Table of Contents
Who Was Forrest Fenn?
Fenn was born August 22, 1930. Prior to retirement, he served as a pilot in the United States Air Force and attained the rank of Major. A Silver Star was awarded to him for his service in the Vietnam War, where he flew 328 combat missions in 365 days. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, he was an art dealer and antiquities dealer who ran a gallery after retiring. He sold forged art, native American artifacts, and sculptural reproductions in his art gallery.
Fenn decided to create a treasure hunt after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His plan was to hide a treasure chest somewhere in the Rocky Mountains and create a yearslong search nation-wide for it. In keeping with his art gallery's $6 million gross per year, he knew that he would be able to contribute enough to make it worthwhile. He detailed the treasure chest within the pages of his book after recovering from cancer. He described his life and his story in The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir, which included crucial clues to the treasure's location. Fenn himself said that despite the book's success he never saw a penny of the money since he didn't want to be seen as a fraud.
Raid by the FBI
Before the actual treasure hunt, the FBI raided Forrest Fenn's house. Forrest Fenn had multiple artifacts confiscated as a result of an investigation into artifact looting in 2009. Forrest Fenn blamed the FBI for the suicide of two other people involved in the case.
What Was in The Treasure Chest?
Gold nuggets, gold coins, and jewelry were among the contents of the treasure chest, according to Forrest Fenn. The whole thing was supposedly worth at least $2 million!
How to find the treasure: 9 clues
In Forrest Fenn's book, treasure hunters were provided with all the clues they needed. These were found within the lines of a 24 line poem he wrote. The poem was more than just a poem
Solving the riddle was guaranteed to lead you straight to the treasure chest.
As shown in his book, the poem read:
"Fenn's Treasure Poem
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 drawing ever 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 answer 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."
There were many hypotheses developed by treasure hunters from this. This poem is said to contain nine clues. The Fenn Clues website presented a few theories aimed at deciphering the clues left by Fenn. To figure out which parts were relevant to the hunt, they divided the poem into different parts. As a result, they developed a range of theories. The following theories were the most popular and most acted upon, although there were other theories as to what the clues within the poem meant.
What did the clues lead to?
Most treasure hunters ended up at one of three locations after following clues.
Montana's Custer Gallatin National Forest
As a popular vacation destination for Forrest Fenn as a child, it comes as no surprise that this forest was frequented by treasure hunters in search of the prize. A number of photos and stories of all of his adventures were displayed in his memoir.
Near West Yellowstone was the most popular part of the forest. During an interview for a Vox article in 2013, District Ranger Jason Brey explained that: “Every other week, someone comes in asking about Fenn’s treasure. They’re looking for maps, places to camp, and the best way to access the areas. They don’t want advice from us, they’ve got it made up in their mind already. It’s amazing how confident they are that it’s here.” (Caswell)
As you read the poem, it makes perfect sense why treasure hunters landed here. Yellowstone's warm waters, the Joe Brown Boat Launch, and Yankee Jim Canyon echo words written in the secret puzzle.
Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado
Treasure hunters from all over came to the Green River region. With Brown's Park, Warm Springs Cliff, and Joseph Meek's fur trapping escapades, it was the perfect location.
Unprepared hikers and rough terrain led to deaths.
The Carson National Forest in New Mexico
One of the most popular treasure hunting spots was near Forrest Fenn's Santa Fe home. The blaze from the Burned Mountain Trail and the warm waters from Rio Ojo Caliente made it a spot that was often carefully examined.
Several treasure hunters returned to this spot multiple times, swearing they had found more and more clues that confirmed they were on the right track.
How many people died trying to find Fenn's treasure?
Five people lost their lives while searching for the Forrest Fenn treasure in the rockies in Southwestern Colorado. For the safety and wellbeing of all those involved, the New Mexico State Police publicly asked Fenn to stop the treasure hunt.
Jeff Murphy, 53, from Batavia, Illinois, was found in Yellowstone National Park on June 9, 2017. Authorities found him dead after he fell down a steep slope. The media reported that his wife reported him missing after he went out searching for the treasure. In fact, National Park Service Crimes Crimes were committed by a variety of searchers, including two searchers who went to extremes in Yellowstone.
A 53 year old Deer Trail, Colorado resident named Michael Wayne Sexson was found with his friend Steven Inlow on March 21, 2020. Inlow later recovered in a hospital after Sexson died. A company that rented snowmobiles to them reported them missing. They were found five miles farther away from the spot where they were rescued one month before.
Pastor Paris Wallace was found dead on June 14, 2017 after failing to show up for a family gathering. He’d told his family that he was going to go and look for the treasure and when he didn’t show up, they alerted the authorities. His car was found parked near the Taos Junction Bridge and they eventually found his body about 5-7 miles away, along the Rio Grande.
Eric Ashby, 31, was found dead after moving to Colorado specifically to search for the Forrest Fenn Treasure. Apparently, his raft overturned at some point, and he was found in the Arkansas River on July 28, 2017, exactly a month after being last seen about 10-15 miles from where he was found.
Randy Bilyeu was found along the Rio Grande in July of 2016. Despite an autopsy, his cause of death could not be determined. He was last seen in January.
Who discovered the treasure?
Jack Stuef found the Forrest Fenn Treasure in Wyoming on June 6, 2020. A 32-year-old Michigan medical student, he drove immediately to Fenn's house to share the news. The man asked Fenn to keep his identity a secret so that he could remain anonymous. Stuef knew he had to speak out when Forrest Fenn passed away on September 7, 2020. Stuef, was identified as the treasure's discoverer by Fenn's grandson in December. Before his death, Fenn said his treasure was in Wyoming, but neither Stuef nor his family have mentioned where exactly.
Stuef then published an essay on September 23, 2020, paying tribute to the late Forrest Fenn announcing that he had discovered the treasure. As a result of listening to Fenn's interviews, he figured out where he wanted to die. After spending days searching that area, he discovered the treasure. Although it took him two years, he only spent about 25 days of that time actively searching.
As he explained in his essay, he discovered the location through the poem. According to him, “I mean, that’s what it is. It’s having the correct interpretation of a poem. I understood him by reading his words and listening to him talk over and over and over and over again. And seeking out anything I could get my hands on that told me who he was.”
Controversies and lawsuits
Forrest Fenn and his family had been stalked and harassed throughout the entire treasure hunt. They received threats and even dealt with a break-in.
A Colorado Springs resident filed a lawsuit against Fenn in 2019, claiming he had deceived treasure hunters. A fairly quick resolution was reached to the case.
Bruno Raphoz, a French treasure hunter, filed a lawsuit against Fenn's estate in 2021, in his complaint he claimed that Fenn moved the chest from Colorado to Wyoming after Raphoz told him that he was going to recover the treasure. The case is still pending. Raphoz's lawsuit is the latest legal action spurred by the treasure hunt. Several people have sued Fenn, alleging that he betrayed them or misled them.
The Forrest Fenn Treasure: History And Importance
What now that Forrest Fenn has passed away and Jack Stuef has found the treasure? Answering this question isn't as easy as it seems.
Jack Stuef lives his life somewhat in hiding. For his own safety and privacy, he will not tell anyone where he lives. Upon the request of Forrest Fenn himself, he does not reveal the exact location where the treasure was found. In his essay, Stuef said he did not want it to become a tourist attraction. Besides, Fenn wanted the site to be the final resting place for his body. To him, it was a sacred place.
In the ten years leading up to the Forrest Fenn Treasure hunt, the nation was swept up in a frenzy of treasure hunting. The outcome was deaths, arrests, lawsuits, and one medical student being able to repay his student loans.
What a thrilling adventure!