In 1931, a fur trapper named Phil Powers was hunting near the same location of “Headless Creek”. His cabin had been burned to the ground. His body was found outside of the burned cabin, and he had been firing his gun at someone…or something…coming towards him.
The story of two brothers, Willie and Frank McLeod, who were found without their heads is one of the Nahanni’s most infamous tales. Their bodies were found beside what is now known as Headless Creek located in Deadmen Valley in the Funeral Range mountains. The names of these landmarks alone demonstrate that the death of these brothers has left its mark. The media coverage surrounding their deaths is attributed to much of the attention that contributed to the Nahanni being a household name, even to this day.
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Take your map of Canada and find the corner where British Columbia, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories meet. Now go a few score miles directly north. You’re looking down into the fantastic never-never land of Headless Valley. There, between the Mackenzie Mountains and the Selwyn Range, lies the 200-mile-long twisted river system of the South Nahanni, the supposed haunt of head-hunters and of gigantic prehistoric mastodons, and the actual spawning ground of stupendous myths.
The South Nahanni, a spectacular enough river in its own right (its falls are almost twice the height of Niagara, its gorges are 1,500 feet deep), is fast becoming the most talked-about river in North America. Around it. cluster more rumor and legend - and fewer facts than around any comparable water system on the continent. This is a pretty good showing for an area that attracts the merest trickle of travellers, especially when you consider that a healthy proportion of those travellers meets a sticky end.
For this is forbidding country, which has been disastrous to both white man and Indian. According to the U. S. Geographical Survey, virulent meningitis once wiped out an Indian village in the area. Some Indians say the valley’s haunted. At any rate, no one lives there now. Of the relatively few whites who have explored and prospected along the Nahanni, three have been murdered, another may have been murdered, and almost a dozen, including a girl, have simply vanished.
The body of one of the murdered men was found without a head. Although it was fairly well established at the time—30 years ago—that wolves had hauled the skull away from the skeleton, the gruesome find gave rise to the head-hunter legend and gave the region its popular name, Headless Valley.
Actually, the “valley” includes two rivers (the Nahanni and the Flat), several valleys, three canyons, a flock of tributary creeks (with hot and cold running water), immense falls, rapids, gorges, limestone caves and a few other added attractions, all of which add up to some pretty breath-taking scenery.
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But in popular myth, Headless Valley is a long, brooding, mist - shrouded, mountain - ringed stretch of country, unexplored and uncharted, where head-hunting Indian ‘‘Mountain Men” and prehistoric animals roam through luxuriant tropical foliage, guarding a fabulously rich lost gold mine to the accompaniment of weird, wailing winds that chill men’s souls. As such, Headless Valley has long since taken its place as a leading and genuine piece of Canadian folklore. Although it has been explored, charted and photographed many times since the beginning of the century, its position as the number one legend of the Northland remains unshaken.
“A tropical valley set in the midst of Arctic wastes,” one writer called it. “An evil, poisonous Shangri-La in the heart of the Yukon.” The very name “Nahanni,” which means “people Over there, far away,” has a will-o’-the-wisp sound in transíation. It was tagged onto the mountain Indians by white men, to distinguish them from the woods Indians of the Mackenzie River. Early stories about the Nahanni region were circulated by Indians who feared the white man would disturb their hunting grounds. Friendly now, but still deeply superstitious, the Indians have helped to advance the legends about the valley, and they have been aided and abetted by glib-tongued prospectors who like to spin yams.
Side by side with the story of the head-hunters is the tale of the lost mother lode which prospectors believe is somewhere on Bennett creek, a tributary of the Flat River which runs into the Nahanni. This is in the same general area as the fabulous McHenry mine, which is supposed to be located somewhere between the head waters of the Ross and Nahanni. Prospectors have searched for it for years without success, still strong in the belief that years ago a man named McHenry brought 40 pounds of rich ore out of the district.
But there has been little actual gold discovered from the day in 1905 when Willie McLeod came down the Nahanni with an Eno’s Fruit Salt bottle plugged with coarse nuggets, up to the fall of 1946 when Frank Henderson returned from the Nahanni district with 30 ounces of coarse gold. Henderson is a nephew of Bob Henderson, the man credited with the original discovery in the Klondyke in 1896, and he is the central figure in the proposed expedition of U. S. Marines into the Headless Valley area. Henderson’s partner, John Patterson, has been missing in the country since last summer.
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