Canada: NORTHWEST TERRITORIES: Home of Devils?

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It's a fancy place that oldtimers dream about. . . . Some said the "valley was full of gold and some said it was hot as hell owing to the warm springs. . . . It had a wicked name too, for at least a dozen folks went in and never came out. . . . Indians said it was the home of devils. . . .

In these tantalizing words the late Lord Tweedsmuir (John Buchan), novelist and onetime Governor General of Canada, pictured the "Headless Valley" on the remote South Nahanni River. Behind Buchan's lines lay 40 years of mystery, yet little has been done to explore the fantastic legends that came from the 200-mile gorge in the limestone mountains, 300 miles east of Whitehorse, Yukon. Last week Nahanni was back in the news again. A group of amateur explorers was preparing to go over it from one end to the other.

Northern Eden? Nahanni is Indian for "people over there, far away." The Indians shun the place for its mammoth grizzlies and the evil spirits wailing in its deep canyons. Of the hunters and prospectors who have gone in, 13 have not returned. Around them most of the tall tales have sprung up.

The legend of Nahanni started with the two MacLeod brothers 40 years ago. Their bodies were found in the valley reportedly without heads. That was enough to start people calling it "Headless Valley."

The name stuck. Prospector Martin Jorgensen, who went in after gold in 1910, was also found dead. The bones of another prospector, Yukon Fisher, were discovered near a creek in 1928. Three trappers vanished in the valley. In 1945 Woodsman Walter J. Tully came on the body of an Ontario miner, Ernest Savard, in his sleeping bag, his head all but severed.

Prospectors told of a lush almost tropical country where the river never froze even when the temperature sank to 50 below in the surrounding mountains. Great herds of fat deer and caribou, they said, cropped the green pastures. Last week the tales had grown so fantastic that the Vancouver Sun's columnist, Jack Scott, burlesqued the Nahanni as a "bodyless valley where ripe bananas hang from the boughs of pine trees [and] dusky native girls swim about in the deep, warm pools."

Gold in Streaks. But not all Nahanni legend was nonsense. Even from the air, the valley seems a lonely and lovely place amid the jagged escarpments (see cut). The University of Alberta's exploring Professor Alan E. Cameron, who entered the valley in 1936, explained the mild climate; chinooks (warm winds) keep the air balmy and moist. The lush grass attracts game and hot springs help warm the air. Also gold had been found there.

Frank Henderson, a prospector who had arranged to meet his partner, John Patterson, in the valley last summer, never found him. But Henderson came out of the valley with 30 ounces of go'd which he said he picked up "coarse and free on the bottom of a creek and strung out in quartz along the cliffs."

Last week in Toronto, ex-U.S. Marine WT. E. Bateman was getting set to take a party up the Nahanni next summer to look for Patterson and gold. In Vancouver, Tom Carolan, Army veteran and film technician, planned to lead an expedition into the valley this spring to make a travel film. Perhaps Canadians would soon have another explanation of the wonders of the Headless Valley.