They say art imitates life, and sometimes, life imitates art. Such is the case of Forrest Fenn, the millionaire mastermind behind an elaborate treasure hunt that seems like something out of a movie. Think, Rat Race meets Indiana Jones.
The eccentric art collector announced this month that after ten years, the quest for his hidden treasure, worth an estimated $2 million, was finally over. Here’s how it happened.
Who is this guy, anyway?
Forrest Fenn’s life story is packed with adventure. Born 89 years ago in Texas, Fenn went on to serve as a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War. He claims to have flown 328 combat missions, and got shot down twice, earning him the Silver Star for his heroism. He returned to the States after the war and settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There, he opened an art gallery that specialized in Native American art and rare artifacts. The endeavor helped him amass a handsome fortune.
Hell and Back
In 1988, Fenn was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and set about securing his legacy. With his penchant for adventure, Fenn packed a treasure chest with gold coins, gemstones, and pre-Columbian artifacts. But after hiding the trove somewhere in the wilderness, he miraculously recovered. To his doctors’ surprise, the cancer disappeared.
Still, the renewed promise of life didn’t kill Fenn’s fantasy of an old fashioned treasure hunt. He re-hid the treasure chest, this time further away from home, somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Then, in 2010, he self-published a memoir called The Thrill of the Chase. The hunt was just beginning.
The Thrill of the Chase
Fenn’s book contained a series of stories from his amazing life. But it also contained a cryptic poem that he claimed could lead a treasure-seeker to his hidden trove. The only overt hint in the poem was that the treasure was buried “somewhere north of Santa Fe,” in either New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, or Wyoming. He spent the next decade waiting.
A Mad Dash
Thousands of treasure-seekers rose to the challenge in the ensuing years, but none were successful. In fact, two adventurers died in the quest for Fenn’s treasure. In 2017, authorities in New Mexico begged Fenn to call-off the hunt, as it was putting people in fatal danger. At one point, Fenn had to make a declaration that the treasure was not hidden in an abandoned mine, for fear that further seekers would injure themselves searching in such a hazardous environment.
A Treasure Found
On June 8, Fenn announced on his website that at long last, one lucky adventurer had found the treasure. The art collector did not say exactly where it had been hidden. He wrote only that “it was under a canopy of star 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 did not name the real-life Indiana Jones who found the trove. He wrote that he did not know the treasure-seeker and will keep his name anonymous to honor his wishes. Fenn added that the poem in his book led the mysterious treasure finder 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,” Fenn wrote. “So the search is over.”