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Before and After: The Everett Ruess Family Papers, Ms0678

The Everett Ruess Family Papers (Ms0678), while all about the family, are essentially a before and after story. The before is when Everett was alive, and the only mystery surrounding him was what he was having for dinner. The after began in 1934, when the wandering adventurer disappeared forever in the deserts of southern Utah. The collection reflects the flurry of events that eventually defined the Ruess family, and everything they did after Everett was lost.

Christopher, a Unitarian pastor and Stella, an artist, were of the opinion that nurturing their children included freedom to make their own decisions beginning at an early age. Their oldest child, Christella, died soon after birth of spinal bifida. Their second child, Waldo stayed at home and prepared for the future, eventually ending up as the only child who lived into old age. Everett was the youngest of the three children. He not only inherited his mother’s artistic ability, but also her love of adventure, deciding as a very young man he needed to leave school and see America and later maybe the world.

From 1931-1934, Everett traveled the southwest and Colorado, cutting block prints, painting and drawing to pay his way. His diaries and letters reflect an intense love of the romance of his life-alone with the wilderness, writing and drawing his only real companions. Then in late 1934 he was gone, an event foreshadowed in letters to his father. Everett had written home frequently, but didn’t necessarily mail the letters home consistently. Not hearing from him for a while wasn’t worrisome, and consequently, it took months to realize that something was wrong. The family did everything they could-reported Everett’s disappearance, traveled to Utah, hired detectives, and kept his name public so he wouldn’t end up on the back page of the newspaper. None if it ever worked. Stella came to Utah several times, and even visited Davis Gulch, where Everett’s famous trademark “Nemo 1934” was carved into rock. She looked for her son long after his father had given up, and continued to keep others interested in him until she died.

Everett is now part of a singular group of people from the 20th century-those who disappeared forever. He has been written about a number of times, and even holds his own place in Wallace Stegner’s Mormon Country. Movies have been made about him, young men have followed his path and died in different places. Chris McCandless, Gene Rosellinni were of the same ilk, but they were at least found. The fascination with Everett may have something to do with the fact that he never was.

The Everett Ruess Family Papers include correspondence, journals, scrapbooks, and ephemera from the entire family. It also includes documentation from the search for Everett, original drawings, and blocks for prints. In addition to the rich manuscript collections Special Collections houses the Everett Ruess Family Photo Collection, P1194.

Please visit the Special Collections Reading Room on Level 4 of the J. Marriott Library, Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 6:00 pm and Saturday 10:00 am – 6:00 pm.

  • Elizabeth Bonanza
    Posted at 06:14h, 13 July Reply

    What a facinating and brilliant young man he was. Always in search of the beauty around him. I am reading of him for the first time and cannot put down my book.

    • nancy mooney
      Posted at 13:43h, 11 December Reply

      Nor can I but feel that his sense of entitlement far outweighs his other attributes. Most likely bipolar but also an elitist who feels that he is too important to do the mundane things required in life. It appears his parents thought his preciousness and its nurturing was more important than discipline.
      His loneliness was partly due to trying to find a friend that was a mirror image of himself reflecting what he wanted. It seemed that his need to shine at any cost truly did come at the cost of his life. That Your use of brilliant, again just shows us that those supernova stars burn brightly for a few seconds than are gone.

  • D D
    Posted at 00:56h, 03 January Reply

    I am reminded of the transcendentalists, who I am sure he must have read, as I did when I was in my mid-teens.
    And I think of of George Washington Carver, who took off — at age 10 — and presented as an almost godlike, but eccentric, figure because of his love of nature, And humanity.
    I accept this young man Edward Ruess at absolute face value. I do not believe in foolish diagnoses – IMO that is the height of arrogance. The psychobabble du jour could apply to anyone who steps away from the path — especially, for example, the nomadic Palestinian named Jesus. Good Lord I was just thinking the other day that he didn’t seem to even believe in “Family” . .
    Here’s Thoreau:
    “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true account of it.”
    And after all, “It is not the critic who counts; nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. . . “at the worst, if the (courageous man) fails, at least he fails while daring greatly . .” – Teddy Roosevelt

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