I was sitting at the bar when a friend I know came into tell me that he had decided to publish some of short stories. With that information being said he ordered a double shot of Wild Turkey and looked at me with a now what look. The following conversation never really happened; outside of our world, but with two writers that don’t talk very well in person, it should have taken place two weeks ago.
Paul: I did what I said I was going to do
Me: You killed your wife and stuffed her in a 50 gallon drum?
Paul: Chapter two ~ No. I went out on a limb and submitted my ramblings to what I thought were a sure thing.
Me: What do you mean?
Paul: Well it’s like I said. I went out on a limb. You know how they say the best fruit is out there with .
me: Yea, I know that all too well. Go on.
Paul: Its where all the nuts are too. I tell you what! I met this smooth talker that promised me the world with high wire trickery without leaving the security of his soap box.
Me ( I Interrupt him ) What did you do?
Paul : I did the one thing no writer should ever do. I sold a manuscript for flat money. I was told that a risk of this magnitude was better left to someone who has handled it many times over.
Me: How much did you get?
Paul: He gave me a $5,000.00 check and I signed a no contest form. He took my manuscript, said thank you and disappeared out of my site before I could blink.
Me: What’s the name on the check?
Paul: Stew Pidaso. With a P.O. Box as an address. Do you think I did the right thing? I have never sold a manuscript before and with him talking the way he was I just got so excited about actually making money on a manuscript and I did it.
Me: How can you sit here and question the frugality of a transaction you were so punch drunk love on. What manuscript did you sell him?
Paul: “The last train out”. The one about the serial killer who was a cross dresser.
Me: To be honestly truthful, $5,000.00 is not bad for that. It was and still is not your best work. It kind of made no sense. Maybe it is he who is the fool and not you. Have you cashed the check yet.
Paul: Yes, I deposited it an hour ago.
Me: So it cleared then.
Paul; Yes. Well $2,000.00 of it cleared right away. The teller said since I had two grand in the bank it was like borrowing against my checking account.
Me: (Laughing) well here is to Stew Pidaso then.
We clank our glasses together. With a smile on his face, Paul wraps a drum solo on the bar, rushed to finish his drink, and leaves as quick as he appeared..I set at the bar for awhile longer before I got up to move to my usual spot. Ray Wray’s Juke Joint gets pretty busy after 5:00 with happy hour and all.
Clarence the bar tender, Mr. Wray, and Darcy all own Ray Wray’s. It a small dive off the main drag in this even smaller town. Lake City, Colorado with its massive 375 people who live here you either get to know your neighbor or you move on to some other town. I like the people here. I relocated here after one of my manuscripts gave me the freedom to do just about anything. I selected this town for its past. It is a wonderful location to get inspired to write about gold mines and miners.
The total population of Lake City never exceeded more than 5,000 at any one time, but that number of people often lived there during the boom years. The attraction of the west, with its promise of easy riches, was tempting to many, thinking they could just scoop up a few buckets of gold or silver and live happily ever after. They had no idea of the hard ships that lay ahead of them. The rich ore was there, but even experienced prospectors and smart miners found that it took not only much grueling labor, but also some operating capitol, and a well thought out plan, in order to extract the ore.
The history of Lake City is a bit different from the “normal” mining town of its era. Like all boomtowns, Lake City had its share of lawlessness, but was still able to avoid the usual onslaught of brothels, gambling, gunfights, and other forms of crime. This was because from the very beginning, it attracted a generally higher class of settlers than other mining camps. Lumbermen, ranchers, miners, professional people and businessmen saw Lake City as a place to call their permanent home. By 1877 the town was defined largely by its robust religious community, consisting of four churches; Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopalian, and Catholic.
Many legendary outlaws of the era are known to have been in Lake City; Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Poker Face Alice, Bat Masterson, and Soapy Smith all road through and occasionally shot up the town, but never hung around for long. It seems the law was a little stricter in Lake City than in most mining towns, and thus kept these criminals from trying to pull off any major crime in the area. Not to be outdone, Lake City has managed to have some very unique crimes all the same, one of the most interesting is the tale of Alfred Packer, the human cannibal.
The factual story of Alfred Packer has never been completely separated from the exaggerated legend, but historians have agreed on a basic outline of the story. During the winter of 1874 Packard was hired to guide five prospectors over the mountains from Ouray. Packard, already having served some jail time in Salt Lake City for counterfeiting, really knew nothing about the rugged San Juan area, but the unsuspecting prospectors hired him readily. It was a very severe winter. They were soon lost amongst the giant snowdrifts in below zero temperatures. Game was nowhere to be found and the supplies soon ran out. By the time the men had reached the foot of Slumgullion Pass, they had already boiled and eaten their moccasins.
Six weeks later, Packer, traveling solo, showed up at the Los Pinos Indian Agency, 76 miles from Lake City. He said that he had lost the other travelers during a very heavy snowstorm. He had no idea what had happened to them. Strangely, Packer didn’t look mal-nourished, and didn’t even ask for any food. His first concern was whiskey. He had lots of money to spend at the saloon, and several wallets in his pockets.
When the Indians found strips of human flesh along Packer’s trail, they formed a search party. At the foot of Slumgullion Pass, the bodies of the men were found. They appeared to have been killed in their sleep, and all showed very strong evidence of having been cannibalized.
Packer took off and disappeared for nine years, but he was eventually found and tried for the murders. He said that he had come back to camp after hunting to find one of the prospectors had gone crazy and had killed the other four, and Packer had to kill him in self-defense.
But the evidence strongly suggested that Packer had taken an ax to the men while they slept. He was convicted and sentenced to hang. Packer maintained his innocence, sticking to his story, and won a new trial through a legal loophole. In 1886 he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to spend forty years in hard labor camp at Canon City. He was paroled in 1906 and died of natural causes a year later.
The site where the bodies were found is now known as Cannibal Plateau. Lake City remembers Packer by hosting an annual Alferd Packer Jeep Tour and Barbecue, and the cafeteria in the student union at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is called the Alferd Packer Memorial Grill.
I sit here looking over the information Alice gave me at the visitors center when I got there three weeks ago. In that short amount of time people here know my name. It’s kind of eerie to hear my name from people I don’t know. I like this place and it suits my needs. The people are nice and seem to genuinely care about you, even though I am still considered a stranger. I go on to read the literature.
Lake city is a great place for fishing, as well as being the snowmobile capitol of the world. It also draws tourists from all over the world. In Lake City you can rent a jeep, a snowmobile, a boat, or a horse, and tour some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Accommodations range from authentic log cabins and fancy motels, as well as camping at Lake San Cristobal. You can, fish, hunt, hike, rummage through antique shops, explore old mining camps, study rock formations, and at the end of the day dine in delicious restaurants.
Snowmobile season starts in November. Groups ride over the mountains from Lake City to Creede and back. Ice fishing is also popular, when one is not snowmobiling. You simply cut holes in the thick ice and drop in your line, the process of which yields sizeable fish. There is also a miniature poma-lift ski run at the edge of town that the locals use.
There is no overcrowding or air pollution in Lake City, because only 4% of the land is privately owned. The rest is either national forest or controlled by the Colorado Bureau of
Mines. In population density, Hinsdale is the smallest county in the U.S. and is often called “tiny Hinsdale County”.
I am reading the history of this town and it occurs to me that if the wrong people were to get their hands on this little gem of a community, it could be exploited for its’ still life and back to nature approach to life. I am here sitting enjoying the chaos of the incoming crowd. I moved to the seat where I have clam to be my own. It’s close to the stage but not too far away from the back door if in case a fight breaks out.
It was the first night I was here and I learned not to interfere with the locals and their problems. Ray Wray covered my ass when the first bar fight broke out. The last two and a half weeks have been interesting to say none the least.
To be continued: