April 21, 2009

The Everett Ruess Mystery Solved?

Via Odious and Peculiar, I learned today of a National Geographic Adventure piece offering a solution for the 1934 disappearance of the young artist Edward Ruess somewhere in the canyonlands of southern Utah.

A "vagabond for beauty," to use the subtitle of Bill Rusho's biography of him, Ruess spent part of three years exploring and making art, often alone, until vanishing. Speculation abounded: Was he killed by cattle rustlers? (There were some in the area.) Did he fall off the slickrock? Did he marry a rural Mormon girl or a Navajo and vanish into obscurity? Or was he murdered not by rustlers but by someone else?

The medicine man told Nez that the only way he could cure his cancer would be to retrieve a lock of hair from the head of the young man he had buried decades earlier, then use it in a five-day curing ceremony. "I was 19," Johnson said. "I was home for the summer. That was the first time I ever heard anything about the young dude the Utes had killed down there in Chinle Wash."

You could compare him to Christopher McCandless, but somehow Ruess comes across as a more sympathetic character, less egotistical and erratic, leaving behind an impression of talent cut short. When a friend finished reading the Rusho book, he said, "Now I remember what it was like to be 20."

The illustration is one of his linoleum cuts.

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