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
For 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.