The Sunday SLTrib (2 Oct 2011) had an article by Ben Fulton on “Works that capture Utah: Here’s our list of the top 10 books that explain this extraordinary place.” One of the books on the list was written by a former colleague of mine who passed away earlier this year. Fulton’s review of Bud Rusho’s book Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty states:
Utah’s stunning redrock country became imbued with mystery and romance the day a young poet Everett Ruess disappeared among its canyons in 1934. Rusho’s 1985 book was first on the block to explore the nuances of this seminal Utah figure. . .
For a newsletter (Sep 2011) published by the agency I work for, I wrote the following about Rusho and Ruess:
Long-time Upper Colorado Region public affairs officer and Utah historian Wilbur L. “Bud” Rusho died earlier this year at the age of 82 of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“Bud Rusho knew as much history of every square foot of the West as any man who ever set foot on the planet,” said Steve Gallenson, president of the Westerners Club, an organization founded in 1967 whose primary objective is to promote knowledge and understanding of western history and culture through literature.
One of Bud’s historical projects was researching the short life of a young Californian named Everett Ruess. This led to Bud publishing several books including, Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty and The Wilderness Journals of Everett Ruess. These literary efforts turned young wanderer into a folk- and cult-hero to those who love the beauty of the arid American West.
Bud and Everett both loved southern Utah and northern Arizona. The white and rose colored sandstone cliffs and mesas, the independent-minded ranchers, the Native Americans, the Anasazi ruins, the pictographs and petroglyphs, the wind- and water-eroded monoliths of every description, the Colorado River and its tributaries, and the incredible vistas.
This is an area that was explored by Everett (artist, poet, letter writer, and drifter) during the Great Depression. He rejected society and wandered the desert with his burros and a dog named Curly. His letters back to his family and friends provide vivid descriptions of what he saw in his travels. He did sketches, watercolors, and block prints.
Everett was thought to have died or been killed by rustlers in the very isolated Davis Gulch area in 1934 (about 44 miles south of the town of Escalante, Utah, near the Colorado River). But search parties were unable to find his body, thus creating a mystery that has endured to this day. He was not quite 21-years old at the time of his disappearance.
Everett’s mystique got a further boost with the publication Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, which contained 7 pages about the young man. The first edition of National Geographic’s Adventure magazine speculated that his grave had perhaps been found. But, when I talked to Bud about this insinuation, he was rightly skeptical.
All of the speculation about Everett’s ultimate resting place was supposedly buried recently when his remains were allegedly found across the Colorado River, in a very isolated region southwest of Bluff, Utah (and a long way from Davis Gulch). The National Geographic Society announced that they had DNA evidence to corroborate this finding. Again Bud was rightly skeptical. Apparently the DNA evidence had been corrupted. Everett’s demise remains a secret.
Now come two new books about the young Ruess. The first, Finding Everett Ruess: The Remarkable Life and Unsolved Disappearance of a Legendary Wilderness Explorer, is by prominent mountaineer-journalist David Roberts. The second is Pulitzer Prize-winner Phillip L. Fradkin’s Everett Ruess: His Short Life, Mysterious Death, and Astonishing Afterlife.
There is also a cottage industry, including website, that has developed around Everett’s memory. According to Utah writer Gary Bergera, “Everett Ruess has emerged in the popular imagination as a mythic wunderkind whose mysterious disappearance assures him of a place in the pantheon of misunderstood artists.” All thanks to the initial research of Bud Rusho.
For more information about Everett Ruess, do a search on “Ruess”.