Everett Ruess

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Everett Ruess
Born(1914-03-28)March 28, 1914
Disappearedc. November 1934 (aged 20)
Escalante, Utah
StatusPresumed dead
OccupationPrintmaker, artist, writer
Parent(s)Christopher Ruess and Stella Knight Ruess

Everett Ruess (March 28, 1914 – c. November 1934) was an American artist, poet, and writer known for his solo explorations of the High Sierra, the California coast, and the deserts of the American Southwest and his ultimate disappearance while traveling through a remote area of Utah. His fate remains a mystery to this day.


Early life[edit]

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


Starting in 1931, Ruess traveled by horse and burro through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado, exploring the high desert of the Colorado Plateau. He rode broncos, branded calves, and investigated cliff dwellings. 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.[3] Ruess had limited success trading his prints and watercolors to pay his way and primarily relied on his parents' support.[8]


On November 20, 1934, Ruess set out alone into the Utah desert, taking two burros as pack animals. He was never seen again.[3]

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 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' burros were found near the north side of Davis Gulch, a canyon of the Escalante River. The only sign of Ruess was a corral he had made at his campsite (37°17′53.72″N 110°57′4.77″W / 37.2982556°N 110.9513250°W / 37.2982556; -110.9513250) in Davis Gulch, as well as an inscription the search party found nearby, with the words "NEMO Nov 1934". Allen reported the discovery of the burros and the inscription to Ruess' parents in a letter dated March 8, 1935. On March 15, 1935, after completing a last attempt to find Ruess in the Kaiparowitz Plateau, Allen wrote a final note to his family calling an end to the search efforts.[9] Some think Ruess may have fallen off a cliff or drowned in a flash flood; others suspected he had been murdered.[9][10]

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 Indians who wanted his burros. 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,[11][12] and comparison of the skull to photographs, seemed to confirm that the remains were those of Ruess.[13][14][15] Two months later, however, Kevin Jones, state archaeologist of Utah, advised the remains probably were not Ruess', since dental records from the 1930s did not match those in published photographs of the body.[16][17]

On October 21, 2009, the Associated Press reported that DNA tests conducted by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology showed the remains were not those of Ruess. They identified them as of likely Native American origin.[18][19][20] A later article in National Geographic Adventure Magazine identified problems in the DNA matching software as the source of the error.[21]

In March 2010, the family of Joe Santistevan was contacted by AFDIL[clarification needed] and was informed that the Y-DNA of the remains of the supposed Everett Ruess matched exactly to Santistevan.[22]

AFDIL found a 13 marker exact match between the man buried at the Comb Ridge site and Santistevan. AFDIL then ran another Y-DNA test and reconfirmed the 13 markers and confirmed four more exact matches.[23] The American Indian was Navajo and his remains were returned to the Navajo Nation.


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.[citation needed]

Ruess wrote no books during his life, but he was a lifelong diarist and he sent home hundreds of letters.[24] His journals and poetry were posthumously published in two books, both illustrated with his own woodcuts:

  • Lacy, Hugh (Editor) (1940). On Desert Trails. El Centro, California: Desert Magazine Press.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Rusho, W.L. (1983). Everett Ruess: Vagabond for Beauty. Peregrine Smith Books.

His story, along with that of Christopher McCandless, was retold more briefly in Jon Krakauer's 1996 book Into the Wild. Ruess 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.

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.[3]

Ruess disappeared before his last letters could be sent from Escalante and his 1934 diary was never found.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

  • California musician Dave Alvin wrote and performed a song about Ruess on the album Ashgrove.[25]
  • North Carolina roots musician Dana Robinson wrote and performed "Everett Ruess," on the album Round my Door (2008).
  • Singer/songwriter and long-distance hiker Walkin' Jim Stoltz recorded the song "The Wild Escalante (Ballad of Everett Ruess)" on his album Little Piece of Time (2005).
  • The Petals recorded "Everett Ruess" for their album Cadis Center (1994).[26]
  • A species of dinosaur, Seitaad ruessi, from the Lower Jurassic of Utah was named in honor of Ruess by J.J.W. Sertich and M. Loewen, in 2010.[27]
  • In 2012, guitarist, singer, songwriter, novelist and painter Dan Bern released a 15-song record, called "Wilderness Song", adapted from the letters, essays and poems of Ruess. These songs are also the soundtrack for the documentary film "Wilderness Song" (Way of the West Productions), produced by Jonathan Demme and directed by Lindsay Jaeger.
  • In 2012, Corey Robinson directed a 40-minute documentary on Ruess titled: "NEMO 1934: Searching for Everett Ruess".[28]
  • In 2017, French pop-rock act 49 Swimming Pools released an album titled How The Wild Calls to Me inspired by the life, poems and letters of Ruess. The same year, the band presented a live version of the songs at LeCentQuatre Paris. Their show was called La Disparition d'Everett Ruess - Une Histoire Américaine.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Henderson, Randall (September 1950). "When the Boats Wouldn't Float, We Pulled 'Em". Desert Magazine. pp. 5, 10–11.
  2. ^ New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, May 25, 1938
  3. ^ a b c d e Lacy, Hugh (Editor) (1940). On Desert Trails.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  4. ^ 1920 United States Federal Census
  5. ^ 1930 United States Federal Census
  6. ^ a b Hollywood High School Yearbook, 1930
  7. ^ Hollywood High School Yearbook, 1931
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Krakauer, Jon (1997). Into The Wild. New York: Anchor. pp. 94–96. ISBN 0-385-48680-4.
  11. ^ Roberts, David (May 2009). "Finding Everett Ruess". National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Retrieved 2009-05-06.
  12. ^ Roberts, David (1999). "What Happened to Everett Ruess?". National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Retrieved 2009-05-06.
  13. ^ "DNA results may have solved 75-year-old Utah mystery". Salt Lake Tribune. 2009.
  14. ^ "Mysterious disappearance of explorer Everett Ruess solved after 75 years". eurekalert.org. 2009.
  15. ^ Johnson, Kirk (April 30, 2009). "A Mystery of the West Is Solved". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2009.
  16. ^ Foy, Paul (2009). "Inquiry reopened in discovery of poet's remains". The Associated Press. Retrieved July 5, 2009.
  17. ^ "Solution to a Longtime Mystery in Utah Is Questioned". New York Times. July 4, 2009.
  18. ^ "Remains found in Utah not poet Everett Ruess". AP News. October 21, 2009.
  19. ^ "A Mystery Thought Solved Is Now Renewed". New York Times.
  20. ^ "Remains found in Utah not poet Everett Ruess". AP News. October 22, 2009.
  21. ^ "Everett Ruess Update: How the DNA Test Went Wrong". National Geographic Adventure. February 2010.
  22. ^ Letter dated 1 April 2010 from Dr. Michael Coble and Dr. Odile Loreille from the Department of Defense, Armed Forced Institute of Pathology, Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, Washington D.C.
  23. ^ Eamil from Dr. Odile Loreille, dated 19 April 2010
  24. ^ David Roberts (2011), Finding Everett Ruess, Broadway, p. 394
  25. ^ Dave Alvin's Ashgrove
  26. ^ Petals, The - Cadis Center (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs
  27. ^ 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
  28. ^ Robinson, Corey (2012), NEMO 1934: Searching for Everett Ruess, Peter Moller, Andrew Nelson, retrieved 2018-08-13

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]