Everett Ruess

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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 the remains were 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 resolve the Ruess mystery but rather fueled popular interest in his story.[citation needed]


Early life[edit]

Ruess was the younger son of Stella and Christopher Ruess. Christopher was a Unitarian minister whose work caused the family to move every few years.[1] He had an older brother, Waldo, born on September 5, 1909.[2] A precocious child, 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] By 1930, they were living at 836 North Kingsley Drive in Los Angeles.[5] He 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-Tresurer of the Tabard Folk, the school's literary club. [6] That year, he published an original poem in the yearbook, entitled "Lonesome."[7] In 1931, he served as vice-president of the school's Civic Club. [8]


Starting in 1931, Ruess traveled by horse and burro through Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and 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.[3]


Late in 1934, Ruess set out alone into the Utah desert, taking two burros as pack animals. He was never seen again.[3] The only sign that was found of him 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, 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.[9][10] 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.[9] His mysterious disappearance turned him into a folk hero.[11]

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.[citation needed]

The discovery of a gravesite 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 Everett's nieces and nephew,[12][13] and comparison of the skull to photographs seemed to confirm that the remains were those of Ruess.[14][15][16]

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.[17][18]

On October 21, 2009, AP News reported that DNA tests conducted by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology show the remains are not of those of Ruess. Instead, they probably belong to a Native American.[19][20][21] A later article in National Geographic Adventure Magazine identified software problems in the DNA matching software as the source of the error.[22]


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.[citation needed]

Ruess wrote no books during his life, but was a lifelong diarist and sent home hundreds of letters.[23] His journals, art, and poetry were later published in two books:

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

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 (1996).

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]



California musician Dave Alvin wrote and performed a song about Everett Ruess on the album Ashgrove.[24]

North Carolina roots musician Dana Robinson wrote and performed "Everett Ruess," on the album Round my Door (2008).

Singer/Songwriter/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).[25]


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.[26]


  • "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[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. 
  4. ^ 1920 United States Federal Census
  5. ^ 1930 United States Federal Census
  6. ^ Hollywood High School Yearbook, 1930
  7. ^ Hollywood High School Yearbook, 1930
  8. ^ Hollywood High School Yearbook, 1931
  9. ^ a b Rusho, W. L. Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty. Gibbs Smith. p. 204. 
  10. ^ Krakauer, Jon (1997). Into The Wild. New York: Anchor. pp. 94–96. ISBN 0-385-48680-4. 
  11. ^ "Everett Ruess the Legend". everettruess.net. 
  12. ^ Roberts, David (May 2009). "Finding Everett Ruess". National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Retrieved 2009-05-06. 
  13. ^ Roberts, David (1999). "What Happened to Everett Ruess?". National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Retrieved 2009-05-06. 
  14. ^ "DNA results may have solved 75-year-old Utah mystery". Salt Lake Tribune. 2009. 
  15. ^ "Mysterious disappearance of explorer Everett Ruess solved after 75 years". eurekalert.org. 2009. 
  16. ^ Johnson, Kirk (April 30, 2009). "A Mystery of the West Is Solved". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2009. 
  17. ^ Foy, Paul (2009). "Inquiry reopened in discovery of poet's remains". The Associated Press. Retrieved July 5, 2009. 
  18. ^ "Solution to a Longtime Mystery in Utah Is Questioned". New York Times. July 4, 2009. 
  19. ^ "Remains found in Utah not poet Everett Ruess". AP News. October 21, 2009. 
  20. ^ "A Mystery Thought Solved Is Now Renewed". New York Times. 
  21. ^ "Remains found in Utah not poet Everett Ruess". AP News. October 22, 2009. 
  22. ^ "Everett Ruess Update: How the DNA Test Went Wrong". National Geographic Adventure. February 2010. 
  23. ^ David Roberts (2011), Finding Everett Ruess, Broadway, p. 394 
  24. ^ Dave Alvin's Ashgrove
  25. ^ Petals, The - Cadis Center (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs
  26. ^ 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

External links[edit]