87-Year-Old Millionaire Buried A Fortune In The Mountains With A Single Hint For Treasure Hunters

Admit it: You secretly dream of finding buried treasure. The idea of finding that proverbial X denoting that thousands if not millions of dollars are just a few minutes of shovel work away is enough to keep anyone drooling late into the night. But that’s only a dream, right? Well, not according to one eccentric millionaire.

One ex-fighter pilot and art dealer from Santa Fe, New Mexico, wanted to inspire a little hope for people during an economic rough patch in the country. So, naturally, he hid insane wealth somewhere in one of America’s largest mountain ranges. The problem? He gave just one cryptic clue about its location…

The eccentric Forrest Fenn, an 87-year-old in Santa Fe, New Mexico, flew fighter planes in Vietnam. He taught himself archeology. He, along with his wife Peggy, dealt artworks and antiques out of a high-end gallery. Today, he receives 90 emails per day.

The emails don’t inquire about the exotic items in his personal collection (like a mummified falcon from King Tut’s tomb or Sitting Bull’s peace pipe, to name a few). They don’t ask about the paintings he’s sold, either. Instead, they ask about hidden treasure.

See, a few decades ago in 1988, Forrest faced mortality in a serious way. Diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer he wanted to leave his mark on the world in a meaningful way. So he plotted a crazy scheme: Bring treasure into the mountains and die beside it.

Amazingly, Forrest beat cancer so he shelved his treasure idea… at least for a few decades. On his 80th birthday, however, in the thick of an intense American recession, Forrest revisited the idea.

“Lots of people [were] losing their jobs,” Forrest recalled. “Despair was written all over the headlines, and I just wanted to give some people hope.” Treasure could be that hope. Who doesn’t secretly wish to find treasure and strike it rich?

Nick Cote / The New York Times

So the 80-year-old man loaded a 10-inch-by-10-inch Romanesque box into the back of his sedan and stuffed an estimated $2 to $5 million worth of jewels, trinkets, and gold coins into a backpack. Then, he started to drive…

He drove into the Rocky Mountains before parking his car and making two short trips on foot: One, where he carried the box to the hiding spot; another to bring the jewels to that box. He hid the 42-pound chest, but “don’t say I buried it,” he added, cryptically.

Curious treasure hunters now send him emails pleading for more information as to where the treasure might be. Sometimes, Forrest gives little hints, but most of the time, he lets the major clue he left behind do the talking…

Luis Sánches Saturno / The New Mexican

Forrest published the memoir titled The Thrill of the Chase, a book once found only in a single New Mexico bookstore. On page 132 of the memoir, he included a cryptic 24-line poem that points towards the treasure’s final hiding spot. It goes like this…

“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 ever drawing 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 answers 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.”

Naturally, people were stumped by the poem, which Forrest insisted contains 9 distinct clues as to the treasure’s location. Dedicated communities pooled their resources, playing at Indiana Jones in the hopes they  find the treasure.

As of July 2018, the treasure remained unfound. But the search wasn’t a zero-sum game for all adventurers and amateur travel hunters. For instance, Dal Neitzel of Washington, below, managed a TV station by day—but by night…

Dal made 70 trips to the Rockies over the years, searching for the treasure, and led a blog titled “The Thrill of the Chase” (sound familiar?), an online forum for people discussing the hunt. He, like many others, was thrilled by the adventure…

Another treasure hunter claimed clues from the poem guided her to the Christ of the Mines Shrine in Silverton, Colorado. She didn’t find treasure there. But, she found “the eternal love of Christ”— a spiritual treasure.

Meanwhile, the memoir that once sold for peanuts started selling for over $1,000 on Amazon. With such demand, Forrest started doing book signings, too. People wanted to comb through the book for insights into Forrest’s thinking—anything for the treasure.

Overall, Forrest estimated over 350,000 people went searching through the Rocky Mountains for his treasure. Unfortunately, not all of them lived to tell tales of spiritual re-awakenings and fun adventures…

Six people have died in pursuit of the Forrest Fenn treasure, including Randy Bilyeu, below. Authorities found his car, his raft, and his dog at the Rio Grande south of Santa Fe, but he never turned up. Eventually, the man’s death was blamed on Forrest…

New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas, below, pressured Forrest to end the treasure hunt. But Forrest never relented, reminding people the treasure was in a spot an 80-year-old man could get to in a sedan.

In fact, Forrest reminded hunters he ultimately hid the treasure to inspire family-friendly adventure. Kids “spend too much time in the game room or playing with their little handheld texting machines,” he said. The treasure—the hope—was for them, too.

“The search is supposed to be fun,” he said. To appease authorities he also noted that the treasure “is not underwater, nor is it near the Rio Grande River. It is not necessary to move large rocks or climb up or down a steep precipice.” Still, people are suspicious.

Forrest’s detractors claimed the hunt was nothing more than publicity for his memoir—the treasure, they say, never existed. The bookstore, however, claimed he never took a penny from sales. As to the treasure’s existence…

A friend of Forrest’s, New York Times best-selling author Doug Preston—who actually saw the treasure at Forrest’s house—put it best: “Knowing Forrest for as long as I have, I can absolutely say with 100 percent confidence that he would never pull off a hoax.”

Indeed, by all accounts, Forrest’s definitely the type of guy who would bury $2 million in jewels. “Sure, I’m eccentric,” he once said. “I pride myself on being eccentric. I don’t want to go down the center line like a lot of people do.”

And hunters better not hope for some deathbed confession from Forrest. “No one knows where that treasure chest is but me,” he said. Even his family remains in the dark. “If I die tomorrow, the knowledge of that location goes in the coffin with me.”

With all the fun and excitement around the hunt, Forrest admitted hiding the treasure was “successful beyond [his] wildest dreams.” But who will be the lucky person to finally find it?

Many avid treasure hunters have tried and failed to find the Forrest Fenn treasure. Will you be the next to go searching?

Share the Forrest Fenn treasure hunt with your adventure-seeking friends below!

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