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People Are Getting Hurt Searching For Hidden Treasure In The Rockies

Forrest Fenn says he hid treasure in this bronze chest a few years ago "somewhere north of Santa Fe."
Courtesy of Forrest Fenn
Forrest Fenn says he hid treasure in this bronze chest a few years ago "somewhere north of Santa Fe."

People are searching the Mountain West for a hidden chest containing something dubbed the “Fenn treasure.” Some are getting injured trying.

A Montana sheriff’s office warned people this week that there have been a number of deaths and near-death rescues near Yellowstone National Park in recent years, plus an injury reported Tuesday.  

“You must know that this country is unforgiving if you don’t give it the respect it deserves,” read a Facebook post quoting Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin. “Bears, snakes, and gravity are found in abundance in our corner of the world.”

The treasure hunt has been going on for years now, spurred by art collector Forrest Fenn, who lives in New Mexico and wrote a riddle that contains hints on the location of a bronze treasure chest that he says he hid a few years ago.

“We’re talking gold coins, gold nuggets from Alaska, some animal figures, jade faces, that sort of thing,” says Julia Glum, a reporter with Money.com following the treasure-seekers.

“It’s been pretty much narrowed down that the treasure is in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, or New Mexico,” she says. “We also know it’s outdoors, we know it’s in the Rockies.”

Estimates on the treasure’s worth range from about $1 million to $5 million.

“I knew exactly where to hide the chest so it would be difficult to find but not impossible. It’s in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe,” Fenn wrote in his self-published book, Thrill of the Chase. “There must be a few Indiana Jones types out there, like me, ready to throw a bedroll in the pickup and start searching, with a reasonable chance of discovering a treasure chest containing more than twenty troy pounds of gold.”

Since Fenn wrote that paragraph, an estimated 350,000 people have tried to track the treasure down. Glum spoke with people who’ve dedicated their savings to the search.

“I’ve also heard of people who lost their houses, wrecked their marriages because they got so obsessed with the idea that they could find this treasure somewhere in the woods and become rich,” she says.

Forest Fenn has suggested that physical extremes are not required.

“Please remember that I was about 80 when I made two trips from my vehicle to where I hid the treasure,” he wrote in a blog post. He also ruled out Utah and Idaho as possible locations.

Fenn reportedly said that people have come within 200 feet of finding it.

“It’s a gigantic puzzle,” says Glum. “Everybody wants to solve it and the clock is ticking.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. 

Copyright 2021 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Rae Ellen Bichell is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She first came to NPR in 2013 as a Kroc fellow and has since reported Web and radio stories on biomedical research, global health, and basic science. She won a 2016 Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. After graduating from Yale University, she spent two years in Helsinki, Finland, as a freelance reporter and Fulbright grantee.
Rae Ellen Bichell
I cover the Rocky Mountain West, with a focus on land and water management, growth in the expanding west, issues facing the rural west, and western culture and heritage. I joined KUNC in January 2018 as part of a new regional collaboration between stations in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Please send along your thoughts/ideas/questions!
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