Headless Valley (2)

The Nahanni Valley is in the middle of nowhere in Canada’s Northwest Territories, some 300 miles or so west of Yellowknife. It is a very hostile region accessible only on foot, by boat or by floatplane. It’s very beautiful, though:

For many years there have been large numbers of tales told about fur trappers and gold prospectors going into the area, and then either disappearing without trace or being found dead minus their heads. All these decapitated bodies found within the Nahanni Valley have earned it the nickname “Valley of Headless Men”. You can read what I have already written about this region here.

In 1971, the intrepid explorer, traveller and writer, Ranulph Fiennes, aka “Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes” took a small expedition of soldiers from the Scots Greys to explore the region. Ranulph’s book is called “The Headless Valley” and contains a very perceptive account of the murders that gave it its name. Clearly, from his writings, the author seems to have discovered that a great many of the victims had quite simply not lost their heads. Here he is:

In 1926, Annie Laferte was lost in the bush. There was a sighting of her some time afterwards, by an Indian named Big Charley. She was climbing a nearby hill, almost naked, but was never seen again. Supposedly, she had lost her mind, rather than her entire head.

In 1927, the bones of “Yukon Fisher,” a man wanted by the RCMP, were found on Bennett Creek. They included the bones of his head. The anticipation of gold had claimed his life. Far too impatient, he had pushed on ahead of the main party and was never seen again.

In 1932, a prospector named Phil Powers was found dead by a Mountie patrol.  Constable Martin found his bones in a burnt down cottage  upstream of the mouth of the Flat River.  Powers lay on the remains of a bunk and had been laid out in the outline of a human being, as though he had been sleeping. The skull was there at the opposite ending to the footbones and a rifle was laid over the knees. So, not a lot of decapitation there, then!

In 1936, William Epier and Joseph Mulholland were trapping and prospecting when they disappeared up the Nahanni. A bush pilot called Dalziel (pronounced “Dee-Ell”) located their cabin on Glacier Lake. It was burnt down to the ground. He reported it to Constable Graham at Fort Liard. Here’s Glacier Lake:

In 1940, a prospector named Holmberg was found dead of no established cause.

In 1945, a miner from Ontario, whose name has not survived for definite, but who may well have been Ernest Savard, was found dead in his sleeping bag. His head had been ripped off and was never found. At last! The hint of a reason for the area to be called “The Valley of the Headless Men”.

Ranulph Fiennes was told by Brian Doke of Nahanni Butte, how…….

“His father-in-law, Mr Turner, had travelled up the Nahanni in 1953, to take some food to a man who lived upstream. He was a prospector or trapper or both and Mr Turner found him dead with his cabin burnt down around him. His head was firmly intact.”

In 1961, Alec Mieskonen, a gold prospector, was blown up by dynamite, despite his well-known fear of explosives. This was thought to be a case of suicide, despite Mieskonen’s deep seated fear that one day he would die through trying to use explosives. What a strange story!!

In the same year, 1961, two partners, Orville Webb and Tom Pappas, set off overland for Nahanni Butte since they were short of food, but they were never seen again.

In the 1961 quarterly magazine of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Constable Shaw said….

Of the deaths….there is one aspect common to all….fire of undetermined origin has often been a factor in each in some way or another.”

No mention there of heads being ripped off, then! And so many of the deaths reported to the RCMP did involve fire, a factor which may well exclude Bigfoot, who has never been known to use fire. And if it isn’t Bigfoot decapitating his victims, I simply don’t know whether there might be another predator which enjoys the challenge of pulling the heads off its victims so that it can eat them. On the other hand, so many TV nature programmes here in England will tell you that apex predators always go first for two extremely nutritious parts of the body.  Indeed, they are quite capable of leaving the rest if they are not particularly hungry. Those two best bits are the brain and the liver.

In 1962 Blake MacKenzie survived an aircraft crash but then disappeared completely.  He was a strong healthy man with an ample supply of food and was seen close to the river. He kept a diary and survived at least 42 days after the crash and was well and healthy. And then suddenly, MacKenzie’s  daily diary entries stopped, abruptly and inexplicably.

A second aircraft crashed in the Nahanni Valley in 1962. A prospector named Hudson was found dead by the plane. The other two occupants and the pilot were never found.

For many of these men, especially those who just disappeared, the best candidate as the killer will be the supposedly much more violent and much larger northern variety of Bigfoot. Hundreds of years ago, the First Nations people regularly fought wars with Bigfoot because of their violence and their cannibalism.

A gentleman called David Paulides (pronounced “Poor–Lid–Uss”, with the emphasis on the first syllable), has written a number of books about the many unexplained disappearances in the National Parks of the USA.  He has written quite a few of these “Missing 411” books and estimates that well over 1,600 people may disappear there every year. Paulides used to be a police officer. This link takes you to his website :

This is one of his many excellent books about disappearances in the North American national parks:




Filed under Bigfoot, Canada, Criminology, Cryptozoology, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

18 responses to “Headless Valley (2)

  1. Looks a suitable venue for I’m a Celebrity……..

    • I’d never thought of that, but I think you may have something there. We could have Ant and Dec as special guest presenters, only to be found with their heads ripped off on the very first morning. Yes, this idea could just run and run!

  2. Rough, remote country where the slightest mistake, a “nothing” anywhere, can lead to death. Primitive cabins catch fire in the dead of winter, and all is lost. To the locals the “mysteries” are not so mysterious. For outsiders, the “mysteries” are opportunities to sell books or cadge drinks.

    • I’ve read more than once that in the forests of North America it is perfectly possible to wander twenty yards off the path and never to be seen again. Similarly, it can be twenty or thirty miles to the nearest mobile phone reception.
      Having said that, I have read four or five books by Paulides, and he does definitely have a point. If you have the time, try looking at :

      • Yes, there are many places in North America, both in Canada and the United States, where one might wander off of trail and never be seen again — alive. Solo camping or hiking in back country is not a particularly smart thing to do. A twisted or broken ankle can mean death. The weather in the high country can change dramatically in only a few hours with associated radical changes in temperature. I am sure you have such places in Britain. Anyone ill prepared for such circumstances can have survival problems.

        As for aliens, extraterrestrials, Big Foot, etc.; I am afraid they have gone the way of Flying Saucers. They are all afraid of cameras in Cell phones. Have you noticed he dearth of Flying Saucer photographs now that everyone is walking around with a camera in his pocket? The same holds true for Big Foot and others of his ilk.

        As Robert Frost noted in a poem, the woods are “dark and deep”. For those who spend no time in such places, they are mysterious and frightening, best seen out the windows of a vehicle. Paulides exploits that and more for a living. Looking at his biography, you can see that he is a coastal California city boy who did not grow up in the woods or mountains. Perhaps he, too, finds the woods dark and deep.

  3. GP

    I imagine many a myth would nowadays be called “fake news”.

    • Yes, I’d never thought of it in those terms, but you are absolutely right. In this case, a combination of a couple of headless corpses, a number of cabins burnt down and what seems to be a good few people wanting to add 2+ 2 and make one hundred, and you very quickly have a legend in the making. And that legend is a house built on sand, and, as the saying goes, doesn’t deserve to be preserved.

  4. I’m not surprised that so many people have died or disappeared. After all, it’s a tough wilderness terrain. Add the possibility of a Big Foot creature hunting in the area and you’re in some serious trouble.

    • I fully agree with you. I think that in the case of the Nahanni Valley, there are always going to be people who disappear for ever or who get killed by fierce animals, whether Bigfoot or mountain lions. But what is happening here is that the people who tell these campfire stories are so keen to have a head eating monster to talk about, that they ignore all the mundane explanations as a matter of principle. Have they never heard of Occam and his razor?

  5. With so many involving fire perhaps they are just accidents and perfectly explainable. There are some though that create questions, maybe they too are just accidents though, where the ‘victim’ has just wandered off and got lost!

  6. You are absolutely right! Men alone in cabins get drunk and then set their own home on fire. People wander off the path and never do find it again. To be fair though, a (small) number of people have been found headless, although that doesn’t have to be Bigfoot. It could be men who have gone mad with the isolation of their lives. And there are the diary writers who seem to have been doing so well, but their diary then stops so suddenly.
    And don’t forget the First Nations people who have always believed that Bigfoot is aggressive and eats his victims.

  7. I laughed not only at your humor throughout but GP’s comment as well. So much for the myth! That was debunked now wasn’t it? The truth does have a way of coming out and that doesn’t change with time. Thank you, John, for another very enjoyable post.

    • My pleasure, Amy. GP Cox was completely accurate with her observation. I had read a lot about the head stealers of the Nahanni Valley but Ranulph Fiennes was not quite so keen to accept everything as 100% true, and it was soon clear that many of those old stories were, quite simply, not true. Had there not been a Ranulph Fiennes, however, and another myth would have become a true story.

      • So much for the “reports” from media. Good thing Ranulph Fiennes came along for I would bet his alarm bells were going off that there is something really off with these stories. So he took it upon himself to find out. I say kudos!

  8. Thank you for sharing!!.. another story that will fuel the imagination of mortal man forever, no doubt… much like the Bermuda Triangle… 🙂

    Hope your path is paved with happiness and until we meet again…
    May your troubles be less
    Your blessings be more
    And nothing but happiness
    Come through your door
    (Irish Saying)

  9. Thank you, I’m glad that you enjoyed it, although there’s one more episode to come yet, Perhaps I’ll have a think about a post or two discussing the Bermuda Triangle. You are certainly right that it has intrigued mankind for generations.

  10. There is a lot more behind the beauty of the place. This tells us that we should judge by the externals 😊

    • Yes, the place is obviously extremely beautiful, but it has more than its share of murders and violence, and it is so, so, easy to get lost, because there are few paths and the forest all looks the same.

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