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The Mystery and Disappearance of Everett Ruess in 1934

Everett Ruess And His Mysterious Disappearance

Everett Ruess

Everett Ruess

Everett Ruess And His Mysterious Disappearance

This is a true story of a young man who disappeared in Utah in 1934 while searching for his place to belong. He was only twenty years old but perhaps so much wiser and older than his age. He yearned for the simplistic way of life and solitude among nature. He loved his family and especially his older brother, Waldo.

Ruess Leaving for the Wilderness

Ruess and his search

Ruess and his search

The Journeys

From the time Everett Ruess was born in 1914 in California, his parents instilled a thirst for knowledge and love of art. His mother, Stella was an artist and taught Everett how to make wood cuttings which would later serve him well on his journeys. By the age of twelve, Everett was writing and sketching. His poems were good enough to receive awards.

The time was during the Great Depression and the family had moved several times related to work. Everett's father, Christopher, worked as a probation officer, minister and as a social worker. He did have some higher learning but knew it did not suit him. His philosophy was a Time To Live.

Everett wanted to explore the west and he began planning his first trip. He would travel light with only the basics but never without his journal and sketching pads. So, in November of 1931, he left with a horse and burro and a puppy he called Curly. He planned to head for Arizona then continue to New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. Along the way, he would explore the Sequoya and Yosemite National Parks.

Climbing through Arizona

Climbing the ruins

Climbing the ruins

Surviving on His Journey

Everett occasionally worked on odd jobs, he sold some of his carvings and drawings and relied on stranger's help with food along the way. His parents also forwarded boxes of supplies and money to help and supported his independent way of life, realizing he was unique in his way. He did, on occasion, return home for short visits but was always planning his next trip.

In November 1934, he was leaving for Utah with two burros and told his family he would be off-grid for about two months. He spent some time living with the Navajo Indians, took part in some Hopi ceremonies, and learned to speak Navajo.

By the third month without hearing from him, they contacted the post office from his last known contact in Escalante in February 1934. Mr. H. Jennings, a commissioner for Grange County, Utah, set out searching for Everett.

Near Davis Gulch, they found his campsite and a small coral he had built. Near the campground on a boulder were the words NEMO 1934. one of Everett's favorite books was about Captain Nemo. Those words meant 'NO ONE.' Jennings sent a letter to his parents that he was calling off the search after his second search.

In 2009, a gravesite was found on Comb Ridge near Bluff, Utah. DNA seemed to confirm the bones were Everett's, but two months later archaeologist, Kevin Jones disputed the findings. On October 21, 2009, the Associated Press had DNA done by the Armed Forces of Pathology, proving they were not the bones of Ruess. They belonged to a Joe Santistevan, a Native American. Those bones were returned to the Santistevan family for burial.

During his explores of the west, Everett had associated with Ansel Adams and Dorthea Lange. Although Everett never wrote any books himself, his mother was able to pen a book posthumously using his sketches for illustrations. Several others have authored books on Ruess.

In his last letter to his brother Waldo, Ruess quoted:

" to when I revisit civilization, it will not be soon...I have not tired of the is enough that I am surrounded by beauty...this has been a full, rich year. I have left no strange or delightful things, undone that I wanted to do."

Campsite of Ruess

Campsite of Ruess

Campsite of Ruess

Book by Roberts

Book by Roberts

The Story Continues After Years

You would think the story ends here, but it does not for strange things that happened in 1971have been discovered. One day Daisy Johnson overheard her grandfather, Aneth Nez tells of what he saw on Comb Ridge years ago. He told her he saw a young white man being chased by three Ute Natives who caught him and mauled him to death. Nez felt it was his duty to bury the young man, so he moved the body to a crevice in the canyon. Nez was sick with cancer at this time. He sought out his medicine man who told him he would not be cured till he got a lock of the man's hair for a ceremony.

Nez had his granddaughter drive him to the canyon and he took off on foot to get the lock of hair. After two hours, Nez returned with the lock for the medicine man. Nez would have his ceremony and live another ten years.

In the spring of 2008, Daisy was telling the story, and her brother, Denny Bellson, said he never heard of it. Intrigued, he searched the internet and found several sites about the disappearance of Ruess. He obtained a map of Comb Ridge and had his sister take him to the spot where she had taken her grandfather. Bellson searched the area and spotted the remains of a saddle and some bones.

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Recruiting a friend who knew an editor at the National Geographer who had done researched Ruess. Together they convinced Ken Krater, a biology professor at California University, to do a DNA test. The results confirmed the bones belonged to Everett Ruess. No one will ever know how or when Everett Ruess died, but the family can have closure. They had the bones cremated and scattered in the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbra, where other family members ashes were scattered over the years.

Everett's brother Waldo died in 2007, age 98, never knowing what happened to his brother.

The Ruess Family Papers can be found at the University of Utah, Special Collections.

Quotes of Everett Ruess

Some of the quotes he used:

"I have always been unsatisfied with life as most people live."

"I'll never stop wandering."

"I must pack my short life full of interesting events and creative activity".

Everett had the courage to live his dream. There was another young man who was found in Alaska, in 1992, a Christopher Chandless. He was believed to have starved to death very close to a road but recent discoveries have led to another possible cause of death. Scientific evidence has shown he probably ate poisonous potatoes with H.alpinum and L-canavanine.


fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on March 16, 2020:

Thank you for your comments and for reading

Rachelle Williams from Tempe, AZ on March 15, 2020:

Well, one thing is for sure, he died doing what he loved...he was on an adventure. He and I are alike in one respect:

"I have always been unsatisfied with life as most people live."

This was an awesome story, thank you for sharing.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on March 11, 2020:

Thanks for your comments. He was doing what he believed right for him.

Rosina S Khan on March 10, 2020:

This is an interesting account of Everett Ruess who was a zealous explorer, yet his mysterious disappearance was rather tragic. At least his bones had been found years later and brought closure to his family. Thank you, Fran, for sharing a wonderful hub.

Liz Westwood from UK on March 10, 2020:

It is sad that he died so young, but amazing that his remains were eventually found.

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