Scott Thybony’s The Disappearances: A Story of Exploration, Murder and Mystery in the American West follows three somewhat interrelated tales in 1934 and 1935. All take place in southern Utah and northern Arizona. The first deals with a “lost” young explorer who was really only late emerging from the wilderness. The second, an unfortunate murder and kidnapping. The third, the life and disappearance of Everett Ruess, wandering painter, writer, poet.
His examination of the Ruess disappearance was my reason for reading the book. The author examines an interesting lead about the twenty year old's fate. In the 1970s, a California man boating on Lake Powell with his family hiked up Davis Gulch looking for Indian ruins, and discovered a skeleton in a crack in a rock. The remains showed signs of a broken hip and fractured color bone. The man took a few of the bones, put them in a bag, and flagged down a park ranger once back on the lake. The remains were taken and the California man gave information about the location of the rest of the bones.
Thybony located the park employee in 1991 and heard a similar story. The park employee said he gave the remains to his boss and then heard nothing. Similarities of the California man’s description of the site of the bones and a cave where a “Nemo 1934” inscription has been found, led Thybony to examine the area anew.
He found the description of the place matched the California man’s story. He found an area of the Nemo cave which showed signs of a brief stay many years ago. He discovered the crag where the bones were probably discovered. He scaled down it, and realized that anyone who was scaling down and slipped and fell would likely receive fatal, or near fatal, injuries. In all likelihood Ruess fell while exploring for Indian ruins, as he often did during his travels.
Thybony can’t prove the bones discovered in the 1970s were the remains of Ruess. He didn’t find bones in the crag (it is flushed out yearly during floods) and the remains are nowhere to be found in Park Department storage. There has never been any evidence that Ruess left Davis Gulch. The 1970s bones many very well be his. But shy of finding the bones in Davis Gulch, or some shelf in the Parks Department, the mystery remains.
And excellent article on this theory can be found here.