The Nahanni Valley is in the middle of more or less nowhere in Canada’s Northwest Territories, some 300 miles or so west of Yellowknife. It is, however, unbelievably beautiful:
It is a very hostile region, much of it accessible only on foot, by boat or by floatplane. For well over a hundred years, there have been countless tales told about fur trappers and gold prospectors who went into the area, and then either disappeared without trace or were found minus their heads. And obviously dead.
One website, taken more or less at random from the many, states that
“Over the years, many unfortunate travellers and explorers have gone missing, or turned up dead and beheaded. The number of decapitated bodies found within Nahanni Valley have earned it the nickname “Valley of Headless Men”.
The number of headless bodies found in the Nahanni Valley varies enormously from one website to another or from one book to another. It is usually quoted as between somewhere 30-50 deaths. Explanations vary. The chief suspects include the extremely naughty Naha tribe who are apparently extremely aggressive and extremely elusive and guard their land very jealously. Or perhaps it’s a different group of people, namely a race of hairy, cave-dwelling cannibals who are extremely aggressive and extremely hungry too. And don’t forget that legendary scary hominid who goes by the name of “Nuk-luk”, a Neanderthal-like creature, five feet tall with a long beard. He doesn’t wear any clothes. Here he is, in a very blurred photograph, thank goodness:
In first place in the long list of suspects, though, is the supposedly much more violent northern variety of Bigfoot, examples of which supposedly measuring up to twelve feet tall or even more are regularly claimed in this area. This is a perfect application of Bergmann’s Rule :
“According to Bergmann’s rule, the body size of vertebrates is closely related to the average ambient air temperature in the region in which the vertebrate lives, so organisms in warmer regions are typically smaller than members of the same species in colder regions.”
Given this colourful and perhaps rather horrific, background to the area, in 1971, the intrepid English explorer, traveller and writer, Ranulph Fiennes, aka “Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes” to give him his full name, took a small expedition of soldiers from the Royal Scots Greys to explore the Nahanni Valley. Ranulph’s book is called “The Headless Valley” and contains a very detailed account of the murders that have given the area its name (and his book its title). Clearly, from his writings, the author seems to have discovered that many of the victims had, quite simply, not lost their heads.
But first, from the internet, the famous tale of the McLeod brothers, who were mixed race, with one First Nation parent and one white:
“In 1908, after a lengthy search which had lasted two years, their brother Charley finally found the skeletons of Frank and Willie McLeod. Both men had been shot as they lay warm in their blankets, one either side the fire. They still had their heads. There was no sign of Weir, their partner, he was never seen again.”
I did find, though, in a rather more sensationalist book, an account which recorded the tale of the McLeod brothers as being found “reportedly decapitated”. To be fair, though, there were some men on the list who did lack their heads:
” In 1916, a mounted policeman called Corporal Churchill found the headless skeleton of a prospector called Jorgensen up the Nahanni.”
Jorgenson evidently died a rather painful death, although one which had been particularly thoroughly carried out:
“a tough experienced woodsman, his remains were found by a log cabin near the Flat River’s confluence with the Nahanni. A loaded rifle close to the body, the cabin had been burnt down…. However heavy a sleeper Jorgensen would surely have woken up if the cabin had been on fire …..if he was still alive.”
And next, one with no head mentioned:
“In 1922, a prospector named John O’ Brien went up the Nahanni and never came back…”
The Nahanni Valley stories are good examples of how a rather shaky, iffy, perhaps somewhat gossipy piece of evidence can take on a life of its own. Granted, there may have been a small number of trappers and prospectors found minus their heads, but such a fate was certainly not what happened to every single person killed or disappeared in the Nahanni Valley, and there were certainly not thirty to fifty of them. More blood-soaked examples next time, when we will further examine that familiar old dilemna:
“Head or no Head?”