Eccentric art dealer and author Forrest Fenn has released new photos of the $1million bronze treasure chest he says was discovered deep in the Rocky Mountains earlier this month.
Thousands of thrill-seekers were drawn to the Rockies in search of the prize since Fenn, now 89, announced the treasure hunt in his 2010 memoir, and at least five men lost their lives trying to find it.
More than a decade later, Fenn claimed on June 6 that an anonymous explorer had found the bronze chest filled with rare gold coins and gold nuggets, pre-Columbian animal figures, prehistoric ‘mirrors’ of hammered gold, ancient Chinese faces carved from jade and antique jewelry.
The announcement drew skepticism from critics who questioned how Fenn failed to provide basic details about where the treasure was found and by whom.
Some have gone so far as to accuse Fenn of perpetrating a hoax, suggesting that he never hid the chest and started the search as a publicity stunt to further his writing career.
Fenn sought to silence the speculation by releasing three photos of the unearthed treasure on Monday through a blog site dedicated to the search.
Eccentric art dealer and author Forrest Fenn on Monday released new photos of the $1million bronze treasure chest he says was found deep in the Rocky Mountains earlier this month. The photo above, which Fenn said was taken ‘not long after’ the discovery, shows the chest caked in mud and sitting on a trail. Inside is a pile of gold coins and gold nuggets, a couple plastic bags holding unidentifiable objects and a thoroughly-rusted key
A second photo (left) shows Fenn sifting through the contents of the newly-cleaned chest, surrounded by stacks of gold coins and other metallic artifacts. In the third photo (right) Fenn is seen wearing a heavily-tarnished bracelet that was in the chest
The first photo, which Fenn said was taken ‘not long after’ the discovery, shows the chest caked in mud and sitting on a trail. Inside is a pile of gold coins and gold nuggets, a couple plastic bags holding unidentifiable objects and a thoroughly-rusted key.
In the second photo, Fenn is seen sifting through the contents of the newly-cleaned chest. Stacks of gold coins and other metallic artifacts were scattered across the table.
The third photo shows Fenn wearing a heavily-tarnished silver bracelet that was in the chest.
The bronze chest is seen in an undated file photo from before Fenn said he buried it
In his June 6 post, Fenn had said that a man from ‘back East’ located the chest a few days ago and sent him a photograph to verify his discovery.
He did not disclose the exact location of the treasure but wrote: ‘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.
‘I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot.’
Monday’s post included even fewer details.
‘The treasure chest was found by a man I did not know and had not communicated with since 2018,’ Fenn wrote.
‘The finder wants me to remain silent and I always said the finder gets to make those two calls. Who and where.’
Asked how he felt now that the treasure has been found, Fenn said: ‘I don’t know, I feel halfway kind of glad, halfway kind of sad because the chase is over.
‘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.’
Rescuers throughout the Rocky Mountain region were much more excited to learn of the discovery, after having seen at least five men die looking for it.
Their relief was shared by loved ones of the men who perished in the search.
Many relatives have spent years pleading with Fenn to call off the hunt because it’s dangerous, or because they weren’t convinced that the treasure was out there.
Among them is Linda Bilyeu, whose ex-husband, Randy Bilyeu, disappeared during his search in the New Mexico wilderness in January 2016 and was found dead six months later.
‘I believe [Fenn] never hid the treasure,’ Linda Bilyeu told Westword on June 8.
‘He needed attention and this is how he got it. Fenn needed more attention, which is why he said the treasure has been found with “no proof.”
‘Randy lost his life searching for “nothing.”‘
Fenn, 89, (pictured) announced the treasure hunt in his 2010 memoir. Since then, thousands of thrill-seekers have been drawn to the Rockies in search of the prize, and at least five men have lost their lives trying to find it
Randy Bilyeu (left) was one of at least five men who died whilst searching for the coveted bronze chest. His ex-wife Linda Bilyeu (right) remains convinced that the treasure hunt was a hoax crafted by Fenn even after it was allegedly found
After Randy Bilyeu’s death aged 54, New Mexico authorities called for Fenn to end the hunt, branding it ‘nonsense and insanity’.
Fenn responded by saying: ‘It is tragic that Randy was lost, and I am especially sorry for his two grown daughters.’
However, he said that the loss hadn’t made him regret the hunt. ‘Accidents can happen anywhere. Randy may have had a heart attack or otherwise become incapacitated,’ he said.
Calls to end the hunt increased as four other people died during their pursuits: Jeff Murphy, 53, Pastor Paris Wallice and Eric Ashby, 31, in 2017; and Michael Sexson, 58, this past March.
After Sexson’s remains were recovered, Fenn told the Denver Post: ‘What happened was tragic. My heart and prayers go out to the family and friends.’
In a subsequent email he said: ‘I don’t have anything to add…. The winter Rockies can be mean and unforgiving. I feel so sorry for the family. I don’t know what else to say.’
Fenn, who lives in Santa Fe, said he hid the treasure as a way to tempt people to get into the wilderness and give them a chance to launch an old-fashioned adventure and expedition for riches.
He posted clues to the treasure’s whereabouts online and in a 24-line poem that was published in his 2010 autobiography The Thrill of the Chase. He came up with the idea after he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 1988 and given a 20 percent survival rate.
Fenn’s books and poem sparked a frenzy in the world of amateur sleuths and treasure hunters as hundreds of thousands searched in vain across remote corners for the bronze chest.
Many quit their jobs to dedicate themselves to the search and others depleted their life savings.
The chest itself weighs about 20 pounds, Fenn said, with an added 22 pounds from its valuable contents.
Fenn never said it was ‘buried’ but instead emphasized that it was ‘hidden’.
Fenn posted clues to the treasure’s whereabouts online and in a 24-line poem that was published in his 2010 autobiography
Forrest Fenn reveals clues to buried treasure near Santa Fe in 2016
Avid treasure hunters picked apart his every quote and equated his every word with anything from local history to his personal background in an effort to decipher the coordinates of the hidden bounty. But Fenn gave almost nothing away to anyone.
An annual festival aptly called Fennboree brought them together to swap stories, meet Fenn himself and ruminate on the meaning of his clues and directives.
Key elements mentioned in the poem are ‘warm waters halt,’ ‘the blaze,’ ‘canyon down’ and ‘home of Brown’ – all of which are open to interpretation by searchers, who have traced them to landmarks across Colorado, New Mexico, Montana and Wyoming.
Fenn said he hid the treasure as a way to tempt people to get into the wilderness and give them a chance to launch an old-fashioned adventure and expedition for riches
One of the major clues is that it’s at a location that was reachable by a man 79 years old, which was Forrest’s age when he hid the chest.
In an interview in 2018, Fenn explained why he decided to hide the bounty.
‘I had several motives,’ Fenn said. ‘First of all, we were going into a recession – lots of people losing their jobs. I wanted to give some people hope. Despair was written all over the newspaper headlines.
‘And secondly, we’re an overweight society – I think not only in this country, but the world,’ said Fenn, who ran a successful Santa Fe art gallery with his wife for 17 years.
‘So I wanted to get the kids away from their electronic gadgets … and out into the sunshine, out into the mountains, hiking, fishing, picnicking – and anything but the couch. Get out of the game room.’
In addition to the cryptic poem and hints in his memoir, Fenn let a few details slip over the years – saying the treasure is at least 8.25 miles north of Santa Fe and that it’s above an elevation of 5,000 feet.
The treasure hunt exploded in popularity after it was featured in an article in an airline magazine; the next day, Fenn received 1,200 emails and his computer crashed, he said.
‘I didn’t expect it to catch fire like it has, but I think 350,000 people have been looking for the treasure,’ Fenn told DailyMail.com. ‘Of course, it’s been eight years, too; some of them go back multiple times.’
LEFT: Scott Etzel of Houston, Texas, displays a map of previously explored places of Forrest Fenn’s hidden treasure. Fenn marked the right spot in Santa Fe, New Mexico on June 23, 2018. RIGHT: Toby Younis, a 69-year-old father of six and grandfather of ten, is pictured in 2018. He had been searching for Fenn’s treasure for about five years – and co-hosts a YouTube show about the hunt offering interviews, updates and advice for fellow enthusiasts
Michael Wayne Sexson, 53, was found dead in a remote part of Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument (pictured) in March, where he and a friend were looking for Forrest Fenn’s treasure
Fenn masterminded the treasure hunt even before he settled on the bounty, the location or the date when he would finally hide it.
The idea came to him after he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 1988 and given a 20 percent survival rate.
‘I went through all of the emotions like everybody else does – denial, anger, all of those things,’ said Fenn, who has two daughters with his wife.
‘But then, after a week or so, I told myself: ‘Okay – if I’ve got to go, who says I can’t take it with me?’ I had a bunch of stuff, and I had so much fun collecting it over 75 years, why not give somebody else the same opportunity that I had?
‘I mean, I’m not going to miss these things. My family has been cared for. And so I got this beautiful little treasure chest; I gave $25,000 for it, and I started. My problem was, I wanted it to be valuable, but I also wanted it to be survivable, also. That boils down to gold, essentially, and precious gems.’
He began assembling a cache that included ‘hundreds and hundreds of gold nuggets.’
He added: ‘I’ve given to charity, and everybody else has, too. That’s been done. I wanted to do something that would last. I wanted to introduce the Rocky Mountains to people – flatlanders – that’d go back over and over again. I mean, if I gave to a charity, that’d be the end of it.
‘A 79 or 80 year old man went to that hiding place twice in one afternoon. There’s no point climbing up to the top of the mountain or hiking 20 miles looking for the treasure.’
That’s a fact that one avid searcher has kept in mind throughout his 29 ‘recon’ missions to date.
Toby Younis – who co-runs a YouTube channel dedicated to the search, Gypsy’s Kiss – said that every site he identifies as possibly relevant to the search must be what he calls ‘Fenny.’
‘Almost immediately, when we go to a new search area, we ask ourselves: Is it Fenny enough?’ he said, meaning that the site has to not only be lush and beautiful but also accessible by an elderly man.
Younis – a father of six and grandfather of ten – is 69 years old himself.
‘We start asking ourselves, could an 80-year-old man have done this with a 20lb weight? And it’s real easy,’ Younis said.
‘Within a very short period of time, if I find myself breathing hard, slipping on rocks, walking along an edge… then I say to myself, Forrest Fenn would not have done this at the age of 80 alone, right?’
Younis found himself in a bit of a hairy situation on his first recon mission with his adult son in August 2013, when he traced ‘warm waters halt’ to a dam at the Rio Chama. The father-and-son team had arrived in an SUV with front-wheel drive, went down into a valley, forded a stream, went up the other side of the valley and then hiked two miles.
‘August is unpredictable, in the sense that every afternoon you’re going to get rainstorms,’ Younis said.
‘I kept telling my son, we need to start moving back in case it starts raining, ’cause we’ll have a hell of a time getting back up.’
That’s exactly what happened, however, and the river swelled so high that they couldn’t get back across – having to spend the night on the other side.
‘The following day, a group of hunters came over the hill; we were trying to create a dam so that we could ford the river,’ Younis said. ‘These hunters came down in this huge four-wheel drive; they were going scouting because the hunting season was opening the following day, and they would pull us back up on the other side.’
He added: ‘That was the closest we ever came to feeling like we had made a dangerous decision.’
Other searchers, however, have not been so lucky. Chicago man Jeff Murphy went hiking on the Montana-Wyoming border, only for his body to be found June 9 at the bottom of a steep, rocky slope in 2017.
Paris Wallace, a 52-year-old pastor from Colorado, disappeared in the Rio Grande Gorge in New Mexico; his body was pulled from a riverbank. Eric Ashby, a 31-year-old who’d moved to Colorado to advance his search, drowned after traveling by raft down the Arkansas River in the state.
The previous year, 54-year-old Randy Bilyeu also died. He disappeared while searching in New Mexico, and his body was pulled six months later from the Rio Grande.
In March this year, Michael Sexson, 53, from Deer Park was found dead while on the hunt.
The deaths have led authorities to send out warnings and ask Fenn to call off the treasure hunt, which he seems to have no intention of doing any time soon – though he has decided on a cut-off point.
‘If there’s been some violence like fist fights or somebody’s murdered or something, that’s the end of it,’ he said.
He’s a man who’s seen his share of violence firsthand in his Air Force career, during which he served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars and was shot down twice.
Fenn was rewarded with a Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star, 16 Air Medals and a Purple Heart.
‘The world has got to learn to start leaving people alone,’ he said. ‘Not only we as a world, but us as a people.’
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