It's not a comforting thought, but there have been cannibals in America. Cannibalism is often associated with far-flung places. As in most developed cultures, eating the flesh of our own species is seen as the ultimate taboo. Yet American killers who ate people have come and gone, while ordinary citizens in extraordinary situations have eaten the remains of other humans.
America, even in its relatively short history, has seen more than its fair share of man-eaters. Many were acts of desperation in survival situations, as acts of cannibalism usually are. People lost at sea, adrift on life boats for weeks or people trapped in snow-choked mountain passes, or in villages short of food in winter. Just as many others have been acts of madness perpetrated by killers who when even further than murder. There's even one case of simple curiosity.So read on, and get your fill of American cannibals, if you dare.
During a period known as "The Starving Time" in the winter of 1609, all but 60 of Virginia's 214 colonists died from starvation. The people of the village resorted to digging up the frozen dead and eating them. The cannibalism wasn't limited to such scavenging, either. After the winter, one man was tortured into confessing that he had killed, salted, and eaten his pregnant wife.
The Crew of the Whale Ship Essex
Herman Melville's Moby-Dick was inspired by the sinking of a real ship called the Essex, the story of which is even more gruesome than that of Captain Ahab. The Essex was a Massachusetts whaling ship that sank after an attack by a sperm whale. The surviving crew members took to two small whaling boats, and remained there for about three months before rescue. The survivors on at least one of the boats turned to cannibalism, and when they were rescued, it was said that the last two survivors had sucked the marrow out of a dead crewmate's bones.
The Donner Party
Probably the best-known American cannibals of all time, the 50-wagon Donner Party set out for California in 1846. They ended up trapped in the Sierra-Nevada mountains during a particularly harsh winter, however. More than half of the roughly 90 people in the party died, and there have been conflicting (but reliable) reports of cannibalism among some of those who made it through. The surviving children are said to have been fed cooked human flesh as a last resort, while, according to legend, Donner himself is said to have eaten a baby raw. That's almost certainly an exaggeration... but it's very unlikely that the surviving party could have endured without some kind of "unconventional" nourishment.
"The Kentucky Cannibal" was a mountain man and gunslinger who lived in Old West Montana, and died at 35 years old during the Civil War. Characterized as a serial killer by many, Helm made no secret of his fondness for human flesh. Living in the wilds of Montana, he killed and ate at least 11 people in survival situations, but after getting a taste for humans, he'd kill for food before entering a survival situation. "Many's the poor devil I've killed, at one time or another," he said. "And the time has been that I've been obliged to feed on some of 'em."