email a friend iconprinter friendly iconThe Mystery of Everett Ruess
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When the Utes had gone, Nez descended some 300 feet from Comb Ridge to the bed of Chinle Wash. The young man was dead by the time Nez got to him. Rather than looking for a burial site in the open wash, the Navajo hauled the body up to the rocky folds of the ridge, in all likelihood on the back of his horse. "Grandpa got a lot of blood on him," Johnson said. "That’s what made him get sick later. Then he buried the young guy up there on the rim."

For more than three decades, Aneth Nez had told no one about this dark episode in his past. Then, in 1971, at the age of 72, he also had fallen ill with cancer. Nez paid a medicine man to diagnose his trouble. "He said," Daisy Johnson recalled, "‘You had no business messing around with that body.’"

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."

Johnson drove Nez out toward the Comb in a pickup. She waited in the cab for two hours, guessing that her grandfather was reconnoitering the land or perhaps even praying to prepare himself. He returned to the pickup empty-handed.

Later, Nez traveled back to the Comb with a medicine man. This time he retrieved a lock of hair from the grave. In the curing ceremony, Johnson said, the medicine man dusted the hair with ashes—"so it will never bother the patient again." At the end of the five days, the medicine man shot the lock with a gun, to destroy it completely.

"And then Grandpa got better," Daisy Johnson said. "He lived another ten years."

As he listened to her story, Bellson realized that the grave must lie not far from the house he had built in 1993. Thirteen years younger than his sister, Bellson has kept a close bond with the land on which he grew up. Now he was seized with a passion to find the grave where Nez had buried the "young dude" back in the 1930s.

Several weeks later, Bellson drove to Farmington to see his sister. He brought with him a USGS topo map. "I tried to get her to show me where she’d parked the pickup with our grandpa," Bellson told me later. "When I showed her the map, she recognized a Y in the road near Colored Rock Woman’s house. She gave me real good directions."

During the next few weeks, Bellson, a carpenter and craftsman, spent his free time out hiking Comb Ridge, looking into every corner and crack along the rim. Then, one day, in an obscure crevice just under the crest of the Comb, he found a grave. Bellson saw at once that the person whose bones lay in that unlikely tomb had been buried in haste, and perhaps in great fear. A traditional Navajo himself, Bellson did not touch a thing.

When he got home, he called Johnson. "I found the grave," he told her.

After Everett Ruess disappeared in November 1934, nearly four months passed before anyone organized a search. The alarm went out only after Ruess’s parents in California received a packet of their letters to their son, returned as unclaimed.

On horseback, a band of Escalante men started looking out on the Desert, where the sheepherders had sat beside Ruess’s campfire back in November. After several tries, they entered Davis Gulch by an old livestock trail and hit pay dirt.

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