Ruess or Not Ruess

National Geographic claims they have found the remains and burial site of folk- and cult-hero Everett Ruess.  Ruess disappeared in southern Utah in 1934.  He was 20-years old at the time of his disappearance.

I love southern Utah.  The white and rose colored sandstone cliffs and mesas,  the independent-minded ranchers, the Navajos, the Anasazi ruins, the pictographs and petroglyphs, the Utes, the natural monoliths of every description, the San Juan River and its tributaries, the hogans, the incredible vistas.

The most interesting town in the region is Bluff.  I like to stay in the Desert Rose Motel or at Recapture Lodge.  Nearby is the incredible Valley of the Gods B&B; the traveler must stay here at least once.  The town also has three good (but tacky) restaurants.  I much prefer Bluff to “nearby” Blanding, Monticello, and Mexican Hat.

This is an area that was loved and explored by a young Californian (artist, poet, letter writer, drifter) named Everett Ruess during the Great Depression.  Everett’s story was first brought to my attention by a work colleague — Bud Rusho — who has written extensively about the young man.  Everett was thought to have died or been killed in Davis Gulch in 1934 (about 44 miles south of the town of Escalante near the Colorado River).  But search parties were unable to find his body.  Everett was 20 at the time of his disappearance.

Everett’s mystique got a boost with the publication John Kakauer’s book “Into the Wild,” which contained 7 pages about the young man.  The first edition of “NG Adventure,” which had a story about Everett, speculated that the author might have found his grave near Davis Gulch.  A friend of a friend (who lives in Escalante) speculated that he was probably killed by rustlers.  The legend of Everett Ruess has greatly spread with all the recent publicity.

All of the speculation about Everett’s ultimate resting place was finally buried this year, when his remains were found across the Colorado River, in a very isolated region southwest of Bluff (and a long way from Davis Gulch).  “His slaying was aparently witnessed by a young Navajo man, Aneth Nez.  After a 37-year silence, Nez told his granddaughter, that he had watched from Comb Ridge near the Utah-Arizona state line as three Utes killed a young white man.  Nez asked her to take him to the site above Chinle Wash where he had buried the body in a crevice.  Memories of the event had been haunting him, and he wanted to retrieve a lock of hair for a healing ceremony.”  (Quote from the Thomas H Maugh II in the LA Times)

Last year, the granddaughter told her younger brother (Denny Bellson) about the episode who revealed the location of the site.  DNA tests proved the remains to be those of Everett.  In his last letter to his family, Everett wrote:  “As to when I shall visit civilization, it will not be soon, I think.  I prefer the saddle to the street-car, the star-sprinkled sky to a roof.”

Of course, there is now a cottage industry, including website, that has grown up around Everett’s memory.  And a well-known biographer is hard at work on his life story.  Some day I will, with a Navajo guide, go to the spot where Everett was buried and pay tribute to his aimless wandering through a part of Utah I dearly love.

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5 Responses to Ruess or Not Ruess

  1. Roger Hansen says:

    On Thursday (August 13th), I spent the day with a former San Juan County sheriff. His knowledge of the 4 Corners region is encyclopedic. When I mentioned Everett Ruess, he became very animated. He is convinced that the skeleton recently found above Chinle Wash is not that of Ruess. The retired sheriff said had seen the jawbone and it has exaggerated canines, worn teeth, and no fillings. None of these three observations jive with Ruess’s personal history. The ex-sheriff is skeptical of NG’s DNA evidence.

  2. Roger Hansen says:

    The following quotes are from a SLTrib article of July 2, 2009:

    “The case of Everett Ruess is of such a high profile that it is imperative to leave no stone unturned,” according to Kevin Jones (state archeologist) and Derinna Kopp (physical anthrologist), “We’re not suggesting that the mystery of Everett Ruess’s disappearance has not been solved. We do hope, however, that additional, independent studies will be conducted to address questions that still remain.”

    The Utah scientists claim the burial site’s skeleton was damaged by the FBI and other officials before it could be examined. They also state that no investigator reports have been opened to peer review.

  3. Roger Hansen says:

    According to Ben Fulton in the SLTrib (April 26, 2009):

    “W.L. (Bud) Rusho said that while he’s prepared to accept that Ruess’ remains have at last been identified, unanswered questions remain.

    Chief among them is how Ruess ended up in Comb Ridge near Chinle Wash when his last letter to his parents in Los Angeles said he would instead head southwest toward Lee’s Ferry, Ariz. In addition, an investigative mission by John Upton Terrell at the request of The Salt Lake Tribune found that not one Navajo had heard of or seen a young white man enter their country.

    More importantly, Rusho said, is that Ruess once swore never to travel the Utah desert without horse or burro. Rusho recounts in his book Vagabond for Beauty that a March 1935 search team found two burros in Davis Gulch four months after Ruess’s disappearance. Gail Bailey took the animals to his home in Escalante, Rusho said. Rusho asks how Ruess could have traveled the 60 or so miles of rough terrain from Davis Gulch to Comb Ridge without burros.

    “The only way he could have done it was to go deep into Navajo country, circle the mountain and come around another way. He could have done that and maybe pick up another animal on the way. Maybe Navajos would have helped him, but why in the world was there no evidence of any Navajo knowing of it?” Rusho asks. “We maybe lost the mystery of where he ended up, but we have a new mystery of how he got there.”

    (David) Roberts (author of an article in Adventure) disputes Rusho’s account in his magazine article, stating that residents of Escalante said Bailey disovered the burros before search parties had been out to search for Ruess.”

    Peronal note: Bud Rusho was a work colleague of mine and I take his concerns very seriously.

  4. Roger Hansen says:

    The following was reported by Paul Roy (AP) and published in the SLTrib (October 22, 2009):

    “Initial DNA tests were termed “irrefutable” months ago by University of Colorado researchers, but one of them said Wednesday he accepted as final the new results from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory.

    Utah state archeologist, Kevin Jones, had questioned the original results, prompting the family to seek a second opinion.

    Jones said a recovered lower jawbone was characteristic of an American Indian’s, not a man of European descent, and that worn teeth suggested a lifetime diet of coarse grains. It’s not know whose remains were actually found.”

    “University of Colorado biologist Kenneth Krauter, who handled the initial DNA tests, said he did a second round of tests that disproved his original results, but wasn’t able to determine how he made a mistake in the first place. He called the Armed Forces results definitive.

    Krauter didn’t say why he didn’t acknowledge his mistake earlier, but said he had stongly urged the family to get a second opinion.”

  5. Pingback: The Psychology of Everett Ruess | Tired Road Warrior

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