The Hunt For Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Is Over. But For Seekers, The Conclusion Is Far From Satisfying

June 11, 2020
Forrest FennForrest FennJeri Clausing/AP Photo
In this March 22, 2013 file photo, Forrest Fenn sits in his home in Santa Fe, N.M.

Santa Fe millionaire Forrest Fenn shocked the world on June 6 when he announced someone had found the treasure he hid worth up to $2 million in the Rocky Mountains.

“So the search is over,” wrote Fenn on the popular blog The Thrill Of The Chase. “Look for more information and photos in the coming days.” 

Almost immediately, that blog’s creator Dal Neitzel saw a flood of comments from treasure hunters who spent countless hours searching for a solution.

“They’ve put their hearts and souls into trying to figure out where this chest is,” Neitzel said. “Right now the conversation on the blog is, ‘When is Forrest going to tell us where it was found?’”

Forrest Fenn did not return CPR’s multiple inquiries asking when the public can expect more details. 

Fenn hid the treasure about 10 years ago. The biggest clues supplied by him are a poem in his autobiography, and map. 

“No one knows where that treasure chest is but me. They can go get it, but I’m not going to tell them where it is,” Fenn told NPR’s John Burnett in 2016.

Over the years, five people have died searching for treasure, including Broomfield resident Randy Bilyeu. The scant clues supplied by Fenn earlier this week of the treasure’s whereabouts churned up long-time skepticism that it’s all a hoax, including a comment pointed at Fenn by Bilyeu’s widow, Linda.

“He needed attention and this is how he got it,” Linda Bilyeu told Westword’s Michael Roberts via Facebook Messenger. “Fenn needed more attention, which is why he said the treasure has been found with ‘no proof.’”

Throughout the 2010s, mountain search and rescue groups in the Interior West have racked up several missions to lift stranded treasure hunters to safety.

“What people have neglected to think is that this is an 80-something-year-old man who hid a treasure that weighed probably 30, 40 pounds, and he hid it to where he could easily walk to,” said Ken Blackburn, a sheriff in Big Horn County Wyoming near Yellowstone National Park.

For Blackburn, one of the more notable Fenn search and rescues happened in January 2020 when an Indiana resident rappelled down Yellowstone Canyon. The man went lower than expected to retrieve a lost backpack, and then couldn’t escape the canyon. It took rescuers hours of painstaking work in bitter freezing temperatures to get the man to safety.

“I’ll be the first to say that [Fenn] was resourceful. But ropes probably weren’t [in the picture],” Blackburn said. "We have had people rimrocked on cliffs. We’ve rescued multiple people in the Bighorns that have been looking for Forrest Fenn’s treasure and have gotten themselves in real predicaments.”

Blackburn worries that the lack of closure on Fenn’s treasure could mean that people will continue to head for the mountains and put themselves in unsafe conditions. 

New Mexico-based treasure seeker Jamie Jourdan said she’s not ready quite yet to give up the thrill of the chase. 

“People believe in God, but they can’t see ‘em. Why can’t we believe Forrest Fenn hid a treasure just because we can’t see that he did it?” she said.

And even if the treasure chest has been found, Jourdan said Fenn has hidden other items like bronze bells in the Rocky Mountains for the public to find. His autobiography has more clues.

Part of the reason why Jourdan’s not ready to move on is the tight-knit community that’s developed around searching for Fenn’s treasure. Dozens of people have spent hours swapping details on a handful of blogs, and that turned into relationships offline, too.

In 2018, after Jourdan lost her home to a California wildfire, other so-called “chasers” came to her aid. 

“Six weeks into my evacuation [from California], I had moved into a new home thanks to the chase community,” she said.

The lack of closure is a real challenge for Fenn treasure hunters like Jourdan. There’s no location from Fenn, and the annual July gathering, known as the Fennboree has been canceled due to COVID-19. Jourdan said she’s corresponded with several chasers who’ve asked her to organize a kind of memorial so people can have one last in-person gathering and swap war stories. 

“I want to get Forrest’s thoughts. But right now he’s a little busy,” Jourdan said.

As more time stretches on between Fenn’s announcement and his promise for more details, Thrill Of The Chase blog editor Dal Neitzel says respect for Forrest Fenn from his biggest fans could take a hit if he doesn’t act soon.

“I mean, what’s the point in playing any game if there isn’t an end to it?" Neitzel said. "And the end to this is finding out where that treasure chest was hidden."