Treasure hunt. Hidden riches. The idea itself suddenly sets the imagination on an overdrive. Riches? Hidden? Human beings are inveterate seekers of wealth and fortune. It’s the reason we toil, sometimes in thankless jobs, with eyes on the prize. The end, we rationalize, justifies the means. Wealth alone has an irresistible draw on us. But if combined with the thrilling suggestion of adventure, excitement sets in. Like wealth, human beings have loved adventure. That’s the reason we read stories of Captain Cook, Colombus—and Lewis and Clark—with a spirit of adoration and excitement.

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The story of Forrest Fenn details how a man hid a treasure worth millions and then gave out clues in a poem—to give would-be-seekers some important hints. It has all the elements that would make for a thrilling blockbuster movie: Fame, fortune, and risk. The only difference is that this is not a movie—but a true story.

Who Was Forrest Fenn

A native of Texas, a state that teems with many haunted spots, Forrest Fenn, was born right into the Great Depression. He grew up in Temple, Texas. To paraphrase Shakespeare, some are born adventurers, some become adventurers—and some have adventure thrust upon them. Forrest Fenn had the spirit of adventure thrust upon him from his early days as a student. As a family, they would frequently squeeze into their 1936 Chevrolet to make the road drive from Temple to the Yellowstone National Park, a journey that, even today, is not for the faint-hearted. But the bug of adventure had come biting. It would be with him for the rest of his life. The spirit of curiosity and adventure would go to other areas of his life. At one time, he tried to eat a porcupine.

He went to Texas A&M University. But he would last only four days before going to study radar mechanics—and aviation— as a US Air Force recruit. He got involved in Vietnam, retiring later into the treacherous waters of business and art dealing and collection of artifacts. He founded an art gallery in Santa Fe—in which he once hosted Jackie Kennedy, whom she described as “a rare lady.” But in 1988, cancer came knocking, threatening to abruptly blow out the glowing candle that was his life. He overcame cancer, but the experience motivated him to do something the world would remember him for. That’s how the idea of a treasure hunt came about.

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Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Hunt

In 2010 Forrest Fenn published his memoir: The Thrill of the Chase.“ Inside the poem was a 24-line poem that had hints and clues to a treasure he had hidden— “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.” This hidden treasure was more than a million in worth. It would set off a frenzied search all over the country. But the search was difficult, risky, even dangerous.

The Search And Discovery Of Forrest Fenn’s Hidden Treasure

Ostensibly, the treasure was somewhere along the towering Rocky Mountains—the largest mountain system in North America. The rest of the hints—nine of them—were to be gleaned from the poem in his memoir: The Thrill of the Chase. Thousands left the safety and comfort of their cozy homes for the thrill of the chase, literally. But the wilderness of New Mexico and the difficult terrain around—would prove unfortunately deadly. At least five people lost their lives while in pursuit of the chase. At one point, Forrest Fenn was even urged to call off the treasure hunt. But he would not budge.

When a disinterested medical student known as Jack Stuef first heard about the treasure hunt on Twitter, he was eight years late. In his younger years, he had enjoyed solving real-life mystery puzzles as part of 2002 TV series called Push, Nevada. He quickly rolled up his sleeves. In any case, it was not the first time he was getting involved in this kind of chase. He bought Fenn’s autobiography, which he went through meticulously and methodically—and with a fine tooth comb. At the same time, he would stalk Forrest Fenn, looking up his online appearances, talks, or interviews in an effort to pick up subtle cues and hints.

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He also wanted to better understand the man: his personality and motivations. After reaching a point where he thought he had understood the man and picked some hints, he went to work, logging out of all related blogs—while keeping everything close to his chest. In two years, he got it, and the search came to a dramatic end. Stuef brought the treasure to Forrest Fenn, who quickly sent word that the search was over. What made him succeed where a thousand others had failed? “The correct interpretation of a poem,” he believed, without divulging any extra details with respect to a specific location.

In September 2020, Forrest Fenn breathed his last. But the thrill of the chase, his desired legacy—lives on.