A treasure chest filled with gold, jewels, and antiques worth over $1 million was said to have been hidden by an eccentric 89-year-old multimillionaire by the name of Forrest Fenn in the Rocky Mountains in 2010. The public was then invited to join in in an epic treasure hunt.
According to the BBC, hundreds of thousands of hopeful treasure hunters rose to the challenge. Many quit their jobs to embark on the search, some depleting their personal savings in the process, and some even losing their lives.
On June 7, the former U.S. Air Force pilot and art gallery owner from Santa Fe, New Mexico, revealed to the news media that his hidden haul had finally been unearthed.
“I feel halfway kind of glad, halfway kind of sad because the chase is over,” Fenn reflected, posting on his website. A man he did not know from “back East,” said Fenn, was the lucky conquistador.
“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 confirmed.
The 20-pound (approx. 9-kilogram) chest, he explained, had been filed with 22 pounds (approx. 10 kg) of rare gold coins, antique jewelry, pre-Columbian animal figurines, prehistoric hammered gold “mirrors,” and ancient Chinese carved jade.
Allegedly, it was a poem containing nine clues within Fenn’s 2010 autobiography, “The Thrill of the Chase,” that tipped the treasure finder off to the precise location of the multimillionaire’s hidden chest. The man, while wishing to preserve his anonymity, conceded to prove that he had found Fenn’s chest by sending a photograph for confirmation.
“[H]e’s shy,” Fenn told Today. “He doesn’t want his name released.” Neither Fenn nor the finder revealed the exact location of the treasure chest to the public.
The hunt, while over, is not without its lingering controversies.
At least five people, says the Santa Fe New Mexican, lost their lives while searching for Fenn’s riches. Addressing lobbies to call off the potentially treacherous treasure hunt in 2017, Fenn responded, “It is always tragic when someone dies.”
“Life is too short to wear both a belt and suspenders,” he continued, speaking to The New York Times. “If someone drowns in the swimming pool, we shouldn’t drain the pool, we should teach people to swim.”
Additionally, as of 2020, a Chicago real estate attorney named Barbara Andersen plans to file an injunction against Fenn, claiming that she solved the riddle herself but was hacked by the man from “back East,” preventing her from retrieving the treasure.
“He stole my solve,” Andersen claimed, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican. “He followed and cheated me to get the chest.” Andersen plans to file for ownership of the chest and prevent the finder from selling its contents in the meantime.
Another unsuccessful treasure hunter, Brian Erskine, of Prescott, Arizona, is also taking Fenn to court. He claims that the treasure is either still at large or never existed to begin with.
Erskine claims that he correctly identified the treasure’s location near the “Million Dollar Highway” between the towns of Silverton and Ouray in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, but that Fenn announced the treasure’s discovery by somebody else before Erskine could collect his haul.
According to the Associated Press, Fenn maintains that the treasure hunt was simply an old-fashioned adventure, dreamed up and implemented to bring fun and fantasy into people’s lives.
“I congratulate the thousands of people who participated in the search,” Fenn shared on his website, “and hope they will continue to be drawn by the promise of other discoveries.”