Did Everett Ruess fake his death?

Note to readers – I received this very interesting submission by frequent commenter Kerry, and am happy to publish it for him.

Did Everett Ruess fake his death?

By: Kerry Anderson

RuessFor readers unfamiliar with the story, Everett Ruess was a 20 year old artist who vanished near the Grand Canyon in November of 1934. At least 2 search parties covered many square miles of rugged terrain. These were experienced locals and Navajo trackers. All that was found was an old campfire, the word “NEMO” (one of his monikers) carved into the sandstone, and his 2 burros, Cockleburrs and Clocolatero, along with their halters. None of his camp equipment, art supplies, or other possessions were ever located.

While Everett published no books, he did keep diaries and wrote many letters to family and friends over the 4 years he roamed the wilderness. This included the Sierras and more notably the Grand Canyon area. In 1937, a man named Randall Henderson started the Desert Magazine and used Everett’s work in a continuing series, highlighting his letters, artwork , and prose. In 1939, at least 2 sightings of him were reported to the magazine. Both taking place in 1937, 3 years after his disappearance. Henderson published these 2 letters and then abruptly dropped the series.

When I first began reading his magazine in the 70’s, I had no inclination to believe that he ( Henderson ), was anything other than an idealistic publisher with a commitment to good journalism. Note….Henderson died on July 4, 1970 and had put the magazine up for sale in 1952, eventually selling it for $300,000. He remained as a part time staff member, the magazine changing hands several times. His magazine, well known at that time, was found in many public libraries. Giving readers a chance to read the older issues which were arguably better than the more recent editions. While I still have respect for his efforts, I no longer believe that the magazine was exactly what it was portrayed as. Ditto for Mr. Henderson. The connections that we refer to as ( spook affiliations ) were rather subtle. More like an appendage than a whole body. They now seem much more visible. But we will go into that another time and concentrate on Everett’s disappearance. Which, I believe, he orchestrated to live as a “gay” person, ( not the happy kind ).

Suffice it to say, it would not have been necessary for him to stage his disappearance to continue his vagabond lifestyle. Trail wise, fluent in Navajo, and very knowledgeable of the desert, he also received an allowance from his parents, as well as money from selling his artwork. While his letters might have seen as benign back in the 30’s, they were conspicuous for the lack of any reference to females. And perhaps, much more obvious today. Note…I don’t really care if he was gay, I’m just offering it as my opinion of his motive.

If he did in fact stage his death, he certainly displayed exemplary local knowledge of the surrounding area. As well as historical knowledge and evasion techniques of the Indians. I also believe he had the assistance of at least one other person. Given the acute seriousness of the depression, I probably would have assisted him myself for allowing me to purchase some of his artwork at a good price with a wink and a nod. However, it appears someone else got the idea first.

Here is my narrative on how I think he pulled it off. Everett camped near Escalante Utah for several days. Writing his parents that he would be out of contact for 2 months. He then cached his possessions in the vicinity and purchased $30 worth of supplies. Enough for a long trip in those days. He then took his 2 burros, Cockleburrs and Chocolatero, down the Kaiparowits trail to Hole-in-the-Rock and Davis Canyon. Hole-in-the-Rock was made famous by the Mormons who carved a wagon route down to the Colorado River on their way to found the settlement of (Bluff) Utah. This took 2 months and was also a symbol of passage.

He then led the burros down into Davis Canyon where there was a natural corral. There was food there normally but not so much that year. They would most likely remain there as the trail is very steep. They were starved when found 2 months later but otherwise ok. He then simply backtracked up Escalante Creek as the water was very low and could be walked up back to the town of Escalante. This would obliterate his trail and make it look like he drowned in the Colorado or perhaps fell while exploring cliff ruins. He then met his ride, picked up his gear, and was driven out of the area. Possibly to Moab, where he was spotted 3 years later.

While there are many versions of what happened, I think mine is better than any of the other ones I have heard of. I will in the future take a closed look at Randall Henderson. Along with his subsequent continuing series featuring Marshall South. ( Roy Bennett Richards ). A character for more spooky than Everett could ever hope to be. Author’s note…The last known Everett skeleton sighting was in 2009. It turned out to be a native burial.

18 thoughts on “Did Everett Ruess fake his death?

  1. Thanks, Kerry. Good stuff. With just a cursory perusal of Ruess’ genealogy, many connections can be made. While his paternal line is completely scrubbed, his mother was a Knight. Her father’s line is likewise scrubbed, but her mother , Ella Waters is traceable. We soon discover links to the peerage with names like Elizabeth Kellogg (1727-1789, Hartford, CT) and Hannah Bingham (1748-1822, Windham, CT). As well as Dewey, Powell, and Rose. The union of Daniel Rose (1631-1711) and Elizabeth Goodrich (1645-1711) directly links Ruess to Humphrey Bogart, Nancy Reagan, and the founder of the Quaker Oats company, Henry Parson Crowell. Goodrich links her to Mary Anne Deming, wife of Charles Crocker, probable father of Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle (famous Hollywood hoax).

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  2. Kerry, are you familiar with the canyon country around Moab? Having gotten lost there once I can tell you it is quite easy to do – were it not for a dry stream bed that was on the map we carried, we would have been in deep trouble. I think if I ever fake my own death, that is the way to go. Corpses are never recovered!

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    1. Heh well yes, I am familiar with the area. Although I’m sure the locals are better acquainted with it than I am. However, I have already ruled out drowning in the Colorado, Falling from a cliff dwelling, and being murdered by renegade Utes. I can go into more detail if you would like. Ruess’s biggest problem was trying to go cheap. Seems he only wanted to donate the burros to the cause and keep all his valuable gear and possessions. That was his big mistake IMHO. BTW, I never read ” Into the wild” but have heard that a portion was dedicated to Everett. So I guess this hoax ties in with it. Nice touch with the cover photo! The On Desert Trails was actually published by Henderson’s pub. co. in 1940. It was vertically integrated with a commercial printing company, publishing co. as well as a book store and art gallery. Ahh. So many cockroaches, so little time.

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        1. Thanks Mark! Ok there are so many but let’s look at a few of them.
          1. Drowning in the Colorado….This would imply crossing the river in a raft and leaving the burros behind. My opinion, not plausible. He would have no way to control it and could end up 10 miles downstream on the wrong side. Maybe lose the whole outfit. And water was very low at that time so there was no reason not to cross the normal way with the burros. If stuff got wet, well that was normal.

          Falling from a cliff dwelling. No way. These were accessed by what we now call 5th class hand and footholds. No possible way he would haul his saddle, blankets, and other gear up one of those. Not remotely credible.

          3.Renegade Utes. Yea sure, they would take his art supplies and leave the burros. They would take the burros, his money, and maybe some of his gear like the saddle blankets and coffee pot. The rest of the crap they would leave behind.

          More to follow, give me some time as I’m going from memory here.

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  3. I certainly look forward to more of this mystery.
    Puts me in mind of another suspicious suicide: Gay, drunk poet Harold Hart Crane, who allegedly jumped off the deck of a steamer in the Gulf of Mexico in 1932, three months shy of his 33rd birthday. Though only known for a couple of slim volumes, whole forests have been felled to print studies and promote Crane’s meager output in scholarly books and journals. He was a modernist op all the way in my view.
    Many have commented on Crane’s near plagiarizing of an obscure poet, Samuel Greenberg (died in 1917, age 23). Greenberg looks fishy, too, though is remembered as a sickly fellow who died of TB after four/five years of prolific writing.
    Just speculation, but if there was a concentrated war on the arts as MM preaches, Crane might have been handed agent Greenberg’s assignment, or the Greenberg committee dispersed the foundational works of “Samuel Greenberg” to several assets to cultivate incoherence on the literary front of the offensive, Crane being one of the least prolific and therefore withdrawn from the field.
    Spitballs, all kinds.
    PS- Special to Kevin Starr: Crane’s mother was a Belden, but I don’t know if she’s of the peerage Belden’s that link to the Kelloggs.

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    1. Tyrone. Belden reminded me of an anecdote of sorts. I responded negatively in an email to MM about one of his comments in my profile of Clara Bow, specifically her husband, Rex Bell. Miles connected him to some Bell’s, so I advised MM that Rex’s real name was Beldam. His reply was something to the effect of “do you know what Beldam means?” I didn’t even know it was a word.

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      1. A nasty old hag, Beldam. Then there’s Bedlam, corruption originally of Bethlehem, attached to Bethlam Asylum which was pronounced Bedlam, which became a word for crazy ass riot. It’s all in the accent, helped by legendary British dental care and that piss warm pig’s ear they call beer.

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          1. Pig’s Ear is Cockney rhyming slang for beer. Should have said,’Gypsy’s Kiss’. BTW, I have a perfectly competent British dentist, a nice lady who wears leather motorcycle jackets. Should not let my Irish off the leash like that. Cheese!

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    2. Thanks Tyrone! Ya know, Everett’s work might be describes as somewhat modernistic. I’m just wondering if Henderson’s art gallery had a few Ruess originals. That was before my time so I suppose that one will remain unknown.

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  4. Ok, one more thing to consider. There were some food cans found at the Davis campsite. ” Well, so what” ? He could not subsist on canned food for 2 months. Too heavy, too bulky. But he also could not utilize beans, flour, and rice without his cast iron cookware. And he couldn’t hoof all that heavy gear the 80 or so miles back to Escalante. And also could not leave a campfire for the trackers to find. But he could leave caches of canned food in the other canyons ( actually more like ravines ) to the North of Davis, as he came down the trail. Then he would only need a can opener and a spoon. The cans could easily be buried. The campfires would likely be discovered by the trackers. IMHO the reason his gear was never found is because it was never there in the first place. It was back at Escalante cached or even left at a friends house. Remember, the crops at Escalante were all eaten by grasshoppers that year. And this was the most remote Mormon settlement. They were in a bad way. So assisting Everett would a no brainer for some of those people.

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  5. Here’s a slimmed down version of the 2 sightings. I have both of them somewhere so I’ll try to look em up and post the whole enchilada. The first was in Moab. A lady recognized him in a mining area and tried to approach him and he quickly brushed her off. Vary atypical of his known personality. The 2nd was south of Monterrey Mexico a few months later. ( A known artist colony ) He was traveling south on the road to Mexico city with another young man and their car was broken down. A lady and her husband gave him a ride back to Monterrey for the car part. They were unaware of the story or his identity at that time. He said wait a minute I need my art supplies as that is how I make my living and never go anywhere without them. Later the woman heard the story and recognized him. She showed the photo to her husband he agreed that it was the same guy they gave the ride to.

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    1. Kerry,
      I do believe the key evidence is the lack of evidence, his personal items. I also believe your theory must be considered however here is another.
      Everett put his personal items in a hidden safe place nearby when taking short trips from Davis Canyon.

      Ross

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