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Everett Ruess

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Everett Ruess
Born(1914-03-28)March 28, 1914
Oakland, California, U.S.
Disappearedc. November 1934 (aged 20)
Escalante, Utah, U.S.
StatusPresumed dead
Occupation(s)Printmaker, artist, writer

Everett Ruess (March 28, 1914 – c. November 1934) was an American artist, poet, and writer. He carried out solo explorations of the High Sierra, the California coast, and the deserts of the American Southwest. In 1934, he disappeared while traveling through a remote area of Utah; his fate remains unknown.


Early life[edit]

Everett Ruess was the younger of two sons of Stella and Christopher Ruess. Christopher was a Unitarian minister[1] whose work caused the family to move every few years.[2] Everett's older brother, Waldo, was born on September 5, 1909.[3] A precocious child, Everett began woodcarving, modeling in clay, and sketching at an early age. At 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.[4] By 1920, the Ruess family was living in Brookline, Massachusetts,[5] and by 1930, they were living at 836 North Kingsley Drive in Los Angeles.[6] Everett took a creative-writing class at Los Angeles High School, and later won a poetry award at Valparaiso High School in Indiana.[4] At Hollywood High School he served as the Secretary-Treasurer of the Tabard Folk, the school's literary club.[7] That year, he published an original poem in the yearbook, titled "Lonesome".[7] In 1931, he served as vice president of the school's civic club.[8]


Starting in 1931, Ruess traveled by horse and donkey through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado, exploring the high desert of the Colorado Plateau. He rode broncos, branded calves, and investigated cliff dwellings. Ruess explored Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, as well as 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.[4] Ruess had limited success trading his prints and watercolors to pay his way, and primarily relied on his parents' support.[9]


On November 20, 1934, Ruess set out alone into the Utah desert, taking two donkeys as pack animals. He was never seen again.[4]

Earlier in 1934, Ruess had told his parents he would be unreachable for nearly two months, but about three months after his last correspondence, they started receiving their son's uncalled-for mail. They wrote a letter to the post office of Escalante, Utah, on February 7, 1935. A commissioner of Garfield County, H. Jennings Allen (the husband of Escalante's postmistress), saw the letter and decided to form a search party with other men in the area. Ruess' donkeys were found near the north side of Davis Gulch, a canyon of the Escalante River. The only sign of Ruess himself was a corral he had made at his campsite in Davis Gulch, as well as an inscription the search party found nearby, with the words "NEMO 1934".[10] Allen reported the discovery of the donkeys and the inscription to Ruess' parents in a letter dated March 8, 1935. On March 15, after completing a last attempt to find Ruess in the Kaiparowits Plateau, Allen wrote a final note to the family calling an end to the search efforts.[11]

Later searches in late May and June 1935 included an aerial survey of the land from an altitude of 12,000 feet (3,700 m), covering the ground from Lee's Ferry to Escalante.[12][13] On the ground, a party of nine horseback riders joined the search,[14] but discontinued their effort a week later.[15]

Some believe Ruess may have fallen off a cliff or drowned in a flash flood; others suspected that he had been murdered.[11][16]

2009 DNA tests[edit]

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 men who wanted his donkeys. Bones and teeth found in the grave allegedly matched Ruess' race, age, size, and facial features. In April 2009, comparison of DNA from the remains and that of Ruess' nieces and nephew,[17][18] and comparison of the skull to photographs, seemed to confirm that the remains were those of Ruess.[19][20][21] Two months later, Kevin Jones, state archaeologist of Utah, advised that the remains were probably not Ruess', since dental records from the 1930s did not match those in published photographs of the body.[22][23]

On October 21, 2009, the Associated Press reported that DNA tests conducted by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology concluded that the remains were not those of Ruess. They identified them as being likely of Native American origin.[24][25][26] A later article in National Geographic Adventure Magazine identified problems in the DNA matching software as the source of the error.[27]


Ruess was known for making 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.[28]

Ruess wrote no books during his life, but he was a lifelong diarist, and sent home hundreds of letters.[29] His journals and poetry were posthumously published in two books, both illustrated with his own woodcuts:

  • Lacy, Hugh, ed. (1940). On Desert Trails. El Centro, California: Desert Magazine Press.
  • Rusho, W.L. (1983). Everett Ruess: Vagabond for Beauty. Peregrine Smith Books.

Ruess's story, along with that of Christopher McCandless, was retold more briefly in Jon Krakauer's 1996 book Into the Wild. He is also mentioned in Edward Abbey's 1968 book Desert Solitaire. Wallace Stegner, in his 1942 book, Mormon Country, devotes an entire chapter, "Artist in Residence...", pages 319-350, to Ruess's travels and disappearance in southern Utah.[full citation needed][28]

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.[4]

Ruess disappeared before his last letters could be sent from Escalante and his 1934 diary was never found.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Christopher G. Ruess Wins High Honors at Harvard". Los Angeles Herald. July 25, 1903. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  2. ^ Henderson, Randall (September 1950). "When the Boats Wouldn't Float, We Pulled 'Em". Desert Magazine. pp. 5, 10–11.
  3. ^ New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, May 25, 1938
  4. ^ a b c d e Lacy, Hugh, ed. (1940). On Desert Trails.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ 1920 United States Federal Census
  6. ^ 1930 United States Federal Census
  7. ^ a b Hollywood High School Yearbook, 1930
  8. ^ Hollywood High School Yearbook, 1931
  9. ^ Roberts, David (2011). Finding Everett Ruess, The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer. New York, New York: Broadway Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. pp. 92, 95, 107, 163. ISBN 978-0-307-59178-4.
  10. ^ "Desert Men Press Hunt: Last Camp of L.A. Artist Found in Ravine of Utah Badlands". San Pedro News-Pilot. June 3, 1935. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  11. ^ a b c Rusho, W. L. (2002). Everett Ruess, A Vagabond for Beauty. Wilderness Journals of Everett Ruess. Combination Edition. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 1-58685-164-0.
  12. ^ Erickson, Wilbur (June 21, 1935). "Many Cross Country Trips Enliven Hamilton Field Service for Fliers". Sausalito News. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  13. ^ "Aviators Told to Watch for Artist". San Bernardino Sun. Associated Press. June 10, 1935. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  14. ^ "Artist Is Sought in South Utah Wilds". San Bernardino Sun. Associated Press. May 30, 1935. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  15. ^ "Utah Searchers Fail to Find Artist, 21". San Bernardino Sun. United Press. June 7, 1935. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  16. ^ Krakauer, Jon (1997). Into The Wild. New York: Anchor. pp. 94–96. ISBN 0-385-48680-4.
  17. ^ Roberts, David (May 2009). "Finding Everett Ruess". National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Archived from the original on April 30, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-06.
  18. ^ Roberts, David (1999). "What Happened to Everett Ruess?". National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Archived from the original on May 2, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-06.
  19. ^ "DNA results may have solved 75-year-old Utah mystery". Salt Lake Tribune. 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2009-04-27.
  20. ^ "Mysterious disappearance of explorer Everett Ruess solved after 75 years". eurekalert.org. 2009.
  21. ^ Johnson, Kirk (April 30, 2009). "A Mystery of the West Is Solved". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2009.
  22. ^ Foy, Paul (2009). "Inquiry reopened in discovery of poet's remains". The Associated Press. Archived from the original on July 12, 2009. Retrieved July 5, 2009.
  23. ^ "Solution to a Longtime Mystery in Utah Is Questioned". New York Times. July 4, 2009.
  24. ^ "Remains found in Utah not poet Everett Ruess". AP News. October 21, 2009.[dead link]
  25. ^ "A Mystery Thought Solved Is Now Renewed". New York Times.
  26. ^ "Remains found in Utah not poet Everett Ruess". AP News. October 22, 2009.
  27. ^ "Everett Ruess Update: How the DNA Test Went Wrong". National Geographic Adventure. February 2010. Archived from the original on March 17, 2012.
  28. ^ a b Malouf, Mary Brown (October 31, 2019). "Nowhere Man". Salt Lake Magazine. Archived from the original on November 1, 2019. Retrieved 2022-09-27.}
  29. ^ David Roberts (2011), Finding Everett Ruess, Broadway, p. 394
  30. ^ Dave Alvin's Ashgrove
  31. ^ 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[edit]

  • Philip L. Fradkin: Everett Ruess: His Short Life, Mysterious Death, and Astonishing Afterlife. University of California Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0520265424
  • Scott Thybony: The disappearances : a story of exploration, murder, and mystery in the American West. University of Utah Press, 2016. ISBN 978-1607814832

External links[edit]