The Mystery of a Missing Explorer Is Solved After More Than 70 Years

May 2009

One of the West's most perplexing mysteries--the disappearance of 20-year-old explorer Everett Ruess in the desert of the Four Corners region more than 70 years ago--appears to have been solved thanks to forensic science and the determination of Ruess' family. Yesterday, University of Colorado scientists and National Geographic officials announced that a facial reconstruction and DNA tests proved that remains discovered last year in southeast Utah are those of Ruess, reports The Denver Post. At the age of 16, Ruess explored the Western outback, including Colorado's wild canyons, by horse, burro, or foot. He painted, made woodcuts, and wrote before disappearing in 1934, shortly after setting out from Escalante, Utah. He was seen by a sheepherder a week later and then never seen again. "I prefer the saddle to the streetcar, the star-sprinkled sky to a roof," Ruess once wrote (via The New York Times). The big break in the mystery came in the early 1970s, when Aneth Nez broke a 37-year silence to tell his family he sat on a ridge and watched three Ute boys chase down and kill a young white man and take his mules. Nez, out of respect, buried the body. Ruess' family never forgot him, his niece, Michele Ruess, tells Boulder's Daily Camera, adding that her uncle's ashes will be scattered into the Pacific Ocean, near the family's roots in California--a family tradition.