373.

1928 - The Ladies Union Aid Society created a permanent gravesite for the Alfred Packer massacre victims.

1938 - Silver World newspaper ceased publication due to the great depression.

1989 - Hinsdale county had the massacre site bodies exhumed for detailed study.




Call me Al                    

Alfred "Alferd" Packer and five other men ventured into the San Juan Mountains from Chief Ouray's camp at the mouth of Dry Creek, 2 miles south of Delta on February 9, 1874. Only one man emerged on the other side of the mountains that April. Trapped in the mountains with snow to their shoulders and piling higher daily, they ran out of food and energy on a gravel terrace near Lake San Cristobal, just up the hill from what is now Lake City. If only they'd gone left instead of right, and descended the Lake Fork instead of ascending it.

   At his trial in 1883, the court held that Packer killed four men while they slept and killed the fifth one (George Bell) only after a struggle. Packer claimed quite the opposite: George Bell killed the other four while Packer was out scouting and Packer killed Bell in self-defense when he returned to camp. Either way, Packer survived by eating "HUMAN JERKED BEEF!" according to one newspaper headline. The bodies had been found August 20, 1874, one of them headless and two others bore signs of cannibalism.

   Packer eventually staggered 50 miles to the Los Pinos Indian Agency, arriving there on April 16, 1874 and looking pretty good for someone who'd been struggling in heavy snow for ten weeks. After a few days at Los Pinos he then trekked another 50 miles over Cochetopa Pass to Saguache. In Saguache, Packer was arrested and jailed, then helped to escape. He was recaptured in 1883 at Fort Fetterman, Wyoming, and brought back to Lake City to stand trial. The first trial's murder conviction was overturned on a technicality: some say the judge said: "There was seven Democrats in Hinsdale County and you ate five of them."

The Colorado Supreme Court had set aside the murder conviction, based on a technical legislative oversight: Packer could not be tried in 1883 for a crime he had committed in 1874, because there had been no state murder statute in 1874 that allowed for it. In other words, he had been arrested when Colorado was a territory but tried when Colorado was a state. Some later said that he had committed the crime on an Indian reservation, so by all rights he should have been tried in a Federal court, not a State court. At any rate, he was retried in 1896 for all five deaths not just Israel Swan on a different charge: voluntary manslaughter.

 The second trial got convictions for man-slaughter and a 40 year sentence. "Emergency cannibalism" had become so common in the West that the judge tried to make an example of Packer. The governor pardoned him after fifteen years. Packer was released from prison in 1901 and died in 1907.

He later on became the doorman at the famous Brown Palace Hotel in Denver!  


Big Al          

"There was seven Democrats in Hinsdale County and you ate five of them."

In the  Colorado Rockies
Where the snow is deep and cold
And a man afoot can starve to death
Unless he's brave and bold

Oh Alfred Packer
You'll surely go to hell
While all the others starved to death
You dined a bit too well

                  ---from The Ballad of Alfred Packer


my Links

Lake City:

Hinsdale County


Colorado Trail: 

Old Carson Inn:


Call me Al:


Old Carson Inn

 Bed and Breakfast


 Lake City, Colorado



Fax: (970)944-0149

Old Carson Inn: 

Trip of 8/10/04 in St. Jabob's Mine Room

$120.00 / night

$263.52 for 2 nights





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