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  • Writer's pictureJohn Wick

Mysteries of the Headless Valley

Venturing into the Nahanni Valley

Pausing in order to take his bearings, LeFevre turned to assess how far behind his companions were lagging. Predictably, the pair were still some distance away, visibly struggling to negotiate the scattered trails and passageways between the towering boulders. Smiling to himself, he reached into his pack for a slice of dried bison before promptly continuing on his way. The seasoned trapper had been traveling with the two Mounties for the past three days, and so far, neither had been able to match his pace. He would be lying if he said he took no pleasure in their discomfort, having no luck either for the RCMP, or the obnoxious officers they employed. But it had been a tough year and despite his dislike of the police, they were paying good money for him to escort them and they have little choice. The section of the Flat River which they needed to reach was a great distance from the nearest settlement, with few guides ever having been there.

From what he understood, they were searching for a prospector, at the behest of his fiancé. Apparently, the missing man had failed to turn up for his own wedding with LeFevre suspecting this would most likely be a case of cold feet, rather than anything more sinister.

He had travelled a short distance more when something caused him to stop again. There, not far from the trail, was the badly decayed body of the lynx, trapped in a snare which had been concealed. The sight of the dead animal made LeFevre uneasy. It was unusual for a man to set a trap in this part of the world and then to forget about it. The old trapper was stood munching thoughtfully on his bison when the two lawmen finally caught up to him. They seem predictably uninterested in the discovery, despite LeFevre's observations, and so in due course their Journey continued.

But it soon became clear that there was something to the trapper's concerns: the travelers began to encounter more traps, each filled with the undisturbed and decomposing carcasses of lynxes and foxes. LeFevre took little satisfaction in watching as the two policemen slowly began to comprehend the importance of the unattended traps, realizing that their mission now looked far less hopeful than when they had first set off. A short time later, they encountered a half submerged boat, trapped by undergrowth of the side of the river. A cursory inspection suggested it had most likely being hold by rocks, but there was no trace of the owner. They were only a short distance from Irvine Creek now and their destination, but there was a visible quickening in the pace of each man.

The fate of the log cabin was evident before he came into view, with the air ahead thick with the scent of burnt wood and must. LeFevre had stood back and watched as the Mounties unholstered their weapons and approached what little remained of the burned-out structure. He was more interested in what might be hidden in the trees which surrounded them, rather than the blackened ruins before them. When he eventually moved up to join the two officers, he was surprised to see the missing man's furs and supplies untouched, stacked up in a neat pile a short distance away from where the cabin had stood. The prospector's body lay nearby, his rifle beside him with its barrel crudely bent out of shape, and in one charred hand, he was clutching a six-shooter.

But it was the missing head that most disturbed the trapper. LeFevre had grown up hearing stories of what happened to the people who died in this Valley and had no intention of joining their ranks. He made it clear to his customers that he would be heading back to civilization within the hour with or without them. No arrests would be made for the murder of Phil Powers and sadly, he would not be the last man to die in such circumstances in this place. To the wider world, It is known as the Nahanni valley, but to those who have visited it, it goes by a much more sinister name, the Headless Valley.

The mysterious headless bodies

The Nahanni River Valley contains some of the most stunning scenery in the Northwest Territories, as well as the area's highest peak, Mount Nirvana. Its beauty has resulted in it being designated a National Park Reserve, one which covers a breathtaking 12,000 square miles. There is a reason why the sprawling forests and flowing waterfalls have remained untouched by modern civilization. The terrain that surrounds them is so unforgiving that the only viable way to access the region is by helicopter. A luxury which was unavailable to prospectors back when gold was first discovered there at the turn of the 20th century.

Those willing to gamble everything on a chance of finding an untapped seam of the precious metal have little choice other than to trek into the depths of the valley, living out of temporary camps or hastily constructed cabins. They would not be heard from for months on end, most usually emerging from the forest with nothing to show for their labors. But in 1904, two brothers staggered back into the town of Fort Liard laden with gold. Frank and Willie McLeod had Journeyed to the region from their home in Edmonton at the start of the year, claiming to have located a hidden and vast fortune, which they would later be returning to claim. The following year, having invested their wealth in tools and supplies, the pair disappeared back into the valley, boasting of the riches waiting there to be mined. As time passed, the people they had promised to share their booty with waited patiently for their return, but they never reappeared.

Three years after the brothers were last seen, Charlie McLeod led a party into the Nahanni valley in search of his missing siblings. The skeletons of the two men were eventually found lying in the ruins of their camp, both missing their heads. One of the pair was lying underneath a stack of blankets, next to what had once been a fire, indicating that he was decapitated as he slept. On the other side of the fire, his brother's arms was reaching out for a nearby gun, his blankets thrown aside as he tried to prevent his own death.

A decade later, another search party would venture forth into the valley, this time in search of a missing man named Martin Jørgensen. The Swedish national was a hardy prospector, who had spent decades plying his trade all around the Yukon. In 1917, Jørgensen had sent a message to the neighboring town of Ross River, telling a friend there named Poole Field that he had struck it rich. This was the last that was heard from him, and the following year Field located Jørgensen lying dead in his burned-out cabin, his head missing.

Four years later, a pair of prospectors stumbled across the frozen body of a trapper named John O'Brien. The former soldier had survived the horrors of the Great War, only to meet his fate in the Nahanni Valley and the manner of his death would prove shocking to those who found him. O'Brien was sat, fully closed and frozen next to the smoldering remains of his campfire. It was as if he had been suddenly and unexpectedly flash-frozen, and mug of coffee still clutched tightly in one hand, despite being sat right beside a roaring fire.

Not long after the discovery of the Frozen trapper, another body would be found in a hauntingly familiar location. Yukon Fisher was a notorious local troublemaker, who had made his home in the depths of the valley back in 1912. Described by those who encountered him as a giant of a man, the outlaw had fled civilization after severely wounding a barman with a broken glass during a drunken fight. Though the injury he had caused was severe, the victim had ultimately lived, but the amount of blood loss had convinced Fisher he had killed his opponent. Even when told by visitors to the area that he was not a murderer, Fisher refused to return to society, surviving by raiding the camps of prospectors and stealing from the snares of local hunters.

And then, he seemingly vanished from existence. In 1927, the skeleton of a tall man was found lying in the undergrowth near Bennett Creek, mere yards away from where the bodies of the McLeod Brothers had been slain. A .44 caliber rifle lay on the ground alongside it, the barrel inexplicably bent out of shape and the burned remains of a shelter were also located nearby. Equally as disturbing as the killings which have taken place in the Nahanni valley are the disappearances of travelers within its boundaries. And the circumstances regarding how some of these poor souls have vanished are as baffling as the manner in which the murdered victims were found.

In 1926, May Lafferty was a member of a hunting party, which had ventured into the Headless Valley. Somehow she became separated from the rest of her group. Despite repeated search efforts, no trace of the missing woman was to be found, until several months later when a native hunter named Big Charley claimed to have seen a woman matching her description. The hunter stated that he had been traveling through the valley, when he'd caught sight of a woman climbing a nearby rock face. She was naked and visibly distressed as if trying to escape from someone or something. When pressed on who he thought her pursuer might be, Charley replied that he had not intervened as he believed it to be the devil himself. Lafferty's remains have never been located and at the time she went missing, she was not far from the Flat River.

Two years after she vanished, another party traveling alongside the same stretch of water would also lose one of its number. To those who knew him, Angus Hall was a tempestuous and impulsive character. When the party he was with would not increase their pace, he had set off alone, determined to be the first to find evidence of the hidden gold seam. Hall's companions had allowed the prospector on his way, knowing it was best not to reason with him, and had followed his tracks as he pushed on. But several meters along the path, these tracks had suddenly ceased mid-stride. All that remained of Angus Hall was one final muddy boot print, as if he'd been lifted off the ground by something as he walked.

Then in 1936, two more prospectors vanished. Bill Epier and his partner Joe Mulholland had spent years in the Nahanni valley in search of Fortune. The remains of their log cabin were found burned out on the shores of Glacial Lake, but the bodies of both men were not inside and have never been found.

The Murderous Naha people

As with the killing of Phil powers in 1931, no person has ever been arrested for any of the murders which have taken place in the valley. When asked who they believed to be responsible, members of the Native Dene tribe have laid the blame firmly at the door of a mysterious and enigmatic community. The Naha people are said to be the original inhabitants of the Nahanni valley, but shunned contact with other tribes. Their name translates as 'the people over there', in reference to the distance they kept from their neighbors, and they were believed to possess almost supernatural powers.

Naha warriors were described as being exceptionally tall and powerful. They were immensely strong and hid their faces behind terrifying masks. The tribe is rumored to have died out centuries ago, but unlike similar societies, left no buildings or settlements behind. They simply disappeared into the mists of their surroundings. The Dene claim that the Naha would cut off the heads of those that stayed into their territory, as a warning to other trespassers to stay away, and that the killings are the work of the descendants of this murderous people.

In 1945, it was reported that a miner named Ernest Savard had been found dead in Nahanni Valley. The Ontario native was lying in his sleeping bag, his head having been cut from his shoulders and propped up on a nearby rock. As recently as 1983, a hiker in Canada's Glacier Bay stumbled upon the belongings of a missing prospector. The witness reported hearing a ghostly moaning coming from the surrounding undergrowth, before catching sight of a mysterious masked figure approaching who he quickly fled from. The slayings of prospectors in this region are eerily reminiscent of identical killings in Arizona's Superstition Mountains. There too a mysterious boss is said to protect a hidden cache of gold, lying in an undisclosed mine named 'The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine'.

Many victims of these killings have also been found headless. Other, more fantastical explanations for the killings have also been suggested. Drawings found in nearby cave show what appear to be mastodons, with the bones of these ancient creatures also located by archaeological digs. Is it possible that there are prehistoric species protected by the isolated nature of this environment? One such creature alleged to inhabit the valley is known by the Dene as the Waheela. From the descriptions provided by their writings, this monster is some form of Amphicyon, a cross between a bear and a wolf. It would crush its prey to death with powerful arms, before feasting on their remains. It is possible that such a creature might also be the descendant of the dire wolf, another prehistoric species believed to be extinct.. There also rumors of strange creatures known as the Nuk-Nuk, fur covered humanoids who carry primitive clothes and cook the bodies of those they killed before eating them.

A string of UFO sightings throughout the region's history completes the full set of supernatural explanations. And whilst the prevailing belief is that the victims of the Headless Valley are most likely the victims of greedy and far more human killers, the haunting stillness of the region makes such proposition seem entirely plausible. As with the legend of the Lost Dutchman's mine, it seems that mysterious forces seek to frustrate the efforts of people to mine gold from beneath the surface of the North American continent. And whether such killers are paranormal in nature or altogether human, they continue to operate beyond detection. So, if you find yourself gripped by a desire to chase fabled fortune in the untouched wilds of North America, take caution from the fates of those who have gone before you. It is advised not to become another victim of the Headless Valley.


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