Sunday, March 13, 2016


 Everett Ruess

Note: this is a continuation of my previous post

I've been thinking about the scope of Everett Ruess's wanderlust adventures and the many possibilities of danger that they presented. It's almost inconceivable that someone so young (and inexperienced) would even attempt such an epic journey, let alone do it with surprising expertise and undeterred enthusiasm.

The places where he traveled are the most desolate and perilous areas in the country - formidable to access even now, with the aid of modern technology and conveniences. I can only imagine the complete isolation and extreme vulnerability of a boy alone, armed with little more than stoic determination.

Ruess with his dog Curly

I've been to many of the places where he traveled (this is not a boast, merely a fact): the Mohave Desert, the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park in Utah, the Colorado and New Mexico mountains. Anyone who has experienced these overwhelming wonders of nature firsthand can fully understand how they inspired such an obsessive rapture and enchantment in Ruess.

The great tragedy of his disappearance at age twenty almost seems an appropriate end to his short saga. It enhances the allure and intensifies the romance. In a hauntingly unnerving way, it almost seems that this is how he would have envisioned his final exit: immortalized in eternal youth and perpetual mystery.

This was a very roundabout way of getting to my point - - the grim reality of what really happened to Everett Ruess. My amature armchair deductions have completely ruled out suicide. He loved life far too much. An accident would be a much more plausible assumption, despite the fact that he was extremely competent and self-reliant. I have always tended to believe that perhaps something much more sinister was involved, and the other night I stumbled upon some startlingly reasonable proof.

The theory of murder has always been a possibility, and information uncovered by novelist C. Joseph Greaves (also known as Chuck Greaves) makes the theory very probable. In 2012, Greaves published an historical novel entitled Hard Twisted.(click title for link). It is a fictionalized account of the real-life psychopathic murderer James Clinton Palmer, who happened to be living in the area of southern Utah where Everett Ruess disappeared. Author Greaves' research yields reasonable evidence that Ruess and murderer Palmer might have crossed paths.

In 1934, shortly after being released from Leavensworth Penitentiary in Kansas, James Clinton Palmer went to Oklahoma. There he befriended a man named Dillard Garrett and his thirteen-year-old daughter Lucile. Palmer killed and decapitated Garrett and kidnapped Lucile, forcing her to be his child bride. He took the girl to Utah and they settled in a very remote area called John's Canyon. Palmer found work as a sheep herder and eventually murdered (and decapitated) two more people - a retired sheriff and his grandson.

 The site at John's Canyon where murderer James Clinton Palmer lived with his kidnapped child bride Lucile Lottie Garrett

Everett Ruess was last seen in Escalante, Utah, before he disappeared in November, 1934. Escalante is about 40 miles away from John's Canyon, where murderer James Clinton Palmer was. Recently discovered evidence indicates that Ruess traveled east after leaving Escalante and was in the vicinity of John's Canyon.

Everett Ruess often referred to himself as"Nemo" (Latin for "no man"). One of his trademarks during his travels was to carve the name Nemo into stone at various locations where he had been. He carved the graffito "Nemo 1934" at an Anasazi ruin near Escalante, Utah, shortly before he disappeared.

 Near Escalante, Utah

In 1984, a previously unknown "Nemo 1934" etching by Reuss was discovered in Grand Gulch, north of the San Juan River - which was less than ten miles from where murderer Palmer was living with his kidnapped child bride.

Recent studies have confirmed that the "Nemo" etching at Grand Gulch is authentic, and definitely written by Everett Ruess. Due to this discovery Reuss was assumed to have been headed towards John's Canyon, where he would have almost certainly encountered the dugout homestead of Palmer.

It's only a theory that Everett Ruess was murdered, but this newly-uncovered information is strong enough evidence to be seriously considered.

by Jon V.
(copyright 2016)

James Clinton Palmer was eventually apprehended and sentenced to 99 years. He died in prison in 1969. Lucile Garrett was prosecuted for "associating with a known criminal" and sent to a girl's reform school until she was 21. She died in 1991.

Excerpts from writings by Everett Ruess:

At evening I would go out into the glade and climb high above the river to the base of the cliff. I would gather scarlet flowers and come down when the stars gleamed softly. Sighing winds would eddy down the canyon, swaying the tree tops. Then the leaves would cease their trembling; only the sound of rippling water would continue, and the spirit of peace and somnolence would pervade and the red embers of my fire one by one turned black and shadows deepened into a gently surging slumber.

Always I shall be one who loves the wilderness:
Swaggers and softly creeps between the mountain peaks;
I shall listen long to the sea’s brave music;
I shall sing my song above the shriek of desert winds.

When I go I leave no trace.
The beauty of the country is becoming a part of me.
Now the aspen trunks are tall and white in the moonlight.
A wind croons in the pines, The mountain sleeps.

Alone, I shoulder the sky,
And hurl my defiance
And shout the song of
the conqueror
To the four winds,
Earth, sea, sun, moon, and stars.


  1. Jon,

    Fascinating. Don't know if we'll ever know, though, unless by some real fluke of luck. Could be remains, but might not be after 80 years, unless Palmer buried the body and what are the chances of finding such a grave? Of course, given Ruess' lifestyle there still remains the possibility of an accident. It doesn't take a lot in rugged country and even an experienced hiker can fall prey to a loose stone, a falling branch or some animal they come upon unexpectedly. I'm curious about the sentencing of Lucile for associating with a known criminal. It doesn't sound like she had much choice in the matter. If I ever run across anything in my own researches about these people, I'll pass it on to you.


    1. I guess we'll never really know what happened to Everett Ruess. I was surprised to hear about this new murder theory - - but he very well could have died of an accident. After his disappearance his two burros were found in March, 1935, and they were near the Escalante area rather than near John's Canyon.

      It is unfair that Lucile Garrett was prosecuted - especially since she was kidnapped and was so young. She wasn't sentenced to prison. She was put in a girl's rehabilitation school until she was 21. She later married and had a normal life.

      By the way, Lucile became pregnant with James Clinton Palmer's baby when she was fourteen. The baby was born prematurely and died a week later.

  2. That,could be the most pliable answer I assume. But it did give me the idea....when I get over life and have had enough of humans, I think I will go off into the sunset much like him, and just disappear. Quite a nice ending. He looked quite handsome too.

    1. I think that disappearing mysteriously is a wonderful way to "exit". It guarantees immortality.

      By the way, I didn't mention this in my posts but Everett Ruess was gay. This is very clearly indicated in his journals. One of Reuss's favorite books was a medical text about homosexuality written by Henry Havelock Ellis, who was a early advocate of same-sex love.

  3. Thanks for this continuation and (sorrowful) conclusion. Ruess' exclamation, "I LIVE" certainly defies any thoughts of suicide.

    These photographs are mesmerizing, indeed. (My heart is most at home in the high desert.) Still, I wonder how many folks discount the inherent dangers. Not a year goes by that hikers go missing in our Superstition Mountains.

  4. Everett Ruess began his journeys when he was only sixteen. Considering all the dangers, I'm actually surprised that he lasted as long as he did. He was financially supported by his parents - and they encouraged him to be a "free spirit" - but I often wonder if they went too far with their leniency.

    I love the peace and wilderness here in TN, but I know that my heart will really always be in the west. That's where I was raised and the spirit of it never left me. My mother had the soul of a wanderer. She was always enthralled with the desert and mountains of the west.

  5. I think Gertrude Stein was spot on in the quote, "In United States there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is, which makes America what it is." It also gives rise to great mysteries and you have pursued this one with logic and skill. Nicely done, Jon.

  6. I love the quote, Geo, and don't think I ever heard it before - but with Gertrude Stein it's difficult to remember.....

    I initially wasn't going to include this second post about Ruess, but then I decided it was quite interesting.

  7. Love his writings!
    Sounds like that horrific end might be quite plausible. I prefer to think of him surprised by ground going out from under his feet on a cliffside--a quick end--flying. ;)

  8. I haven't read a lot of his writing, but I do like what I have read. There's such freshness and honesty, and a spirit of true romanticism that resonates in beautiful harmony within himself and with nature.

    I actually prefer not to know exactly what happened to him. Some mysteries are best unsolved.

  9. It is a romantic notion to imagine what life must have been like for a young goodlooking boy in the days before our current uber self-involvement. Can you imagine how popular he would have been on Instagram if he were living his life today? Dying young has also been a most romantic notion, as long as it is not you who is doing the dying. It is a way of escaping age--cheating the body's decline, as it were. Of course the irony is that once you die, the body immediately begins a rather gruesome decline. I have always loved those movies where someone dies and their corpse is discovered lying beautifully on a bed in repose, as though they are frozen in time. In actuality, my friends have told me that if you are in the room when someone dies, you might want to get out fast, as the body immediately begins to "expel" stuff, and it can be unpleasant. Perhaps there is NO escaping the ravages of nature--perhaps the best policy is to just "live it out", as us older farts are currently doing. I suppose Everett had a wonderful 20 years. But that is not a lot of time at all.

  10. There is indeed a false but appealing romantic notion about dying (or disappearing) young. It is the foundation of legends. If Marilyn Monroe or James Dean had lived to be 80-year-old relics, I doubt if their legendary status would be so potent.
    And the romantic idea of dying beautifully - like Cathy in "Wuthering Heights" is highly over-rated.....

    When I was in my teens, I said that I wanted to die at 25 (it sounded quite intriguing at the time). When I was 25, I changed it to 30. At 30, I thought 40 might be an OK exit age.......and so on.
    Nowadays, I keep hoping I'll have just a little more time.....(*smile*).....

  11. It seems to me that if authorities were able to identify Palmer's other victims (or at least some of them?) that they would have discovered Ruess' murder. Also, if Palmer murdered Ruess, why leave the donkeys behind? I think Ruess' death was an accident and his body never found - probably scattered by predators.

    I guess the Stockholm Syndrome hadn't been theorized yet. Poor Lucile - she was probably terrified of trying to escape from him, especially into that wilderness. I wonder if she ever reunited with any relatives after her release from reform school.

  12. I actually tend to think that Ruess probably died from an accident, too. There wasn't much of a motive for Palmer to Kill Ruess, unless Palmer feared that Ruess would reveal his (palmer's) secret location. And Ruess's burros were found near the Escalante area.

    If I remember correctly, Lucile's mother died when she was four. Her father was murdered by Palmer. I'm sure she probably had some other relatives. She later married and lived in Texas. She died in Irving, TX in 1991. She had one son from her marriage, but he died in 2012. I wish she had written a book about her ordeal but she never did.

  13. Thanks for posting a follow-up on the story. The theory definitely seems plausible, and it isn't surprising to me that Lucille was thrown into reform school. In doing research for a book I'm working on now, I found appalling accounts of many many girls who were raped and/or beaten by their fathers, and then were thrown into reform school for trying to run away from home.

  14. Jon: Here's an exclusive for you: While I was loath to mention Ruess's likely homosexuality in the afterword to Hard Twisted, I also intentionally omitted the fact that, in the records of Huntsville Penitentiary, where Palmer was incarcerated for the last thirty-plus years of his life, there is a handwritten notation in his personal profile that reads "homosexual." Does the fact that both men (Ruess and Palmer) might have been gay make it any more likely that they might have met, or that one might have murdered the other? At the end of the day, I decided against going there. But there it is, for what it's worth. It's also worth noting that in all three murders Palmer is known to have committed (Dillard Garrett, Bill Oliver, and Norris Shumway), he took great pains to hide the bodies.


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