In support of the Everett Ruess Block Prints on exhibit at Frontier Homestead, we thought an exploration into the life of the artist would be in order. Part II covers his later journey's and his mysterious disappearance. The following is excerpted from Everett Ruess - A Vagabond for Beauty.
After living among the people of the Navajo Nation, Ruess returned to Los Angeles for the winter, and then set out again the following March 1932 to the Salt River Valley. He continued on through Arizona until he reached Ganado, traveling onto Chinle, Mesa Verde, and the Grand Canyon, boldly meeting artists, archaeologists, and continuing his warm and friendly connections to the Navajo people. He lived with them for several days, and on subsequent trips was to spend more and more of his time with them. He felt a kinship to the Navajo people, their ways of life and their culture, as they lived very close to the earth, respectful of its beauty and resources.
In September 1932 Everett returned to Los Angeles to enroll at the University of California at Los Angeles, presumably at the suggestion of his father. He was not comfortable, nor very successful in college, and after one semester, he began to make plans to continue his journeys, this time to see the Sierras and San Francisco.
When he arrived in San Francisco, he spent a great deal of time with the artists in the close-knit community, attending operas, concerts, parties, movies, art galleries and continuing to work at his art. His reading and writing continued to be one of the most important aspects of his life. The artist, Maynard Dixon and his wife, Dorthea Lange, the photographer, were the two important influences on Everett during this time, as they mentored him and took great interest in his artistic progress.
In addition to the urban artist's life Everett had in San Francisco, he continued to venture out into the surrounding mountains, lakes, and coastal wilderness areas to maintain his contact with that which he was most connected.
Everett returned to Los Angeles and made plans to return to Monument Valley. His brother, Waldo offered to drive him to Kayenta, Arizona. Everett wrote to him, "I look forward to the time when we will be going places, together on the road. You are surely a good brother to me (p. 138)." In April1934 Waldo dropped Everett off at Kayenta. It was the last time he would see Everett.
Everett continued to spend a great deal of time with the Navajo and Hopi people, whom he loved and respected immensely. He continued to work at his art, work odd jobs, and communicate his thoughts, experiences and feelings to his family and friends through his letters. He continued to experience life at the edge, taking risks as he traveled and hiked alone, and he conveyed that he was, "…roaring drunk with the lust of life and adventure and unbearable beauty."
He wrote a friend that "I narrowly escaped being gored to death by a wild bull," and, "on a nearly vertical cliff ... escaped unscathed ... One way and another, I have been flirting pretty heavily with Death, the old clown” (p. 190).
The last known letter to be received from Everett was to Waldo on November 11, 1934, expressing how he preferred the wilderness to the city life, his love for the Navajo people and his happiness at living the life of vagabond, in communion with nature, having experienced life's "exhilarating beauty."
The last persons to see Everett were two sheepherders, Clayton Porter and Addin Lay on November 21, 1934. Everett, after camping with the two men for two nights set out for the Hole-in-the-Rock.
When in February 1935 his parents had not heard from him for over three months, they began the long and unsuccessful search for him. His burros were found on the trail to Davis Gulch, as well as Everett's tracks, empty milk cans, candy wrappers and bedroll marks in the dirt. However, none of his belongings were found.
In 2009, human remains were found outside of Bluff, Utah and were initially identified as those of Ruess. Unfortunately, DNA testing later proved that claim to be false and the fate of Everett Rues continues to be a mystery.