Forrest Fenn was a pilot in the Air Force, obtaining the rank of Major and awarded the Silver Star for his service in the Vietnam War where he flew 328 combat missions in 365 days. He retired from the Air Force and ran the Arrowsmith-Fenn Gallery with his partner Rex Arrowsmith, which became the Fenn Galleries which he operated with his wife Peggy. The gallery was located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and sold a variety of American Indian artifacts, paintings, bronze sculptures, and other art, including forged copies of works by Modigliani, Monet, Degas, and other artists. The gallery reportedly grossed $6 million a year.
In 1988, Fenn was diagnosed with cancer and given a prognosis that it was likely terminal. This inspired him to hide a treasure chest in an outdoor location with the purpose of creating a public search for it. He also intended the location to be his final resting place, with the treasure as a legacy. He recovered from the illness and self-published The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir in 2010, a collection of short stories from his life. He describes a treasure chest that he says contains gold nuggets, rare coins, jewelry, and gemstones, and he says that it was hidden "in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe". Fenn says that the book also contains clues to the chest's location in the form of a poem that he had written, and it prompted a treasure hunt in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. Its value has been estimated as high as $2 million, depending on the appraisal of the items.
Before the treasure hunt, Fenn conflicted with authorities over Federal antiquities law. FBI agents raided his home in 2009 as part of an investigation into artifact looting in the Four Corners area and seized items, but he was not charged. Two people targeted in the case committed suicide, and Fenn has blamed the FBI for their deaths.
Four people have died while searching for the treasure. Pete Kassetas was the New Mexico State Police Chief in 2017, and he publicly implored Fenn to end the treasure hunt because it was a danger to public safety.
- Randy Bilyeu went missing in January 2016 and was found dead in July. His body was discovered by workers along the Rio Grande, and an autopsy could not determine cause of death. Bilyeu's ex-wife has publicly stated her belief that the Fenn Treasure is a hoax.
- Jeff Murphy (53) of Batavia, Illinois was found dead in Yellowstone National Park on June 9, 2017 after falling about 500 feet down a steep slope. Yellowstone officials did provide details to the public concerning their investigation, but KULR-TV filed a Freedom of Information Act request. The television station reports that Murphy's wife told park authorities that he was looking for the treasure when she first reported him missing.
- Pastor Paris Wallace of Grand Junction, Colorado told family members that he was searching for a buried treasure, but he failed to show up for a planned family meeting on June 14, 2017. His car was found parked near the Taos Junction Bridge and his body was found dead 5 to 7 miles (8–11 km) downstream along the Rio Grande.
- Eric Ashby (31) was found dead in Colorado's Arkansas River on July 28, 2017. Friends and family state that he had moved to Colorado in 2016 to look for the treasure, and was last seen on June 28 rafting on the river 10 to 15 miles (15–25 km) upstream from where his body was found. The raft overturned, and Ashby had been missing since that time.
In popular culture
The Fenn treasure hunt has been featured in television shows, magazine articles, and books.
- Forrest Fenn's idea to hide a treasure chest is credited as the inspiration for Douglas Preston's 2004 novel The Codex.
- The treasure hunt was featured in a 2015 episode of Expedition Unknown, "Finding Fenn's Fortune". The host interviewed Forrest Fenn before joining several groups of treasure hunters as they searched multiple states in the Rocky Mountains.
- The Lure (2017) is a documentary feature film about the treasure directed by Tomas Leach.
- A 2018 episode of the web series Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime, "The Treacherous Treasure Hunt of Forrest Fenn" features the treasure hunt.
- Fenn, Forrest (2010). The Thrill of the Chase. One Horse Land & Cattle Co. ISBN 9780967091785.
- Fenn, Forrest (2013). Too Far to Walk. One Horse Land & Cattle Co. ISBN 9780967091792.
- Fenn, Forrest (2017). Once Upon a While. Phat Page Design. ISBN 9780692950555.
- Fenn, Forrest (2018). Once Upon a While Revised. One Horse Land & Cattle Co. ISBN 9780692196281.
- Burnett, John. "Seeking Adventure And Gold? Crack This Poem And Head Outdoors". NPR. Retrieved 26 July 2017.
- "Valor Awards for Forrest B. Fenn". MilitaryTimes.
- "'Rex' Arrowsmith's Former Partner Becomes Leading Art Dealer in West". Belleville Telescope. January 19, 1978 – via newspapers.com.
- "Rex Arrowsmith Obituary".
- Eady, Brenda (June 9, 1986). "Rivals Scorn His Santa Fe Gallery, but Forrest Fenn Baskets the Cash". People Magazine.
- Goldsmith, Margie. "The Thrill of the Chase". Hemispheres Inflight Magazine. Archived from the original on March 26, 2016. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
- Fenn, Forrest. The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir. One Horse Land & Cattle Company. p. 121. ISBN 9780967091785.
- "There's a fortune hidden somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, and this millionaire is the only one who knows where it is".
- Miller, Cynthia (September 16, 2016). "When Forrest Fenn treasure hunters hit a dead end". Star Tribune. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
- Sharpe, Tom (August 16, 2011). "Dealer: Blame FBI for seller suicides in Four Corners looting case". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
- "Police implore author who says he hid treasure to end hunt". CTV News. 20 June 2017. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
- "Missing treasure hunter's remains found in New Mexico". BBC News. 27 July 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
- "Death of a Colorado treasure hunter remains a mystery after case closed". Denver Post. March 3, 2017. Retrieved June 7, 2019.
- "Tragic end to months-long search for treasure hunter Randy Bilyeu". CBS News. July 27, 2016. Retrieved July 27, 2016.
- "Batavia man who died in Yellowstone in 2017 was looking for treasure". Associated Press. 20 February 2018. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
- Roberts, Michael (June 19, 2017). "Body Found May Be Paris Wallace, Latest Coloradan Seeking Forrest Fenn Treasure". Westword. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
- "Pastor dies in search for famous hidden treasure". CBS News. June 19, 2017. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
- "Body found in Arkansas River in Colorado confirmed as treasure hunter Eric Ashby". ABC KRDO News. Retrieved January 27, 2018.
- Amanda Proença Santos (July 31, 2017). "Forrest Fenn Treasure Hunt May Have Claimed Its Third Victim". nbcnews.com.
- "Santa Fe millionaire's claim he hid a treasure chest sets off a hunt". Denver Post. March 30, 2013. Retrieved June 7, 2019.
- "From Atlantis to Camelot, 10 mythical sites that just might exist". USA TODAY. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
- Clarke, Catch (8 September 2017). "The Lure review – chasing fame and fortune with the Fenn treasure hunters". The Guardian. Guardian News & Media Limited. Retrieved 13 November 2019.
- Cannestra, Sakura (18 September 2018). "'Unsolved: True Crime' season 4 offers killer good time". The Daily Californian. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
- Old Santa Fe Trading Company, Forrest Fenn's web site and blog, which hosts a self-published "Thrill of the Chase Resource Page".