This image provided by National Geographic Adventure shows Everett Ruess photographed in 1933 by Dorthea Lange. Everett Ruess, a talented artist, poet and wanderer of the 1930s whose disappearance became the stuff of Western lore and Navajo legend.
Scientists at the University of Colorado have confirmed that a skeleton found in remote southeastern Utah was that of a young artist, poet and wanderer who disappeared in the 1930s.
The disappearance of Everett Ruess, a self-described vagabond from California, became part of Western legend, inspiring books, film documentaries and folk songs.
Ruess was just 20 when he set off for his final wilderness journey from the town of Escalante, Utah, in 1934. The skeleton was found 60 miles to the east at Comb Ridge.
University of Colorado geneticist Kenneth Krauter says DNA tests involving the explorer’s surviving relatives make it “irrefutable” that the bones were that of Ruess.
Article and photo: http://www.adn.com/nation/story/779250.html
A Mystery of the West Is Solved
Everett Ruess with two donkeys in the Southwest in the 1930s
The gifted young idealist who slips the bonds of civilization and prevails against the wild, or fails in the trying, is a recurring theme of the American West — not to mention Hollywood.
Everett Ruess in many ways defined the template. A poet, painter and confidant to a leathery set of Western artists in the 1930s, including Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams, the 20-year-old Mr. Ruess rode off into the desert of the Southwest in 1934 with two burros and a notebook full of dreams, never to be seen again. Over the next 75 years, the West became tamer, but Mr. Ruess and his legend did not, and the lingering mystery of his disappearance only added to the romantic aura of the time and fueled the periodic search for evidence of his fate.
A photograph of Everett Ruess by Dorothea Lange, with photographic superimposition of skeletal remains found in southern Utah done by Paul Sandberg of the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Now the circle has been closed with a tale that is gritty and grim — and scientifically gee-whiz at the same time.
Human remains were found last year about 60 miles from Escalante in southern Utah by a Navajo man who knew nothing of the Ruess story. The man has been searching for evidence of a killing that his grandfather had witnessed during the Depression. On Thursday, researchers at the University of Colorado connected the dots and said that DNA in the recovered bones matched that of living Ruess relatives. Citing the DNA evidence, as well as a forensic facial reconstruction that was compared with photographs of Mr. Ruess, the researchers concluded that the remains were those of the long-lost artist.
So it was that two family stories of secrets and mysteries became intertwined, and then resolved.
“Navajo oral tradition, the forensic analysis and now the DNA test,” said Dennis Van Gerven, a professor of anthropology at the university. “We can be certain that this is Ruess.”
But the story, pieced together in the April/May issue of National Geographic Adventure magazine and announced Thursday in a conference call, probably still leaves enough loose ends to keep Ruess flame-keepers at work.
The resonant sentences Mr. Ruess wrote in a letter to his family before heading out in November 1934 will probably live on as well. “As to when I shall visit civilization, it will not be soon, I think,” he wrote, as quoted in the book Sandstone Sunsets: In Search of Everett Ruess, by Mark A. Taylor (Gibbs Smith, 1997).
“I prefer the saddle to the streetcar, the star-sprinkled sky to a roof,” wrote Mr. Ruess, who painted, made woodcuts and filled volumes of notebooks, all while still in his teens.
In their analysis, the Colorado researchers said the preliminary evidence was circumstantial; the bones confirmed that the body was male, Caucasian, 19 to 22 years old, and about 5 feet 8 inches tall — all a match for Mr. Ruess. The jaw and eye sockets were largely intact, and so a facial reconstruction came next. It closely matched photographs of Mr. Ruess taken by Ms. Lange, a photographer probably best known for her images of migrant workers during the Depression.
Finally, DNA extracted from the bones showed a 25 percent match with nephews and nieces of Mr. Ruess, the exact amount that would be expected in that family relationship. The conclusion, said Kenneth Krauter, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Colorado, was “irrefutable.”
How the remains were found at all is an astonishing tale in its own right.
That story begins in the early 1970s, when Aneth Nez broke a 37-year silence to tell his family about being witness to a dark incident in the 1930s. He told them that while sitting on a ridge, he watched three Ute boys chase down and kill a young white man. After the killers took the victim’s two mules, Mr. Nez, out of respect, buried the body, he told his granddaughter, Daisy Johnson, but was too afraid to talk about it.
Last year, Ms. Johnson told the story to her younger brother, Denny Bellson, and together, on May 25, they went to the general area their grandfather had talked about. Mr. Bellson, speaking in the conference call, said he saw a saddle first— probably his grandfather’s, which, in the Navajo tradition, he would have disposed of because it had been contaminated by coming in contact with the blood of the dead. Then, Mr. Bellson said, he saw the bones, jammed down into a rock crevice.
“The skull was in pieces,” he said. But he said he also saw that it was indented, as though caved in, which fit with his grandfather’s tale.
One of Mr. Ruess’s nephews, Brian Ruess, said in a telephone interview that he had grown up with open-ended versions of his uncle’s story, with each family member drawn to speculate. Some wanted to think their uncle had fallen in love with a Navajo girl and intentionally disappeared into the desert. Brian Ruess said he had always imagined his uncle being swept away while crossing the Colorado River.
“But Everett’s story is more important than just his disappearance — his message wasn’t to go disappear,” added Brian Ruess, 44, who works in software sales in Portland, Ore. “I think the message to be found in his life and writing and art — that there’s beauty in the wilderness and beauty in adventure, and go seek adventure, go live your wanderlust.”
And what happened to Everett Ruess’s gear and notebook, and the bulky box camera that was being carried by one of his burros? Much is still unknown.
Was the campsite discovered in 1957 on a high plateau by geologists working on the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River — spoons and cups set on rocks as if someone had just stepped away, set around a fire ring and a box of razor blades from a Los Angeles drug store near the Ruess family home in Los Angeles — evidence of Mr. Ruess’s last night on earth, as some researchers have long believed?
It is a question the National Geographic article does not address. So it may be a piece of someone else’s desert mystery, still waiting to be solved.
Full article and photos: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/01/us/01ruess.html?hp