A news update from the upcoming July/August Gold Prospectors Magazine
By Nathan Dennis
At last! After a decade of searching, The Treasure of Forrest Fenn has been found.
Worth an estimated $1-2 million dollars, Forrest Fenn’s treasure chest filled with gold coins, jewels, and pre-Colombian artifacts was confirmed by Mr. Fenn himself to finally being unearthed somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.
Quelling any rumors that the treasure itself was a hoax, Fenn released photographs of the treasure after the find.
Three photographs show the treasure in various capacities. The first is simply the box itself, opened and unearthed on the ground. The second shows Fenn himself rifling through the box, while the final photo has Fenn wearing a silver bracelet, which had been tarnished with time.
Photos Courtesy of Dal Neitzel and Forrest Fenn (www.dalneitzel.com)
As to the specific location of the find?
“It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains and had not moved from the spot where I hid it more than 10 years ago,” was all Fenn would say, as posted on his website.
(The first few lines, clues from his book “The Thrill of the Chase”)
But who is Forrest Fenn, the mysterious benefactor of The Fenn Treasure, and why did he hide a million dollar treasure chest in the Rocky Mountains?
The Art Collector from New Mexico
Prior to creating a world-famous treasure hunt, Forrest Fenn was a Silver Star Major in the United States Air Force, flying hundreds of combat missions during the Vietnam War.
After retiring from the Air Force, he became an Art Dealer and ran an Art Gallery with his wife Peggy in Sante Fe, New Mexico. In 1988, he was diagnosed with Kidney Cancer which was determined to likely be terminal.
Not to be let down by the life changing event, he decided to amass a considerable treasure, bury it, and kickoff a worldwide treasure hunt as his final curtain call. He originally intended to inter his remains with the treasure, however his health prevailed and he's been able to quietly shepherd the hunt from his home in New Mexico.
But why did his cancer diagnosis spur him to start a worldwide treasure hunt? According to Fenn, it was out of a desire to get people “off their couches.”
And why treasure? Well, Forrest has been an avid collector of art and artifacts since he discovered an arrowhead at the age of nine - “It was a thrill that started me on a life-long journey of adventure and discovery,” he’s admitted.
It was this desire to energize Americans and adventurers worldwide, combined with a love of collecting, that spurred him to compile and stow this massive treasure somewhere in the Rocky Mountains -- a landscape near and dear to his heart.
The Thrill of The Chase
In 2010, the adventuring world, quickly caught “treasure fever” with the publication of his self-authored book, The Thrill of The Chase. Which chronicled Fenn’s life and his love of adventures and collecting.
It was so much more than that, however.
Inside the book was a poem that promised to reveal the location of a spot in the Rocky Mountains where a multi-million dollar treasure was buried. The poem went as follows:
As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.
From there it's no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There'll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.
If you've been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I've done it tired, and now I'm weak.
So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.
This poem set off a worldwide frenzy for the search for the treasure. Fenn promised that the poem had 9 clues that worked together as a map, leading the traveler from the “beginning” to finally arriving at the treasure.
By 2016, Fenn estimated that 65,000 people had joined the hunt for the treasure.
It’s not hard to see why.
Fenn promised a hidden treasure worth nearly 2 million dollars, filled with gold coins, ancient Chinese jade carvings, and hundreds of rubies amongst other treasures. Treasures that felt straight out of Pirates of The Caribbean or The Goonies fanfare.
The chase was not without controversy. Due to the lack of the information and nature of the narrative, questions remained as to the authenticity of the story and treasure itself.
Calls quickly arose suggesting that he was simply using the treasure hunt to sell his book -- a claim that is quickly disputed by Fenn and his staff. However, ten percent of the book’s proceeds continue to go to assisting cancer patients amongst other charities as recently seen in “Our Saving Chase” story from the Janurary/February 2019 issue of the Gold Prospectors Magazine.
Landscape of Rocky Mountains National Park, Colorado
Photo by Peter Pryharski.
The hunt is threatened
As the years wore on, suspicions burrowed in. As there was no proof to back up Fenn’s claims, plenty of detractors suspected the entire treasure was concocted.
Fenn always stuck to his story, and continuing to provide hints to the treasure hunters over the years. The hints themselves were never specific, once revealing he “drove a Sedan” to where he hid the treasure. While also addiing it was at least 8.25 miles north of Santa Fe and at an elevation higher than 5,000 feet.
Unfortunately, the vast area of the Rocky Mountains where the treasure could plausibly be buried caused treasure seekers to push into dangerous territory in pursuit of riches.
Over the decade, five adventurers perished in pursuit of the treasure. One fell over five hundred feet after losing his footing on a steep slope.
These deaths and other close calls raised concerns that the treasure hunt was downright dangerous. The ex-wife of one victim publicly claimed the treasure was a hoax.
Fenn pushed back on these criticisms. He explained that the treasure was in an area that would not be hard for an octogenarian to reach (as he himself had hid it at age 80).
Still, criticism ensued. New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas urged Fenn to call off the hunt, saying that the adventurers were “underestimating New Mexico.”
Even still, Fenn refused. He doubled down. He said that he would take the secret of the treasure to his grave. It would either be found, and he’d confirm it, or he’d die and leave it for a future adventurer to find.
Can you confirm it?
As the hunt wore down, another creeping fear set in: what if the treasure had already been found? Fenn hadn’t specified that he would know if the treasure was found -- other than going to physically go check on the treasure.
In short, it was possible that the treasure had already been found, and Fenn didn’t know or had chosen not to publicly announce the find.
As the years dragged on, the adventurers still came in droves to The Rockies, but the optimism waned.
Would the treasure ever be found?
Rocky Mountains (Photo by Blue Ox Studio from Pexels)
Ten years later...
On June 6th, 2020, Forrest Fenn proudly announced that the treasure had been found. Fenn himself announced it on his blog, saying that, “It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains and had not moved from the spot where I hid it more than 10 years ago.”
At last, the global hunt for the fantastic treasure had drawn to a close.
(UPDATE) For a moment, there was fear that perhaps Fenn wouldn’t release photographic evidence of the treasure, leading to discussion as to whether it had even existed at all. Luckily, on June 16, Fenn released photographic evidence of the treasure. It is not known how Fenn got back in possession of the treasure for these photographs, but we can speculate that the unknown finder partnered with Fenn for public verification of the treasure’s validity.
How was it found?
This remains a mystery. Fenn only says that he received an email with the photo of the treasure he buried -- confirming it had been found.
This low-fi form of confirmation gives a bit of credence to the fear that the treasure could have been found without the world knowing. The finder was not obligated to confirm the find of the treasure, nor was Forrest Fenn obligated to tell the world the hunt was over.
All of it was dependent upon positive sportsmanship.
Luckily, sportsmanship prevailed.
Who found it?
This remains a mystery. Forrest Fenn only mentioned that it had been found by an anonymous man from “back East.”
We can only speculate as to what that means. Eastern Seaboard? Eastern Europe? East of New Mexico? Who knows!
The end of the treasure hunt
For a man whose public life has been defined by the Thrill of The Chase, Fenn now has to adjust to a life no longer centered on the treasure hunt.
“I feel halfway kind of glad, halfway kind of sad because the chase is over,” he mentioned. “I congratulate the thousands of people who participated in the search and hope they will continue to be drawn by the promise of other discoveries.”
It’s a bittersweet end for Fenn. He inspired tens of thousands but isn’t able to share in the joys of the discovery the way other adventurers can. But at the end of the day, his puzzle that took ten years to finish has finally been solved.
The Legacy of the Chase
Forrest Fenn’s Treasure has spurred tens of thousands of treasure hunters to get out and explore the Rocky Mountains.
Only one ever found the treasure, but it’s safe to say that thousands have been inspired.
In this way, Fenn gave the world an additional treasure -- one that wasn’t buried at all.
He gave the world the treasure of a love for exploring the great outdoors. The treasure only required a little bit of imagination, determination, and an adventurous spirit.
Thanks to Fenn, thousands fanned into the Rocky Mountains, exploring rarely trod miles of wilderness in hopes of striking riches. Thousands came back empty handed, but filled with memories and a newfound love of nature.
If his hope was to “get people off of their couches,” we’d venture to say he was very successful over the last decade!
The joy of the treasure
Treasure hunts have captured our collective imagination for centuries. Treasure Island, by Robert Lewis Stevenson, chronicled the hunt for Flint’s treasure on the high seas. Raiders of the Lost Ark followed Indiana Jones as he searched for the lost Ark of the Covenant.
There are countless others: The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, National Treasure. The ability of a hidden vault of treasure to inspire our collective imagination knows no limits.
This allure has occasionally found itself leaping from the page into our real lives. From 2015-2018, the allure of the Nazi Gold Train cropped up in Poland, spurring treasure hunters and the Polish Government to begin an extensive search, going so far as to use ground penetrating radar.
It came up empty. No train discovered.
That’s what has always made The Fenn Treasure so wonderful. The creator announced it to the world. It wasn’t announced as a rumor, it was announced as fact: Fenn amassed it and hid it and it was up for the taking.
“All you had to do was look.”
That is perhaps the greatest treasure that Fenn provided. He allowed the fantasy of the treasure hunt to finally exist in all its glory in our reality.
It’s real, and it’s been found.
Photos Courtesy of Dal Neitzel and Forrest Fenn (www.dalneitzel.com)
Nathan Dennis is a freelance writer based in New York.