NAM/NAAM Day 22: I Think I Have a Cannibal in my Adoptive Family Tree

This morning I watched a video on YouTube: 2 Disturbing Cases of Victorian-Era Cannibals.

The cannibals were Levi Boone Helm (1828-1864) and the better-known “Colorado Cannibal” Albert Griner Packer (1842-1907). Alarmingly, both of them bear the middle names of my adoptive grandparents (Boone on the maternal side ) and on the paternal side, Griner (an alternative spelling of my grandfather’s and consequently my last name, Greiner). Packer was also born in Pennsylvania, the original Greiner stomping ground, but in the Pittsburgh area while the Greiners were from Berks County far to the east.

I have researched both my biological family and adoptive family histories. When I checked my adoptive family’s Ancestry record I was able to easily dismiss Packer, but Boone Helm, (he doesn’t seem to have used the name Levi), who even has a WIki page and a page on Legends of America…that is another story.

He was a road agent and is considered an early American serial killer. I would consider him more of a spree killer–or simply crazy–but won’t quibble.  He is credited with 11 known murders, but is believed to have committed many more in his back-and- forth travels across the “old west” and British Columbia. He seems to have shot anyone he felt like for the fun of it.  On his way to California, he stabbed his cousin and companion Littlebbury Shoot (love the name!) in the chest just because he could. He reportedly hired out as a Danite* and killed 2 men in the Salt Lake City area at the request of Mormons “who wanted them removed.” (no details.) He bragged that he occasionally ate parts of some of his victims, though he claimed it was strictly a survival situation.

According to Wiki and the American Legends page he is reported to have eaten parts of companions on three separate occasions. To save some time, this is from Wiki:

c. 1853:

Once again traveling west to California, Helm murdered several men in various altercations. Forced to flee to avoid arrest and vigilante justice, he teamed up with six men to whom he confided that he had eaten all, or part, of his murder victims: “Many’s the poor devil I’ve killed, at one time or another… and the time has been that I’ve been obliged to feed on some of ’em.”

An attack by Native Americans on the way to Fort Hall forced Helm and his party into the wilderness. Short on provisions, the men killed their horses, ate the meat, and made snowshoes out of the hides. The journey was arduous, reducing the party down to Helm and a man named Burton. When Burton could go no further, Helm left him only to return in time to hear Burton taking his own life with a pistol. Helm ate one of Burton’s legs and wrapped the other to take with him on his journey. Helm was finally discovered by a man named John W. Powell at an Indian camp. Powell agreed to let Helm accompany him to Salt Lake CityUtah, but despite having over fourteen hundred dollars in coins on his person, Helm reportedly neither paid nor thanked Powell for his generosity.


American Legends adds a third incident. Boone Helm was forced to leave Florence, Oregon after killing an unarmed man,  and

This was pretty bad even for Florence, and he had to leave. That fall, he turned up far to the north, on the Fraser River, in British Columbia. Here, he was once more reduced the danger of a starving foot march in the wilderness, and here, once more, he was guilty of eating the body of his companion, whom he is supposed to have slain.

Boone Helm is described as “having problems with authority.” Really?

He was arrested several times in his crime career, and was sent to an asylum once where he suddenly became sane. Overall, he managed to pretty much walk on his crimes. The law finally caught up with him in Montana. He,along with members of the notorious Plummer Gang, aka The Innocents, which he’d hooked up with, were arrested, secretly tried in Virginia  City, and hung before a cheering crowd of 6,000. With the noose around his neck, he shouted,

Every man for his principles. Hurrah for Jeff Davis! Let her rip!” He jumped off the box beating the hangman at his job.

It would be interesting to hear him explain just what those principles were.

Boone Helm is buried in Virginia City’s Boot Hill Cemetery.

Did he really eat people? On the one hand, it sounds like braggadocio, seeing how he was, but on the other?  Why not? He was one bad MF.



Now, what is my adoptive relationship to this bat shit?

I won’t go into great detail here, lest this looks like the Book of Numbers, so I’ll keep it short. My adoptive grandmother’s genealogy is well documented since she was related to Daniel Boone. I figured that Boone was a family name since it’s just not a name that would picked out of thin air. Surprisingly, his family line appears on Ancestry. I had to go back several generations and do some other checking on Geni to see where Boone came from. It appears that we share a grandfather (adoptive in my case). George Boone is my 6th great-grandfather (adoptive wise) and I think he would be Boone’s 4th great-grandfather.  As far as I can figure out (without doing a tremendous amount of research today) Boone Helm and I are some kind of cousins. My guess is 3rd  cousins, 3 times removed.

Of course, I could be all wrong on this, too.  But hey! This is National Adoption (Awareness) Month. This discovery seems normal.


*The Danites were a fraternal organization founded by Latter Day Saint members in June 1838, in the town of Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri. During their period of organization in Missouri, the Danites operated as a vigilante group and took a central role in the events of the 1838 Mormon War. They remained an important part of Mormon and non-Mormon folklore, polemics, and propaganda for the remainder of the 19th century, waning in ideological prominence after Utah gained statehood



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One Reply to “NAM/NAAM Day 22: I Think I Have a Cannibal in my Adoptive Family Tree”

  1. Thank goodness we are not held resonsible for our ancestors.

    My Irish family on my amother’s side is an example of this. There are two stories passed down as to why Thomas Crowe and family came to America.

    The first story is that one dark night, Thomas was found on the wrong end of a horse. No, not beastiality, rather he was caught stealing a horse.

    He was caught in the act which carried a death sentence, but on the way to jail he escaped, grabbed his wife and children, and caught the first ship to America.

    The second story is Thomas was a major part of the Easter Rebellion and the British put a price on his head to hang him.

    The rest of the story is the same as the first story.

    One of his daughters, my bmother, married into the Van Alstyne family that were early settlers from the Netrherlands to New Amsterdam (NYC). She gave me detailed information on growing up on a particular street in Astoria, Long Island, NY. She also gave me her date of birth.

    However, I could not find any record of the family there; NOR, could I find any record of her birth in any burough of NYC. When I asked the reference libraian of the Astoria Library to check the street for me, she told me the street my amother said she grew up on had never existed in any of the buroughs of NYC.

    Over the years, I found three different birth dates for her on “official” governmental documents.

    About 10 years ago I was trying to find a friend of hers in Springfield Massachusetts we visited every summer. I found her at age 15 as a boarder in a bording house employed in the restaurant next door. Then I realized all the borders were young women between the age of 14 and middle 20s and ALL worked at the restaurant.

    Then, the lighbulb lit up and I realized the bording house was actually a maternity home and all the waitresses at the restaurant were residents of the maternity home.

    As a consequence, my amother retreated deeply into the closet and created a completely false history of herself and her family.

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