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Everett Ruess

Everett Ruess: His Short Life, Mysterious Death, and Astonishing Afterlife

Philip L. Fradkin
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnpz6
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  • Book Info
    Everett Ruess
    Book Description:

    Everett Ruess was twenty years old when he vanished into the canyonlands of southern Utah, spawning the myth of a romantic desert wanderer that survives to this day. It was 1934, and Ruess was in the fifth year of a quest to record wilderness beauty in works of art whose value was recognized by such contemporary artists as Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and Edward Weston. From his home in Los Angeles, Ruess walked, hitchhiked, and rode burros up the California coast, along the crest of the Sierra Nevada, and into the deserts of the Southwest. In the first probing biography of Everett Ruess, acclaimed environmental historian Philip L. Fradkin goes beyond the myth to reveal the realities of Ruess’s short life and mysterious death and finds in the artist’s astonishing afterlife a lonely hero who persevered.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94992-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[x])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [xi]-[xii])
  3. [Maps]
    (pp. [xiii]-[xvi])
  4. I Davis Gulch
    (pp. 1-7)

    DARKNESS DESCENDED ON OUR SMALL GROUP about halfway across the mesa that separated Davis Gulch from Fiftymile Creek. We had only one headlamp. The last person in line played the light on the moving feet in front of her. We stumbled on the uneven sand and rocks, but no one fell. A rattlesnake warned us of his presence. We skittered sideways and shuffled on until we found a rock warmed by the hot sun but losing its heat rapidly in the early evening hours. We waited and contemplated spending the night with little water, scraps of food, and only our...

  5. II Wanderers
    (pp. 8-10)

    DISAPPEARANCES CREATE MYTHS, whose durability depends on the renown of the wanderers, the circumstances of their vanishing, and the fervor of their followers. Everett Ruess appears on almost every list of better-known individuals who have vanished:¹ writer Ambrose Bierce, Congressman Hale Boggs, hijacker D.B. Cooper, aviators Amelia Earhart and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, explorer John Franklin, labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, mountaineer George Mallory, band leader Glenn Miller, outlaw Robert Leroy Parker (aka Butch Cassidy), anthropologist Michael Rockefeller, silk merchant Jim Thompson, and humanitarian Raoul Wallenberg.*

    Around each of these men and this one woman a cottage industry of suppositions about their...

  6. III The Legacy 1859–1913
    (pp. 11-19)

    VIEWED THROUGH THE EXTENSIVE DOCUMENTATION, there seems to be an inevitability about Everett’s fate that extended back three-quarters of a century, to 1859. The Ruess family produced words and images in great quantities. There were letters, diaries, poems, essays, short stories, histories, miscellaneous fragments, book manuscripts, published books, bookmarks, note cards, block prints, watercolors, oil paintings, and photographs. Everett’s family believed in the written word and were almost compulsive in their correspondence. They traded their journals back and forth, along with letters, to get a better idea of what each was thinking and doing. They were quite revealing and frank...

  7. IV Growing Up 1914–1929
    (pp. 20-33)

    PERHAPS EVERETT WAS A WANDERER because his family wandered, moving eight times in the first fourteen years of his life.¹ None of the moves bothered the youngster; rather, he seems to have taken them as exciting adventures, with educational overtones supplied by his mother. Movement fit the character of the physically active, talkative child. His father displayed a certain restlessness too. After eight years of probation work, Christopher returned to the Unitarian fold in 1915 as the minister of a Fresno church in the San Joaquin Valley, a far different place than the Bay Area. The valley was steaming hot...

  8. V On the Road 1930
    (pp. 34-48)

    TWO MYSTERIES ARE EMBEDDED IN THIS TALE, the more commonly mentioned one being what caused Ruess’s disappearance in 1934. The other, which very few have noted, is why, at the age of sixteen and not yet having graduated from high school, Everett began wandering. And how did his parents feel about his leaving home? Because familial discussions about this, if there were any, took place at home, there are no letters covering Everett’s specific reasons or any written reactions from his parents during the spring of 1930. There are also no surviving Ruess diaries for that year. What came before...

  9. VI Lan Rameau 1931
    (pp. 49-81)

    EVERETT BEGAN A YEAR THAT WOULD SEE HIM suffer heat fatigue in the Arizona desert after camping with a classmate high on the wintry flanks of the mountains above Los Angeles on New Year’s Day.We were above the clouds and could see them blowing by below us. Soon they enveloped us, and when we stood in front of our fire, we could see our shadows high above on the clouds. Night set in. No stars were visible. It began to rain heavily, while further up, above us, it snowed. There was no sound but the swish of the fir...

  10. VII The Misfit 1932
    (pp. 82-104)

    EVERETT, WITH HIS SIDEKICK CURLY, was home barely two months, time enough to experience the Tenth Olympic Games madness that consumed promotional-minded Los Angeles. Stella Ruess contributed to the hoopla, producing a booklet of prints and short verses titledLos Angeles in Block Print.She wrote in the foreword: “This little book is intended to give you, whether resident or visitor, a new appreciation of the charm of our City of the Angels, and a desire to seek out the unfamiliar spots. On such journeys you will find new beauty.” The cover depicted crowds entering the main gate of the...

  11. VIII The Bohemian 1933
    (pp. 105-125)

    NEEDLESS TO SAY, THE EXPERIMENT in higher education did not work. At the end of the second semester Everett received Ds in history, philosophy, and military drill. He did well in geology and received a B in English, which surprised him, since he didn’t complete all the assignments.I have not been very successful with college. I don’t belong in the place (U.C.L.A.) but it has been another experience, and anything that happens is of value as an experience, when it’s over.¹ By the end of March, he had the remainder of 1933 and 1934 planned.In a month or...

  12. IX Vanished 1934
    (pp. 126-145)

    AS THE YEAR—HIS LAST—BEGAN IN SAN FRANCISCO, Everett was pleased with the direction in which his life was unfolding and didn’t believe the lack of a college education would be a hindrance, as his father thought it might be. He valued his freedom and what it had taught him. Furthermore, he preferred the vitality of San Francisco over the staleness of Los Angeles. He was cherishing his time in San Francisco, knowing there would never be another period like it.¹ He had recently placed some prints in one gallery, from which he didn’t expect much profit. He had...

  13. X The Search 1935
    (pp. 146-168)

    THE STAGE NEEDS TO BE SET FOR WHAT FOLLOWS. The Escalante Desert was not a wilderness in the strict sense of the word. It was the winter range for cattle and sheep, and the ranchers and hired hands who tended those animals roamed across it, as did the rustlers who preyed upon them, and the bands of Indians who traded for goods in the small Mormon communities and hunted for deer on the Kaiparowits Plateau. For more than 130 years, a road has bisected the desert from north to south. It was suitable for horses and wagons at first and...

  14. XI Healing 1936–2008
    (pp. 169-187)

    THE TREMENDOUS OUTPOURING OF SYMPATHY for Stella and Christopher was fed by newspaper accounts and radio reports, by word of mouth, telephone, and telegraph, and by the letters, remembrances, and Christmas cards mailed by Everett’s parents to alert people and agencies to his disappearance. Their many communications were dispatched to seek information, to send an indirect message to Everett if he was still alive, and to make known the worth of their son. What resulted was a testimony to Everett himself, the esteem in which his parents were held, and the ongoing drama of the story. The responses reached the...

  15. XII Resurrection 2009
    (pp. 188-208)

    THE MANNER OF EVERETT’S FLEETING RESURRECTION assumed the form of a Tony Hillerman mystery in 2009. I have wondered how Everett would have regarded these goings-on, and I can only conclude that his innocence and other worldliness would have placed them beyond the means of his comprehension. For this is very much a story of our times and the inhabited world, which Everett shunned.

    David Roberts was the most recent in the trajectory of journalists and authors fascinated by Ruess. A prolific and eminently readable writer who sought adventurous assignments, Roberts had written over twenty books about climbing, exploring, and...

  16. APPENDIX A Wilderness Song
    (pp. 209-210)
  17. APPENDIX B Father and Son Dialogue
    (pp. 211-216)
  18. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 217-218)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 219-254)
  20. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 255-260)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 261-279)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 280-280)