Forrest Fenn is certainly a man of intrigue and mystery; an art dealer and self-taught archaeologist, a treasure hunter in his own right, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He's eccentric — no doubt about that — but he's not a fraudster, at least according to those who know him best.
And that's important, because Forrest Fenn is also the source of one of the great treasure hunts in modern times. He claims to have buried a chest of riches worth more than $2 million, filled with gold coins and nuggets, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds, two ancient Chinese jade carvings, precious artifacts and more, somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, reports NPR.
The only clues to the treasure's whereabouts can be found in a cryptic poem from his self-published book, "The Thrill of the Chase," and from occasional hints he drops on a website dedicated to the treasure hunt. So far, Fenn estimates that around 65,000 people have joined the search for the loot, but as of yet the buried treasure remains hidden.
Why bury such a fortune for any random searcher to discover? Fenn claims his motivation was to cheer folks up after the Great Recession and to get them off their couches and into the great outdoors. At 86 years old, he may be thinking about his legacy, too. He can also afford to bury it; he's a millionaire who lives a comfortable life.
Even so, there are many who believe the whole thing is a hoax, perhaps to help sell his memoir. Fenn's friends don't believe the naysayers though.
"As far as proof goes [that he hid the treasure] there's no proof," Doug Preston, a longtime friend who claims to have seen the chest in Fenn's vault before it was buried. "It's hard to prove a negative. The negative is that the chest is gone. It's not in his house and it's not in his vault. And also knowing Forrest for as long as I have, I can absolutely say with 100 percent confidence that he would never pull off a hoax. I'm absolutely sure that he hid that treasure chest."
The few clues that exist are vague, to say the least. There's the poem, of course, which contains abstruse hints like "where warm waters halt" and "put in below the home of Brown." Fenn has also revealed that the treasure is buried somewhere in the Rocky Mountains between Santa Fe and the Canadian border, at an elevation above 5,000 feet. It's not in a mine, a graveyard or near a structure. The treasure is contained in a 10-by-10 inch box that weighs roughly 40 pounds when loaded.
A risky adventure
Needless to say, these obscure hints have led hunters far and wide, from Yellowstone National Park to the Rio Grande. But not everyone who goes in search of this treasure is prepared for the outing.
As of 2017, two people have died in search of Fenn's treasure. The first was Colorado resident Randy Bilyeu. He went missing in January 2016, and his body was found the New Mexico back country that summer. A cause of death was never determined.
More recently, pastor Paris Wallace, also of Colorado, was found dead June 18, after being declared missing four days earlier. Wallace's body was found along the Rio Grande River.
Due to the two deaths, the New Mexico State police chief, Pete Kassetas, has asked on Fenn to call off the treasure hunt before more lives are lost.
"It can be avoided," Kassetas said in a public statement. "People are coming from other states and other parts of the world to find this elusive treasure that may or may not even exist with very few clues. And they are underestimating New Mexico."
Fenn responded to the news regarding Wallace's death to Westworld, a Colorado news site, by saying, "My heart is heavy with the news that Pastor Wallace [may have] lost his life while searching for the treasure. Words cannot describe the depth of my feelings. It is such a tragedy. I pray for his family, his friends and his congregation."
This story was originally published July 2016 and has been updated with new information.