An Outlook

This past week I was thinking about how frivolous football can seem at this time of year when the baseball season is still winding down. Unless you are a Bears fan, in which case you are still relishing Monday night’s Bears’ victory over the rival Green Bay Packers.

I was also thinking about bipartisan politics, which, while always filled with acrimony and vindictiveness, has become absolutely repugnant in recent years. This, in turn, called to mind the fact that Wisconsin is the birthplace of the Republican Party.

Wisconsin, the “Dairy State,” doesn’t have a lot it can brag about to the rest of the nation, so we take advantage of what little is available to us. Thus, we tout our cheese; we brag that the Republican Party was founded within our state lines; and we (with the exception of a handful of misplaced Bears’ fans) crow about the Green Bay Packers.

During this past week, as all these sundry thoughts floated across my consciousness, I ran across a story in a book by Richard Erdoes entitled Legends and Tales of the American West, and suddenly I was struck with the thought that there may be a distinct connection between Wisconsin Republicans, bipartisan politics, and the name of the Green Bay football team. The short version of the story I found is this:

In November of 1873, six men, smitten with gold fever, went into the San Juan Mountains. The winter weather quickly turned, with many saying that it was the worst weather they ever recollected seeing. One day in late January of 1874, one of these six men straggled into a small camp on the Uncompahgre River. When questioned about his companions, he cursed them; saying that he had gone lame and they had left him behind.

When the thaw finally came to the Colorado high country, several prospectors made a gruesome discovery near Slumgullion Pass: the bodies of the five missing prospectors – all of which had been butchered. The lone survivor was questioned again and this time he confessed that the others had been slaughtered, one after the other, and then were eaten. He attempted to say that he had simply gone along with the plan of the others and that when their number had dwindled to him and one other, he was forced to defend himself. He killed the last man in self-defense, he claimed, had then butchered the body, packing as much meat as he could carry, and set off through the snow down the mountain. Near death himself, he had chanced upon the camp on the Uncompahgre.

The survivor was held for trial but escaped. For 9 1/2 years his whereabouts were unknown but his story spread throughout the region. He was finally apprehended in March of 1883, when he was recognized by another prospector.

The strange saga of Alfred Packer, who by then was widely known as “Packer the Cannibal,” came to a stirring climax at his trial, when Judge Gerry, after finding Packer guilty of murder and cannibalism made the following pronouncement (surely one of the most memorable in the history of American criminal law):

“Packer, yah Republican, man-eating [beast], there were five Dimmicrats in Hinsdale County, yah voracious [one] hev eaten ‘em all! I sentence yah to be hung by the neck until you’re daid, daid, daid, as a solemn warnin’ agin’ redoocin’ the Dimmicratic population of this county. An’ may the Lord have mercy, for I don’t, on yer dad-blamed cannibal soul!”

Packer’s sentence was eventually commuted to 40 years in prison. His story was eventually revived by a young journalist for the Denver Post named Polly Pry (Note: what a great name for a journalist!), who wrote a story on the cannibal entitled, “Packer the Cannibal Redivivus.” The Post started a campaign for Packer’s release and succeeded in securing a pardon for the man-eater on January 1, 1901. He spent his remaining years as doorman and elevator operator for the newspaper.

The story in Erdoes’ book concludes with the observation that Democrats are now in the majority in Hinsdale County.

So folks, by now I’m sure you’re way ahead of me. Simply put, my hypothesis is that somewhere back near the inception of Green Bay’s professional football team, a team that represents the hopes and pride of all Wisconsin, the state where the Republican Party originated, someone or some people thought that naming the team for a Democrat-eating cannibal was a sly honor to the state’s politics.

And lest you think this theory is rash or misconceived consider this: the Green Bay Packers’ ultimate rivals are the Chicago Bears, and isn’t Chicago the stronghold of the Democratic Party in the middle portion of this country!

Certainly a considerable amount of research will need to be done in order to substantiate the truth or falsehood of this theory, and even then, the whole truth may never be known. Still, it is an intriguing question which, I’m sure, will linger in my mind for the remainder of my lifetime.