A mysterious and deadly 21st-century crusade through the heart of the American West came to an end last week as millionaire Forrest Fenn’s hidden treasure was finally discovered.
Valued at more than $1 million and sought out for over a decade, the treasure chest was unearthed at an unknown location in the Rocky Mountains, the 89-year-old author and artifacts-dealer wrote in a brief announcement Sunday.
“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 said. “I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot.
“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.
“So the search is over.”
Poetic Promises of Gold
According to CNN, the hunt for Fenn’s treasure began with the appearance of a cryptic poem in his 2010 autobiography, “The Thrill of the Chase.”
The 24-line riddle, also published on the author’s website, titillated many a modern adventurer, promising authentic buried treasure and a “title to the gold” for the first reader who could make heads or tails of several clues woven within the verse.
For Fenn, it was of philanthropic opportunity in more than one sense of the word. The profound negative impacts of a global recession — not only on the marketplace but on the American morale — had inspired the artifacts dealer and antiquities collector to incentivize some good old-fashioned exploration.
The community at large needed a reason to hope again — and he was going to give them one.
Over the course of two solo trips to the Rockies, Fenn would lug a 20-pound treasure chest and roughly 22 pounds loot to a location unknown to another living soul, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
A Rocky Road to Ruin
The chest would serve as a powerful call to adventure, rallying an estimated 350,000 treasure hunters.
Given that no more than one explorer or team could possibly claim the treasure, however, the road to riches was anything but straightforward.
In fact, it would instead leave many an explorer financially insecure, with reports suggesting some had even quit their jobs in order to make the hunt a full-time activity while others have been arrested for alleged illegal activity in their travels, according to The Associated Press.
The hazards of the road have proven less friendly still for others, as at least five individuals have lost their lives in pursuit of the treasure since 2016.
According to The Denver Post, 53-year-old Michael Wayne Sexson, 54-year-old Randy Bilyeu, 52-year-old pastor Paris Wallace and 31-year-old Eric Ashby are among them, with relatives or traveling companions suggesting the treasure had been the main motivator for travel by the deceased in each case.
The Finder and the Fight
Able to pinpoint Fenn’s hiding spot and defy the hazards, the explorer credited with discovering the treasure has chosen to remain nameless.
In an interview with The New Mexican, Fenn would only describe the lucky hunter as a man “from back East.”
According to the outlet, Fenn had received photographic confirmation of the discovery but “declined to produce the photograph.”
The artifact-dealer’s unwillingness to turn over such evidence has led to skepticism regarding the fairness of the hunt, if not the existence of the treasure itself.
A treasure hunter of many years, Seth Wallack, told The New Mexican that Fenn’s story simply does not add up.
“I think [Fenn’s] announcement is at least a few years, and a few lives, too late. But he has to live with that. I believe this was over much earlier than today,” Wallack said.
“I think 2019 is the year he said was his last to do any interviews about the treasure, which I interpret as he lost interest because the hunt was no longer.”
“In 2020, he said the treasure was found, but doesn’t reveal any details so his narrative can’t be questioned,” Wallack said.
Wallack is not the only adventurer to have raised questions regarding the fairness of the hunt.
In a lawsuit against Fenn, Colorado native David Harold Hanson argued the artifact-dealer had crafted knowingly false clues and statements about the treasure, thus making the hunt impossible. He sought $1.5 million in damages, but the case was thrown out by a judge.
Chicago lawyer Barbara Andersen more recently pursued legal action, filing an injunction in federal court this week that suggests she had solved the puzzle within Fenn’s poem when an unknown hacker stole her lead.
“He stole my solve,” Andersen said. “He followed and cheated me to get the chest.”
The growing controversy has not seemed to phase Fenn, however.
Suggesting more details are yet to come, the artifact-collector’s website has not addressed the lawsuits or allegations, and holds that the treasure was discovered fairly at the time of this report.
As for his feelings regarding the hunt itself, Fenn has been less reserved, indicating the end to his hand-crafted exploratory era is a melancholy moment.
“I don’t know, I feel halfway kind of glad, halfway kind of sad because the chase is over,” he told The New Mexican.
The Western Journal has reached out to Fenn for comment but has not yet received a response.
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