A chest full of gold coins, gems, Chinese jade, and priceless pre-Columbian artifacts has been hidden somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, waiting for whoever finds it first! In 2010, a millionaire named Forrest D. Fenn drove into the Rocky Mountains to hide a treasure chest worth an estimated $2 million. Since then, no one has found the treasure, but Fenn says he gave us all clues to locate the booty. Treasure hunters have come up empty-handed, so he provided several more to help out.
Who is Forrest Fenn?
Forrest Fenn is an avid storyteller who has written several memoirs of his life. He begins his tale in Temple, Texas, where he was born in 1930. This was during the Great Depression when many American families were brought to their knees financially. His father was a school principal, which should have provided the family with a relatively stable income, but Fenn recalls having so little money the family only ate meat on Sunday. Despite this, he fondly recalls family trips to national parks such as Yellowstone.
Marriage And Military
Fenn did not pursue higher studies after high school, although he did sit in on several classes in Texas A&M University. He married his high school sweetheart, Peggy Jean Proctor, and headed off to join the Air Force at the age of 20. This was in 1950, right before the Korean War began. He would go on to serve for 20 more years, during which he flew 328 combat missions. He was discharged after reaching the rank of major in the middle of the Vietnam War, during which he distinguished himself in combat.
Distinguished Flying Cross
Fenn is an eccentric and his tales seem to be embellished or exaggerated. As dramatic as he retells his military stories, however, his version of events is corroborated by the military literature. He was first decorated on September 19, 1968, after he attacked a fortified village with some 60 North Vietnamese soldiers. Despite exhausting all bombs and ammunition, Fenn continued to fly flow and draw fire away from friendly troops that had been pinned down. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism.
Forrest Fenn received his second Distinguished Flying Cross for a mission he flew on July 25, 1968. Although there is less readily available information about this mission, his citation said that “Major Fenn displayed outstanding aerial competence and courageous professionalism in the aggressive pursuance and acquisition of the assigned targets. The tenacity of this officer to attain the objective against formidable defenses is in accord with the highest military objectives.” Fenn continued to serve with distinction, later earning the third-highest decoration in the armed forces. But his life only got more fascinating…
On December 2o, 1968, “Major Fenn and his flight were scheduled to attack and destroy hostile truck routes and supply locations,” his citation for the Silver Star reads. “While on his second pass over the target area, Major Fenn sustained numerous hits to his aircraft…Instead of heading for a safe area in which to eject, Major Fenn elected to remain in the target area to mark the hostile gun positions with cannon fire so that the remainder of the flight could silence its intense fire.” So how did this American hero end up with his treasure?
Antiques Art Dealer In Santa Fe
After his discharge in 1970, Fenn moved with his wife to Santa Fe and opened an art gallery. Although Fenn had no degree or training in art history or appraisal, his Santa Fe Trading Company became quite profitable. It attracted the rich and famous, including such high-profile names as Cher, Steve Martin, Steven Spielberg, Michael Douglas, Jessica Lange, Jackie Onassis, and even President Gerald Ford among its clientele. Fenn became a millionaire and started amassing the treasure he later placed in the chest.
The Secret To Success
Fenn drew the jealousy of many (less successful) art dealers in his area. His lack of formal training along with the fortune he was making made him the envy of others. “The urge to collect started for Forrest Fenn at age nine when he found his first arrowhead,” his website explains. Fenn called this first find “a thrill that started me on a long journey of adventure and discovery.” In addition to his passion, he says he “didn’t know the many rules that make businesses fail.”
Struck By Cancer
In 1988, Fenn was diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis was bad, but the former fighter pilot who had bravely faced down death in the air above Southeast Asia decided cancer wouldn’t be the end of him. Instead, he formed a plan to fill a chest with treasure, go with it somewhere in the wild, hide it, and depart from this world alongside it as a testament to his love of nature and adventure. Although the chest was filled, as Fenn tells it, “I ruined the story by getting well.”
The Treasure Chest
The chest itself is a collector’s item in its own right, dating from around 1150 AD. It is made of bronze, but its 40-some pounds of weight is from treasure made of far more precious metals and gemstones. Many of these items are historic, which means they are worth far more than their weight in gold or other precious materials. The dimensions of the bronze chest are 10 inches by 10 inches by five inches, so if you notice a box like this on a hike through the Rockies, don’t walk by!
Locked In A Vault
For a long time after he beat his cancer, Fenn kept the chest in a walk-in vault. For a long time, the treasure sat there, as if waiting. Fenn was unable to shake the desire to leave it out in nature for some lucky person to find. The existence of the chest in the vault, as well as its eventual removal from there, has been corroborated by several different sources, so there is no reason to believe Fenn would play us all for fools.
The Thrill Of The Chase
In 2010, America was in the midst of the Great Recession. People were down, and Fenn took the opportunity to do something that would give them hope. He picked up the treasure chest and headed up somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, where he hid the chest. Later that year, he published The Thrill Of The Chase, his first memoir, and kicked off the hunt for the treasure based on a number of clues he left in the book for people to go out and seek his riches.
Fenn provided nine clues, which appear in the poem below. “Where warm waters halt” is the first clue that reveals the starting point, but apparently no one has been right. Much conjecture can be made about the other clues, so unless the starting position is correct, the rest of the clues are worthless, as Fenn pointed out. The home of Brown, for example, can refer to many different Browns. After years passed with no one locating the chest, Fenn added more clues to help…
The Hunt Is On
People began hearing about Fenn’s treasure, and over the years Fenn claims some 350,000 people have set out into the wilderness of the Rockies to find the treasure. Thousands poured over the clues online, dissecting the hints he provided. Some people came frustratingly close to finding it, with at least one person having been within a few hundred feet of the chest. Fenn didn’t plan for the frenzy that would follow. He received death threats and has suffered trespassers poking around his property trying to get an edge in finding the treasure.
The hunt boosted local tourism, and Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales even declared May 25, 2015, to be Thrill of the Chase Day. Unfortunately, the hidden treasure has also been linked to several treasure hunters who perished seeking the riches. The last people to have seen Randall Bilyeu said he set off with his dog, Leo, and a raft. Bilyeu had a hunch Fenn hid the trove along the Rio Grande. The dog and raft were discovered on January 14, 2016, and it took until July for Bilyeu’s body to be found.
A bit less than a year after Bilyeu’s body was found, another treasure hunter’s body was found, this time in Yellowstone National Park. Jeff Murphy, a 53-year-old Illinois native, fell some 500 feet to his death searching for the trove while climbing Turkey Pen Peak, pictured below. If you’re out looking for the treasure, it’s best to keep in mind that Fenn, an 80-year-old man, had to carry a 40-lb chest wherever he hid it. It is not likely located in a particularly dangerous or treacherous area.
Shortly after Jeff Murphy’s body was found, a 52-year-old pastor from Colorado, Paris Wallace, was found about a week after he was reported missing. He didn’t come to a meeting he had arranged, and his vehicle was located later that same day. Relatives reported that he had gone searching for Fenn’s fortune. Less than a week after he was reported missing, rescuers discovered a rock tied to a rope along the banks of one of the Rio Grande’s tributaries in northern New Mexico. His body was found downstream.
Less than a week after Wallace’s body was found, 31-year-old Eric Ashby went missing in the Arkansas River. A month later, human remains were found but it took six months for DNA analysis to confirm they indeed belonged to Ashby. All these deaths in such a short period greatly unsettled Fenn, even though he noted that “accidents can happen anywhere.” Linda Bilyeu, Randall Bilyeu’s ex-wife, wasn’t convinced. “Randy lost his life searching for nothing,” she said, before calling Fenn’s treasure a hoax.
Calls To Stop
“I would implore that he stop this nonsense,” a state police chief said about Forrest Fenn and his fortune. “I think he has an obligation to retrieve his treasure if it does exist.” Although Fenn initially said, “I have to respect what the chief said,” he later said the call made him “stop and think for a few days.” In the end, Fenn decided not to call off the hunt, as it “would not be fair to the thousands who have searched the Rockies and gone home with wonderful memories that will last them forever.”
One Life, Too Short
After the tragedies, Fenn summed up his thoughts with, “Life is too short to wear both a belt and suspenders. If someone drowns in the swimming pool we shouldn’t drain the pool, we should teach people to swim.” That might sound callous, but that would be unfair to Fenn. He has warned travelers to stay safe and not hike in the winter and to use a GPS. He even paid $9,000 to fund helicopters for a search operation conducted to locate a missing treasure hunter.
The Point Of It All
The way Fenn sees it, the whole idea was to get people out in the great outdoors in a safe, family context. “I wanted to give the kids something to do,” Fenn said. “They spend too much time in the game room or playing with their little handheld texting machines. I hope parents will take their children camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains. I hope they will fish, look for fossils, turn rotten logs over to see what’s under them, and look for my treasure.” But that’s not all…
Not A Hoax
While many have claimed that the treasure is a hoax, Fenn notes that this often happens right after they arrive at a spot where they think it is, only to discover it isn’t there. “Ironically,” he said, “Most of them are still looking.” So what’s the secret to cracking the code? “Read the clues in my poem over and over and study maps of the Rocky Mountains,” Fenn suggests. “Try to marry the two. The treasure is out there waiting for the person who can make all the lines cross in the right spot.”
The Final Clues
Fenn gave additional clues besides the map and the poem. We know that “the treasure is hidden higher than 5,000 feet above sea level,” but lower than 10,200 feet. There is also “no need to dig up the old outhouses, the treasure is not associated with any structure,” nor is it in a graveyard. “The treasure is not hidden in Idaho or Utah,” nor is it in Canada. It is at least 8.5 miles north of Santa Fe. With all of these clues, someone is bound to find the treasure – only time will tell who!