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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

23 Jan 2016
The Man Who Drowned Democracy With 'Sewer Money'

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. This week marked the anniversary of … Read More.

Story Too Good to Check Out


As generations of schoolchildren were told, Jamestown in 1607 was the first permanent English settlement on what would become the United States. What we learned this week is that those English settlers, confronted by the most severe drought in eight centuries and unfriendly natives, resorted to the most extreme measures to keep from starving to death during the winter of 1609-10.

They were forced to eat mice, snakes, their own dogs and cats. And Douglas Owsley, a forensic anthropologist (bet you don't have one in your car pool, either) at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, after examining the partial skull and jawbone of a 14-year-old English girl found in a trash pile at Jamestown, concluded, "It's clear that this body was dismembered for consumption."

There you have it: In 17th-century Virginia, some "undocumented immigrants" from England actually brought cannibalism to the New World. Just one more argument from history, the prominent talk-show host might point out, for tougher U.S. immigration laws.

Up to now, the only celebrated American cannibal has been Alferd E. Packer, for whom the students of the University of Colorado in 1968 imaginatively voted to name their new student grill. The slogan for the Alferd E. Packer Grill on the Boulder campus is, "Have a friend for lunch."

Here are the facts as best we know them. Packer was born in Pennsylvania in 1842 and enlisted in early 1862 in Company F, 16th U.S. Infantry Regiment to fight for the Union in the Civil War. After eight months, he was discharged because of epilepsy. Not to be denied, he enlisted again the next year in Ottumwa, Iowa, in the 8th Iowa Cavalry Regiment, and in April 1864 Packer was again discharged, this time in Cleveland, Tenn., because of his epilepsy.

He went west looking for gold. By the winter of 1873, Packer had sold his services as a guide for a group of 21 in Utah who wanted to go prospecting in Colorado's San Juan Mountains. Warned by friendly Chief Ouray, who provided the party with food and shelter, that the brutal winter weather meant they had better postpone their trip until spring, most of the group did just that. But on Feb. 9, Packer and five others — Shannon Wilson Bell, James Humphrey, Frank Miller, George "California" Noon and Israel Swan — ignored the advice and set off for Gunnison, Colo., and their fortunes.

This group, led by Packer, was assumed to have been lost until later in the spring, when Packer emerged, explaining that the other five had deserted him when he fell ill. His story, which was never fixed, changed after an investigation indicated that Packer had almost certainly killed and certainly eaten his five companions. He was charged with five murders, and then took place what old-timers around newsrooms call "a story too good to check out," which just means a narrative so colorful and so perfect that you'd rather not question too closely its authenticity.

Packer, who signed a confession in August, was, legend has it, told by Judge M.B. Gerry: "Stand up, you voracious man-eating son-of-a-bitch. When you came to Hinsdale County, there were seven Democrats, but you ate five of them."

That, Dear Readers, is a quote "too good to check." Of course, cold-water-tossing scholars now insist that the judge did not speak those words. But the news from Jamestown recalls Alferd E. Packer, who, yes, was convicted not of cannibalism, but of manslaughter — but who may well have had five Democrats for dinner.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators webpage at




3 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... From the Irish and German perspective of my forefathers, I would have to say that your news is not news at all; and that the English would eat the world if they could find salt for it and wash it down with port and bread... My grandfather had a good friend who was English... It always prejudice more socially acceptable if we have some friends among the groups we regularly abuse... But, old Ed was likely to ask some simple question about the nature of then current events which bought with their perplexity some insight into the baffling state of reality... "What is the Queen doing in the Faulklands?"
It was probably Maragaret Thatcher he was asking about, but the Queen and her unruly brood got to take the heat... Since Swift was wanted to answer that question of how to best prepare Irish babes for the dinner table; let me ask: What is the difference really, between eating up or otherwise taking all that people need to survive, and taking their very lives???
That is why of how the English feel; though perhaps this is a good time for a fine distinction.. The English people who have made so much possible for their ruling class are like another nation all together... The poor hardly speak an English recognizable as such to Americans... They are so much of poor, uneducated scum whose job of conquest is complete, making possible a sort of economic dominance of the old colonial world, but they little benefit from it... The same is true of most Americans... We own the world, unless England owns us and only breaks us to do their bull work; but the price of empire laid on the working people only makes us poor to have more fabulously rich rich...That is how it goes; and everybody knows...
Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat May 4, 2013 7:40 PM
Funny article, I am still laughing.

Sweeney, your German forefathers tried to eat France 3 times in less than fifty years. The Brits made them put it back. Your posts are all paint and no perspective.

"Stand up, you voracious man-eating son-of-a-bitch. When you came to Hinsdale County, there were seven Democrats, but you ate five of them." Don't ever check out this story. Sweeney, just check out,

Comment: #2
Posted by: Tom
Sun May 5, 2013 5:33 AM
Re: Tom... Sir;... with a little bit of trouble, but with little real effort you might grasp that the Germans who history has named rather than themselves had already long ago eaten up France, and England, both named respectively for the nations which choked them down...
Conquest was in those days not so brutal as we expect it today... Even many place names in Germany are Gallic, meaning that the process of taking them was slow, and not all that violent... People in the past found they had something generally in common, which was the economy of honor, and that allowed them to marry each other, and share genes even while one group was possessing itself of the other's territory...
We forget even in our own society that the losers in life have to be accomodated; even supported... We think: One man working against a class might lose his farm under the pressure of profits, and become a worker who loses his job under the pressure of profits; and though his name too is on the title to all the property of the United States, we expect him to pull himself up with his boot straps, or sit on the curb with his feet in the gutter and starve until he gets up the courage to step in front of a bus... Why should he???
What does it matter if others have made off with what is his unfairly, by hook, by crook, by law or by collusion??? His claim to the commonwealth is as good as any other's; and it is all a game of making clear ones title by force if necessary... Enough of people starving because some one else eats up all there is, all the while protesting of the sanctity of life is the ticket to a better tomorrow...
There is no new America for people to escape to... This is all one great Ireland where the Yahoos have got to export the exploiters rather than exporting themselves... Or we could learn to accomodate each other... We could learn to live on nothing while the rich have all; but if people do not take the commonwealth back periodically, they will lose sight of it completely...
Sir;... I am disappearing around here... My wife bought a house, with cash... A relatively nice, grandmotherly sort of two bedroom house- for the most part set up and ready to go... The old woman who owned it passed on to her reward, and my wife bought it... Now is the time to strut my stuff... All the skill and many of the tools acquired as a home owner are being used and tested... Every bit of wiring that is suspect, or deficient is getting replaced if it is reachable... Since mother in law decided she wanted to live in her old fire trap rather than move, my wife has to rent this thing, which should be no problem since we do not need a great deal of cash... But we like to do things legally, and that requires inspections and a rental certificate... We could go around it, and have a roost, or a flop for too many people, but the fact is that the neighbors are nice, and we are nice, and friends and good relationships with everyone concerned requires that we offer a good product, and get a good customer for it if possible... Once we do get this up to speed and inspected, there will be no owner pulled permits which has been the method by which my home was restored and completed... Everything must then be done by licenced contractors, and that is a price we want to avoid at all cost... There isn't anything in a house I can't do, but essentially I have a license to be married, to weld, and to drive... So, to my wife and that old house I now devote the balance of my time, knowing my ability hard learned will do me no good after the bureaucracy gets a hold on it... I don't expect you to cry about it...
I just want you to know that my leaving is no great victory for you... I don't like teaching school... My knowledge was only for my own happiness, or I would have went after it with a will... With so many of those who respond to articles, or those who write them, the question comes to mind: Where shall I begin!!!
If you find you are taking people back to grade school for basic information or concepts, you will inevitably write too much anyway...
My regards to Mr. Shields who is an exceptional human being mostly on account of his being a human being consciously human... In that regard he has most of us beat... I wish he would take better care of himself, but I suppose his life style comes with pain and anxiety that he deals with in the most natural fashion; with too much sugar...Some times the price of surviving ones environment is ones physical or spiritual destruction... So far, his spirit seems untouched...
Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #3
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Thu May 9, 2013 5:43 AM
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