Ten years after renowned 89-year-old Santa Fe art dealer and True Westerner award-winner Forrest Fenn secretly hid a treasure of gold, gems and rare jewelry in the Rocky Mountains—and published a memoir The Thrill of the Chase with a clue-filled poem that led to 350,000 hitting the gold trail for his hidden bonanza (five people actually died looking for it)—an anonymous treasure hunter has discovered Fenn’s $2 million treasure trove in the Rocky Mountains. According to Fenn, in a report in the Santa Fe New Mexican “’The guy who found it does not want his name mentioned. He’s from back East,’” he said, adding that it was confirmed from a photograph the man sent him.”
True West magazine’s editorial staff, which has followed the treasure hunt since 2010, realized in 2012 that Fenn’s treasure was generating international attention and that tens of thousands of men and women were on the hunt for the once-in-a-lifetime bonanza. Here is a look back at Johnny D. Boggs’ 2013 True West profile of Fenn and the reasons behind burying the gold and creating the Rocky Mountain treasure hunt.
— Stuart Rosebrook, Editor
The way Forrest Fenn puts it, the treasure chest includes: 265 gold coins; nuggets; a Spanish 17th-century gold ring with a large emerald; necklaces; and a Navajo bracelet that Richard Wetherill, the controversial cowboy, explorer and trader credited with discovering Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace, sold to hotel legend Fred Harvey in 1901.
“I won it playing pool with Byron Harvey,” Fenn says.
Inside his memoir, you will find a 24-line poem that includes nine clues, which, Fenn writes, “if followed precisely, will lead to the end of my rainbow and the treasure….” Other clues can be found in the memoir’s text, he says.
Thus began the latest chapter of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
Fenn, 82, has received roughly 6,000 e-mails from treasure hunters and wannabe treasure hunters. He has attracted media attention from across the world. He has ticked off at least one neighbor and plenty of treasure hunters who have complained that the treasure is too hard to find.
“I never said it was easy,” Fenn says.
Fenn’s neighbor called him recently. “It was not a social call,” says the Santa Fe, New Mexico, collector, author and entrepreneur whom Newsweek calls a “real-life Indiana Jones.” Seems some guys were digging up her front yard looking for Fenn’s treasure. “Tell them,” Fenn told his neighbor, “that the treasure is not in your front yard.”
And people have complained that Fenn never gives any clues to where it might be? Well, you can now strike out his neighbor’s front yard.
Besides, Fenn has said that the treasure is in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe. He has also said it’s more than 300 miles west of Toledo, Ohio. And, pssst, when I interviewed him at his home in December, he gave me another clue. “It’s not in Nevada.”
In 2010, Fenn published a memoir, The Thrill of the Chase, available exclusively through Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In the memoir, he wrote that he had filled a cast-bronze chest (probably a Romanesque lockbox from around 1150 A.D.) with treasure. “Everything’s a treasure to me,” says Fenn, who collects goods that range from rare books to Western and Indian artifacts to “weird-looking rocks.”
“I keep things I love,” says Fenn, but he decided to part with some things, to provide adventure seekers with the thrill of a chase.
Nor has he put a price tag on the treasure, but various reports have estimated its value at $1 million, $2 million or $3 million.
“When it gets to $10 million,” Fenn says, “I’m going to go back and get it.”
The odds of finding that treasure might be slim, but Fenn knows all about defying odds.
He grew up in Texas, but spent many summers with his school-principal father in Yellowstone National Park until he considered himself “a 19-year-old lank without discipline, focus or cause.” He joined the Air Force when the Korean War broke out, became a pilot and found himself in Germany flying in a F-100C “with an atomic bomb under my wing.” By the time Vietnam came along, he was a major and a fighter pilot. While he was in Vietnam, he was shot down twice. After leaving the Air Force, he moved his family to Santa Fe and started an art gallery.
At age 58, Fenn was diagnosed with cancer. A one-hour surgery turned into five hours, and afterward he was given a 20 percent chance of living three years. “That’s a pretty eye-opening diagnosis,” he says.
He survived that scare, too. Some 20 years later, Fenn decided to hide a box filled with assorted treasures, to give other people the thrill of the chase.
“My family’s taken care of; I’ve had so much fun collecting this junk, and I always loved the outdoors,” he says. “I wanted to get some people off the couch and out in the woods. The greatest thrill to me is to be walking in the woods and come across something absolutely wonderful—like two porcupines playing with each other in Yellowstone.”
So who’s looking for his treasure?
“My audience is every redneck with a pickup truck,” Fenn says. “Maybe he’s lost his job, has six kids to feed, has a sleeping bag and likes adventure.”
Actually, some treasure hunters are a far cry from that description, with one exception: They love adventure.
Take Dal Neitzel, a former TV documentary maker who lives on an island in the Salish Sea off the coast of northwestern Washington. Neitzel is no stranger to treasure hunting, having searched for a gold-filled Spanish galleon off the coast of Uruguay, for WWII-era B-17s in the North Atlantic, for the Japanese submarine I-52 in the Atlantic and for the S.S. Islander, which sank on its way from Skagway, Alaska, in 1901 with a rumored cargo of several thousand pounds of gold.
Neitzel has been out seven times looking for Fenn’s treasure for as long as three weeks at a time, searching in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. He even blogs about the hunt (DalNeitzel.com), which leads to a question: Which is harder, searching for the treasure or blogging about it?
“You know that blog is a lot of fun,” Neitzel says. “I enjoy sharing my adventures, and I really enjoy having others share their stories and tales and ideas. But nothing is as exciting as the first day of every search. When I am absolutely sure that I have figured it out, that I will soon be holding a beautiful 42-pound bronze chest heavy with artifacts representing a lifetime of collecting by the legendary Forrest Fenn—Man, that’s an adrenaline rush. If I actually find it someday, I am certain I will just sit there stupefied…or have a heart attack.”
Then there’s Marc Howard, a Santa Fe goldsmith and history buff. Howard has been out 20 times chasing after Fenn’s treasure chest, mostly in New Mexico, but he also made his first-ever trip to Yellowstone National Park—three days and 2,000 miles—and he’s thinking about Colorado.
“Every time I think I don’t have any more ideas, something else pops up,” he says. “Besides, my wife and I have a saying: ‘Any harebrained thing to be able to retire.’”
Howard hasn’t found the treasure, of course, but he has found other treasures.
“I’ve sat in a hot spring in the middle of the mountains with a herd of bighorn sheep 150 feet away,” he says. “I’ve seen a bald eagle over my head during the first snowfall. I’ve brought something back from every place I’ve looked.”
Here’s another clue from Fenn himself: “Don’t look for the treasure where a 79-year-old man’s not going to carry a 42-pound box.”
Which is something Howard always considers before he reconsiders: “Forrest survived being shot down twice in Vietnam. I think he’s an American hero. And doesn’t say random things. Anything he says, anything he writes, is a clue.”
“Forrest is unique,” Neitzel says. “He is a fellow who really and truly thinks differently than our average human being. We are so lucky that his incredibly fertile mind was not wasted on a career in something like science, medicine or teaching. Instead, he decided to create, collect, write and share.”
Where is that treasure?
“I can tell you, with complete accuracy, 48 places it is not,” Neitzel says.“I figure, at my current rate, I will have covered every square inch of the potential hiding place by the year 2614.”
Howard is figuring out what he’ll do once he finds it.
“I’ll call my wife first,” Howard says. “Call Forrest second. What I really want, though, is that Wetherill bracelet. So I might just show up at Forrest’s house wearing that bracelet.”
The thrill of the chase continues.
“I never said I buried it,” Fenn says, “but that doesn’t mean it isn’t buried. I want a mystery about it. It’s not easy to find, but it isn’t impossible.”
The Hunt is On
We’re the first to publish his map, and he gave us a new clue…
Hint: The treasure is not in a bordering country.
Forrest Fenn’s book and hidden treasure, estimated at “more than $1 million” in gold coins and artifacts, has caused a frenzy in the West among adventurous types and armchair puzzle fans.
The poem contains nine clues; his memoir, The Thrill of the Chase, contains other clues; his appearances on The Today Show as well as interviews with Newsweek, The Robb Report, The Huffington Post and True West might add up to a solution, but so far we’re stumped.
One modern-day prospector has spent two years investigating the whereabouts—digging deep like a journalist—looking at county property records, making scores of phone calls, hiking hundreds of miles, dissecting each syllable of the cryptic poem…all to no avail.
Bloggers share their assumptions and suppositions, either helping each other or throwing competitors off-track. For instance, Fenn’s poem contains a line about the “home of Brown.” Some of the possibilities bandied about online for this clue include:
- a specific spot in a river where brown trout swim
- the ranch of one annoyed Mr. Brown
- a historic snowshoe cabin named for Canada’s Davy Crockett, Kootenai Brown, who hung around Glacier National Park, was acquitted of a murder in Montana and later became superintendent of a national park in CanadaOther speculators say that the line in the poem about “where warm waters halt” has to do with:
- a tear
- hot springs feeding into a cold snowmelt creek
- a dam
- a waterfall
And a line that drives bloggers and seekers near-crazy is: “The end is ever drawing nigh.” What the… ? Could that mean you’re in danger at this point? Or is he implying that you’re getting warmer, close to the treasure? Could it be the end of the water? Or the end of…what? A rope, a state, a creek?
What we really want to know is: Is the treasure buried or hidden? He made a point of saying that he never said it was buried. The next interview he said that he never said it wasn’t buried.
Clues officially released by Forrest Fenn:
- The treasure is hidden higher than 5,000 feet above sea level.
- No need to dig up the old outhouses; the treasure is not associated with any structure.
- The treasure is not in a graveyard.
- The treasure is not hidden in Idaho or Utah.
- The treasure is not in Nevada.
- The treasure is hidden over 300 miles west of Toledo, Ohio.
- Take a sandwich.
- Take a flashlight.
- If you had its coordinates, you would be able to find the treasure.
A True West Exclusive Clue:
The treasure is not in Canada, although the Rockies extend into Canada.
See the map Fenn has provided True West, allowing us to be the first to publish it. (The map shows Rocky Mountain states, which doesn’t exactly pinpoint the spot.)
Check out Fenn’s “Thrill Resource Page” on OldSantaFeTradingCo.com. And please let us know when you find the treasure. We’ll share with you our guess about where to find it, but it’ll cost you…$1 million.
Johnny D. Boggs got his share of Forrest Fenn’s treasure when Fenn let him hold Sitting Bull’s pipe.