Hopeful hunters scoured the Rockies for a chest full of gold, jewels, and artifacts reportedly worth millions. After many years, one lucky hunter finally found it.
It’s a mystery that many thought would never be solved—including the man who started it all.
For nearly a decade, a small chest full of gold coins, jewels, and other precious valuables worth between $1 million and $5 million has been hidden somewhere in the Rockies. An antiques dealer named Forrest Fenn, now 89, filled the chest with valuables from his own collection and hid it, then wrote a poem full of cryptic clues and posted it on his website. Fenn says he has been hoping someone would find the treasure.
“This country was going into a recession,” he said. “People were losing their jobs, and despair was the headline in every paper. I wanted to give some hope to those who were willing to go into the mountains looking for a treasure.”
Lots of people have searched. Some even quit their jobs to search full time. Dedicated treasure hunters created websites and groups to connect with their fellow searchers. And now, finally, on Saturday, June 6, 2020, the seemingly impossible happened: Someone actually found the treasure!
We don’t know WHO found it, as the lucky finder has chosen to remain anonymous, but we do know WHERE: “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,” Fenn wrote in his announcement.
You can read our story of real-life hidden treasure below, and stay tuned for more details about it as they become available.
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“Please don’t say I buried it,” says the email from Forrest Fenn, the 88-year-old retired antiques dealer from New Mexico who engineered one of the biggest treasure hunts of the 21st century. “Just say I hid it.”
I read this line over and over, wondering what Fenn meant—and looking for a clue. He didn’t write, “I never buried the treasure.” He just doesn’t want me to tell anybody else he did. Which means … what, exactly?
My mind races, and I briefly consider giving up on journalism to become a full-time treasure hunter. That is the power of Forrest Fenn’s treasure, a prize that in the past eight years has lured a surprisingly large and enthusiastic group of treasure hunters.
Fenn and his wife ran a high-end gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and amassed a personal collection that included Sitting Bull’s original peace pipe and a mummified falcon from King Tut’s tomb. In 1988, Fenn was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Faced with his own mortality, he came up with a crazy scheme: He would bury some of his favorite artifacts somewhere in the Rocky Mountains and then die next to them. “My desire was to hide the treasure and let my body stay there and go back to the soil,” he explains.
He beat the cancer and put the treasure idea on hold for two decades, until his 80th birthday, when he decided to finally go through with it (minus the dying in the wilderness part). Fenn filled an antique bronze lockbox measuring ten inches by ten inches with hundreds of treasures: gold coins and nuggets, rubies, diamonds, emeralds, Chinese jade carvings, and pre-Columbian gold bracelets. The contents are worth somewhere between $1 million and $5 million, based on estimates Fenn has given over the years. Then he took his treasure chest out into the Rockies and hid it.
He wanted it to be found. That was the whole point. But he wasn’t going to just give it away. “This country was going into a recession,” he writes to me. “People were losing their jobs, and despair was the headline in every paper. I wanted to give some hope to those who were willing to go into the mountains looking for a treasure.”
In 2010, Fenn self-published his memoir, The Thrill of the Chase. In addition to stories about his adventures as an Air Force pilot and selling moccasins to the Rockefellers, it includes a 24-line poem that Fenn claims contains nine clues that “will lead to the end of my rainbow and the treasure.” (See page 77.)
At first, nobody really noticed. The Thrill of the Chase was sold only in a local New Mexico bookstore. But word spread, and by 2011 there was a small community of determined hunters. Once the media told Fenn’s story, the chase was on. (The book is now out of print, and copies show up on Amazon for as much as $3,200.) Fenn estimates that 350,000 people from across the globe have searched or are currently searching for his treasure. Yet nobody has found it. How, one might reasonably wonder, could that be?
The problem with Fenn’s poem—or perhaps the reason it has become such an obsession—is that the “clues” can be interpreted a million different ways. The “home of Brown,” for instance, could be Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado, or Brown Cemetery in Montana, or Brown Hill in New Mexico. Or a cabin or a bear. Maybe it’s the color brown. Or maybe the treasure is hidden under some porta-potties. (Don’t laugh; several people have already looked.)
Toby Pennington for Reader's Digest
The treasure has attracted an eclectic bunch of hunters, including “Tim Nobody,” who collects pinball machines; a one-legged motorcycle rider named Michael Hendrickson; and a Connecticut woman everybody calls Grandma.
Dal Neitzel, 72, manages a community cable TV station in Bellingham, Washington, and has taken about 70 road trips in search of the treasure. He runs a blog named the Thrill of the Chase that has become an online hub for hunters to post theories about where Fenn might have stashed all that gold. He gets thousands of visitors a day.
Marti Kreis from Blue Ridge, Georgia—better known by her handle, Diggin’ Gypsy—searches an average of seven times a year, for weeks at a time. The 49-year-old grandmother is usually joined by her extended family and, room permitting, a pet rooster named John Wayne. She searches only in West Yellowstone, Montana, no longer bothering with Wyoming, Colorado, or New Mexico, the other three mountain states where the treasure might be hidden. She says it’s because Fenn once blogged about her, claiming, “If I were a betting man I’d bet on this woman.” That was enough for Kreis to think she was on the right track.
She’s hardly the only optimist. The truly devoted meet in June for an annual gathering in New Mexico called Fennboree. Since 2014, when only ten people attended, it has grown to become a hot ticket, with hundreds mingling around campfires and sharing stories.
With so much at stake, there are also rivalries and infighting. Some people claim that the treasure never existed—“[Fenn] should be arrested for scamming,” a local once grumbled to the Santa Fe New Mexican—or that it was discovered long ago and never reported.
Some frightening people have come out of the woodwork in search of the valuable cache. A Nevada man pleaded guilty to stalking after he became convinced that the treasure was actually Fenn’s granddaughter. Another searcher, a Pennsylvania man who was certain that it was hidden in Fenn’s home, was arrested after he used an ax to break in. And Fenn wrote to one overeager sleuth, “Please don’t dig up my parents’ graves.”
Then there are the fatalities. Four people have died while searching, three of them in the summer of 2017: Jeff Murphy, who fell 500 feet while hiking in Yellowstone National Park; Eric Ashby, who drowned while rafting the Arkansas River in Colorado; and Paris Wallace, whose body was discovered seven miles from his car in the New Mexico mountains. It’s a peculiar plot twist, given that thousands have been searching for Fenn’s treasure since 2011. Has the terrain gotten inexplicably more treacherous, or have the searchers started taking bigger risks?
Fenn, who has been loath to give away additional clues—“It’s all in the poem,” he would tell inquisitive hunters—has recently started sharing more details. After Ashby’s drowning, he wrote in a blog post, “Please remember that I was about 80 when I made two trips from my vehicle to where I hid the treasure. Please be cautious and don’t take risks.”
Toby Pennington for Reader's Digest
More clues he has revealed: The treasure isn’t in a mine—“I mean, they have snakes in ’em,” he has said—or a tunnel. It’s between 5,000 feet and 10,200 feet above sea level. It’s not in Canada or Idaho or Utah or a graveyard. “Where warm waters halt” is not a dam, and it’s not “on top of any mountain [though] it may be close to the top.” When I asked why the searchers didn’t seem to be getting any closer, Fenn told me that “they don’t seem to be focusing on the first clue.” He of course didn’t reveal what the first clue was.
Why are Fenn’s treasure hunters so into what seems like a ridiculous thing to do with their time? Many are quick to say that their lives have been enriched by their experiences. Neitzel says that prior to learning of Fenn’s treasure, he never took a walk that wasn’t necessary, but in the past decade he has climbed mountains. Kreis will tell you how she used to cower in her tent, terrified of grizzlies or other wild beasts, but now feels fearless. “It’s changed us,” she says. “My sisters and daughters, we’re brave Viking women. Nothing scares us anymore.”
For some, such as Bill Sullivan of Seattle, the mystery of Fenn’s treasure chest is literally all they have. Sullivan, 60, is homeless and lives mostly out of his car. He’d like to have a roof over his head and dependable meals. But that’s not why he’s focused on Fenn’s elusive jackpot. For him, it’s about following in the footsteps of his ancestors. “My grandfather prospected gold in Alaska a hundred years ago,” Sullivan says. “He had a sled dog team and trapped beaver. So that’s in my blood.”
The big question: Will Fenn’s treasure (assuming it really exists) ever be found? Neitzel says he has no intention of stopping until he or somebody else finds it. “I know I’m kidding myself,” he says, laughing. But he took four trips last summer and fall. “What people get wrong is, it’s not all just about finding the treasure. It’s about finding treasures, plural. It’s about getting outside and exploring. That’s why Forrest called his book The Thrill of the Chase. It’s not The Thrill of the Find.”
Many claim that even if they found Fenn’s chest, they wouldn’t necessarily spend the money—and might even rehide the chest. Sullivan says he’d like to keep the chase going for a new generation. “Wouldn’t it be a hoot to be the wise guy writing the new poem?” he says.
Toby Pennington for Reader's Digest
As for Fenn, he hopes someone finds the treasure while he’s still alive. Several people have been within a few hundred feet, he says. He knows because they’ve emailed him and asked whether they were close. Fenn, who’s not about to give anyone a free pass, said nothing.
But he reads every email, many of which can be surprisingly revealing about the type of people who would drop everything to go hunting for gold. They confess their fears. They thank him for saving their marriages, for giving them a reason to take a risk, for giving their lives meaning.
Fenn received one e-mail from a law student thanking him “for reminding me of a part of who I am that has waned greatly during the last years of my legal studies.” Responding with an impassioned plea that offered more clues to his real intentions than any of the secrets hidden in his poem, Fenn told the man, “Don’t you dare work as a lawyer. If you do, you will wear a coat and tie, sit at a desk all day. You will not have time to smell the sky or experience the soft breeze ripe with sun. Go looking for my chest full of gold and all of the other treasures that lurk once you leave the fluorescent lights behind.”
Another hunter had this tantalizing insight: “Somewhere deep inside, I hope that I never find your treasure. The journey will be treasure enough.”
The National (April/May 2018), Copyright © 2018 by Eric Spitznagel, amtrakthenational.com.
The National (April/May 2018), Copyright © 2018 by Eric Spitznagel, amtrakthenational.com.
The decade-long search for Forrest Fenn's treasure ended two years ago, but the hunt for answers has not. Although details have slowly surfaced since Jack Stuef located the gold-filled chest, the greatest Fenn mystery of all remained unsolved: Where was the treasure hidden?How much is the Forrest Fenn treasure worth? ›
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The largest monetary treasure haul found was on the wreck code named Black Swan, discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration in 2007 off of Gibraltar. The salvage team reportedly found 17 tons of coins valued at $500 million; an amount that is both staggering and said to be “unprecedented” in the treasure hunting world.How much gold is still in the Rocky Mountains? ›
Only one Colorado mine continues to produce gold, the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine at Victor near Colorado Springs, an open-pit heap leach operation owned by Newmont Corporation, which produced 322,000 troy ounces of gold in 2019 and reported 3.45 million troy ounces of Proven and Probable Reserves as at December ...What state has the most hidden treasure? ›
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Ark of the Covenant. Honjo Masamune sword. Lost Library of the Moscow Tsars. Crown jewels of Ireland.Was the treasure in Colorado ever found? ›
His name is Jack Stuef, and in June, he found the treasure famously buried by author and retired art dealer Forrest Fenn somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, with a poem from Fenn's memoir, The Thrill of the Chase, offering clues to its location.What is the oldest treasure ever found? ›
What was it found? Bulgaria's Varna Gold Treasure is considered the oldest processed gold in the world dating back to the time of the Chalcolithic (Eneolithic, Copper Age) the Varna Culture (is usually dated to 4400-4100 BC).
The San Jose – The Holy Grail of Sunken Treasures (1708) – $17 billion. One of the most precious shipwrecks in the world, the site of which remained unknown for over three centuries, was revealed in photographs by the Colombian army.Can you keep treasure you find in the US? ›
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These laws do vary slightly from state to state, but the general principles are similar. For example, California law requires that anybody who finds property worth $100 or more, and the owner is unknown, must turn the property over to the local police.
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As early as 1872, the British chemist Edward Sonstadt discovered that there was an unknown treasure on the ocean floor, but even today mankind has failed to bring it to the surface. Around 20 million tonnes of gold can be found there!Can you keep treasure you find in your backyard? ›
In the U.S., laws vary by state, but the general conclusion is that going treasure hunting is often a waste of time because you likely can't keep it. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 states that any “archaeological resources” found on the land of the state belong to the government.Can you keep found sunken treasure? ›
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If your gold prospecting is a hobby, then you don't have to declare your earnings to us as income.
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Organizers John Maxim and David Cline announced the finders of the treasure on Saturday, June 11 on Instagram. The treasure was found by three people, a married couple from Kaysville and the wife's brother. It was at the North Ogden Divide near Ben Lomond Peak Trail.Has Captain kids treasure been found? ›
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It was found approximately a decade later in 2020 in Wyoming by an anonymous treasure hunter later revealed to be former journalist and medical student Jack Stuef. In attempting to honor what he perceives to be Fenn's wishes after his death in September 2020, he has refused to reveal the location of the treasure.What treasure chest was found in the Rocky Mountains? ›
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Moffat County -A cache of gold ore worth $10,000 was buried somewhere in Pat's Hole within today's Dinosaur National Monument. Worth many times that value today, the treasure has never been recovered. In the 1890s, Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch often fled into the remote valley of Brown's Hole to escape from lawmen.What is the biggest missing treasure in the world? ›
Riches of the Flor de Mar – $2.6 Billion. Easily the biggest unclaimed treasure haul currently is that of the Portuguese ship, the Flor de Mar. This ship was sailing around the ancient island of Sumatra in 1511 before being caught in a violent storm.Are treasure chests real? ›
Are Buried Treasure Chests Real Or Not? Answer: Although the concept of buried gold treasure chests has been greatly fictionalized by Hollywood, they are nonetheless real.What happens if you find treasure in the US? ›
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Just off Vero Beach in Florida is the massive 1717 wrecked Spanish fleet. It is worth hundreds of millions and coins continue to get washed up.What state has the most gold? ›
1. Nevada. Currently the top gold mining state of the US, Nevada is home to three of the world's top 10 gold mines and seven of the top 10 US sites. Nevada's Goldstrike is the top gold mine in the US, followed by the Cortez and Carlin Gold Mines, with all three located in north-central Nevada.Where is the most gold in the human body? ›
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