Everett Ruess

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Everett Ruess
Born (1914-03-28)March 28, 1914
Oakland, California
Disappeared November 1934 (aged 20)
Escalante, Utah
Occupation printmaker, artist, writer
Parent(s) Christopher Ruess and Stella Knight Ruess

Everett Ruess (March 28, 1914 – November 1934?) was a young artist, poet and writer who explored nature including the High Sierra, California Coast and the deserts of the American southwest, invariably alone. His fate while traveling through a remote area of Utah has been a mystery for many years.

In 2009, DNA from remains found in Utah seemed to indicate they were from Ruess, but the initial findings were soon challenged and shown conclusively to actually be the remains of an American Indian. The 2009 find did not provide a resolution to the Ruess mystery but did fuel a growing popular interest in Ruess.


Early life

Ruess was the younger son of Christopher and Stella Ruess. His father was a Unitarian minister, whose work caused the family to move every few years.[1] A precocious child, Everett Ruess began woodcarving, modeling in clay, and sketching. At age 12, he was writing essays and verse and began a literary diary that eventually grew into volumes, with pages telling of his travels, thoughts and works.[2] He took a creative writing class at Los Angeles High School, and later won a poetry award at Valparaiso High School, in Indiana.[2]


Starting in 1931, Ruess traveled by horse and burro through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado, the high desert Colorado Plateau. He rode broncos, branded calves, and investigated cliff dwellings, trading his prints and watercolors to pay his way. He explored Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks and the High Sierra in the summers of 1930 and 1933. In 1934, he worked with University of California archaeologists near Kayenta, took part in a Hopi religious ceremony, and learned to speak Navajo.[2]


Late in 1934, Ruess set out alone into the Utah desert, taking two burros as pack animals. He was never seen again.[2] The only sign that was found of him was a corral he had made at his campsite (Lua error in Module:Coordinates at line 668: callParserFunction: function "#coordinates" was not found.) in Davis Gulch, a canyon of the Escalante. Some think he may have fallen off a cliff or drowned in a flash flood; others suspected he had been murdered.[1][3] An unlikely story is that he crossed the Colorado River to the Navajo Reservation, married a Navajo woman, and lived there in secrecy the rest of his life.[1] His mysterious disappearance turned him into a folk hero.[4]

Other than Native Americans, Mormon pioneers and local cowboys, Ruess was one of the first "outsiders" to venture so deeply and completely into what was largely an unknown wilderness.

The discovery of a grave site on Comb Ridge, near the town of Bluff, Utah, added to the mystery. An elderly Navajo claimed that Ruess was murdered by two Ute Indians who wanted his burros. Bones and teeth found in the grave allegedly matched Ruess's race, age, size and facial features. DNA from Everett's nieces and nephew was used for comparison.[5][6] In April 2009, DNA testing and comparison of the skull to photographs seemed to confirm that the remains were of Ruess.[7][8][9]

Two months later, however, Kevin Jones, state archaeologist of Utah, advised the remains probably were not Ruess, since dental records from the 1930s do not match those in published photographs of the body.[10][11]

On October 21, 2009, AP News reported that DNA tests done by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology show the remains are not of those of Ruess. Instead, they probably belong to a Native American.[12][13][14] A later article in National Geographic Adventure Magazine identified software problems in the DNA matching software as the source of the error.[15]


Ruess was known for cutting linoleum prints of landscapes and nature and was associated with Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange. His prints show scenes from the Monterey Bay coast, the northern California coast near Tomales Bay, the Sierra Nevada, Utah, and Arizona.

Everett wrote no books during his life, but was a lifelong diarist and sent home hundreds of letters.[16] His journals, art, and poetry were later published in two books:

  • On Desert Trails (1940) ed. Hugh Lacy; El Centro, California: Desert Magazine Press; 2nd ed. 1950; 3rd edition (2000) ed. Gary J. Bergera; pub. Gibbs Smith, ISBN 0-87905-825-0
  • Everett Ruess:Vagabond for Beauty (1983), ed. W.L. Rusho, Peregrine Smith Books; 2nd ed. 1985, pub. Gibbs Smith, ISBN 0-87905-210-4

The books are illustrated by the woodcuts for which Ruess is admired. His story, along with that of Christopher McCandless, was retold more briefly in Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild.

Everett's last letter to his brother, Waldo, said

... as to when I revisit civilization, it will not be soon. I have not tired of the wilderness... It is enough that I am surrounded with beauty... This had been a full, rich year. I have left no strange or delightful thing undone I wanted to do.[2]


California musician Dave Alvin wrote and performed a song about Everett Ruess on the album Ashgrove[17] and North Carolina roots musician Dana Robinson wrote and performed "Everett Ruess," on the 2008 album Round my Door. Singer/Songwriter/Long Distance Hiker Walkin' Jim Stoltz recorded the song "The Wild Escalante (Ballad of Everett Ruess)" on his 2005 album Little Piece of Time. The Petals recorded "Everett Ruess" for their 1994 album, "Cadis Center".[18]

A species of dinosaur, Seitaad ruessi, from the Lower Jurassic of Utah was named in honor of Everett Ruess by J.J.W. Sertich and M. Loewen in 2010.[19]


  • "When I go, I leave no trace."[citation needed]
  • "I have always been unsatisfied with life as most people live it. Always I want to live more intensely and richly. Why muck and conceal one's true longings and loves, when by speaking of them one might find someone to understand them, and by acting on them one might discover oneself?"[citation needed]
  • "I have not tired of the wilderness; rather I enjoy its beauty and the vagrant life I lead, more keenly all the time. I prefer the saddle to the streetcar and star-sprinkled sky to a roof, the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown to any paved highway, and the deep peace of the wild to the discontent bred by cities." - from the last letter Ruess sent to his brother, dated November 11, 1934.

See also

  • Christopher McCandless, subject of Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild and later adapted into a film by Sean Penn (2007)
  • Carl McCunn, wildlife photographer who became stranded in the Alaskan wilderness and eventually committed suicide when he ran out of supplies (1981)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty, by W. L. Rusho, Publisher Gibbs Smith, p 204
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 from Hugh Lacy's On Desert Trails, 1940
  3. Krakauer, Jon (1997). Into The Wild. New York: Anchor. pp. 94–96. ISBN 0-385-48680-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Everett Ruess the Legend
  5. Roberts, David (May 2009). "Finding Everett Ruess". National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Retrieved 2009-05-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Roberts, David (1999). "What Happened to Everett Ruess?". National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Retrieved 2009-05-06.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. DNA results may have solved 75-year-old Utah mystery 2009
  8. Mysterious disappearance of explorer Everett Ruess solved after 75 years 2009
  9. Johnson, Kirk (April 30, 2009). "A Mystery of the West Is Solved". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Foy, Paul (2009). "Inquiry reopened in discovery of poet's remains". The Associated Press. Retrieved July 5, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Solution to a Longtime Mystery in Utah Is Questioned" "New York Times", 4 July 2009.
  12. "Remains found in Utah not poet Everett Ruess"
  13. NYTimes, A Mystery Thought Solved Is Now Renewed
  14. Myway, Remains found in Utah not poet Everett Ruess
  15. Everett Ruess Update: How the DNA Test Went Wrong
  16. David Roberts (2011), Finding Everett Ruess, Broadway, p. 394<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Dave Alvin's Ashgrove
  18. Petals, The - Cadis Center (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs
  19. Sertich, J.J.W., & Loewen, M. (2010). A New Basal Sauropodomorph Dinosaur from the Lower Jurassic Navajo Sandstone of Southern Utah PLoS ONE, 5 (3): e9789. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009789

Further reading

  • Philip L. Fradkin: Everett Ruess: His Short Life, Mysterious Death, and Astonishing Afterlife. University of California Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0520265424

External links