The $2 Million Treasure Chest Currently Hidden in the Rockies

The following is an article from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader

compassHidden somewhere in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe, there’s an 800-year-old chest filled with $2 million in treasure. Want to find it? Here’s the story of the man who hid it and the clues he’s given to help you find it.

THE COLLECTOR

Forrest Fenn was a kid growing up south of Waco, Texas, in the late 1930s. His father was the principal of the local school, and when he wasn’t busy seeing to the education of the town children, the elder Fenn passed on a love for a different kind of learning to his son: scouring the countryside for Native American artifacts. Forrest found his first arrowhead when he was about nine years old. “I was exhilarated and it started me on a lifelong adventure of discovering and collecting things,” he told an interviewer in 2013.

Fenn joined the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and became a fighter pilot. His military career took him all over the world, and whenever he was on leave, he searched for ancient artifacts. He found Roman jars filled with olive oil in Pompeii, old brass coins in the Mediterranean Sea near Tripoli, Libya, and 8,000-year-old spearheads in the Sahara desert. After his military career was up, he decided to turn his hobby into a career, and in the early 1970s he became a dealer of Southwestern art and antiquities in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

X MARKS THE SPOT

In 1987, Fenn’s father died from pancreatic cancer, and the following year Fenn himself was diagnosed with kidney cancer. His doctors gave him just a 20 percent chance of surviving more than a few years. His brush with mortality caused him to think about his own legacy—what kind of mark, if any, did he want to make on the world?

Fenn decided that his “mark” would be like an X on a treasure map. Searching for artifacts had given him such pleasure during his lifetime that he decided to try and pass his love for the hobby on to others, just as his father had passed it to him. What better way to do that than to give would-be treasure hunters an actual treasure to hunt for? Over the years Fenn had amassed a collection of artifacts worth millions of dollars, and he began selecting some of his favorite pieces to include in the treasure.

In 1990, he paid $25,000 for an 800-year-old bronze lock box that he thought would make a good treasure chest, and began filling it with the items he selected: hundreds of gold nuggets, more than 200 gold coins, “lots of jewelry” that included a 2,000-year-old fetish necklace and a gem-encrusted Spanish ring dating to the 1600s, and much more. When full, the box weighed 42 pounds. Beneath the treasure at the bottom of the box was a copy of Fenn’s autobiography, printed in tiny lettering, rolled up and stuffed into an ancient olive jar. He even tossed a magnifying glass into the box so that the tiny words would be easier to read. (One item that he didn’t put in the box: his most treasured possession—that first arrowhead that Fenn found when he was nine. He says he still has it…and he’s keeping it.)

BONELESS

One idea Fenn toyed with was waiting until he was near death to carry the treasure to its hiding place, then lie down and die next to it, ensuring that he and his treasure would be found together. That was one reason for putting his autobiography in the lock box: he wanted to make it easy for the authorities to identify his body. So why didn’t he stick with the plan? He beat his cancer. “I ruined the story by getting well,” he jokes.

Fenn held onto the treasure chest for about 20 years, but the cancer never came back. So sometime around 2010 (he won’t say exactly when), he put the box in his pickup truck and drove to a spot in the Rocky Mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe (he won’t say where). Then he got out of the truck and carried the treasure chest into the wilderness on foot (he won’t say how far). At some point he stopped and hid the treasure, or maybe he just left it sitting there, in plain sight. Then he drove back home.

Whatever he did with the treasure, as far as anyone can tell, it’s still right where he left it, waiting to be discovered.

RHYME OR REASON

To help treasure seekers find his treasure, Fenn wrote a poem that he says contains nine clues that point to its location. It reads as follows:

As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.
From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.
So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.

GOLD RUSH

Fenn published the poem along with his autobiography in a 2010 book called The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir. But he only sold it through a single bookstore in Santa Fe, so knowledge of the treasure spread slowly. Then in 2013, a producer on NBC’s Today show read about it in an in-flight magazine and profiled the story on the show. Within weeks of the Today story airing, treasure hunters from all over the country began arriving in Santa Fe and points north to search for Fenn’s treasure chest.

Fortune seekers have been coming ever since, and the numbers continue to grow. It’s estimated that as many as 30,000 people head into the Rockies each year to look for the Fenn Treasure. Many of them gather in organized group campouts called “Fennborees” that allow treasure hunters to share stories and compare theories.

MORE CLUES

Since publishing the poem, Fenn has offered a few more clues:

  • He didn’t bury the treasure in his own yard, in his neighbors’ yards, or in any of the cemeteries where his relatives are buried. He asks that treasure seekers not dig in these places anymore, at least not without permission. (If you bother him at home or follow him around Santa Fe, he’ll call the police, as he’s already done on more than one occasion.)
  • He didn’t bury the treasure in any other grave or cemetery, either, so don’t go digging anyplace where people are buried. Fenn gave out this clue after one treasure seeker was arrested for digging up a descanso (a marker that denotes where someone died or had their ashes scattered) near the Pecos River. Digging up descansos is illegal.
  • It isn’t hidden in or under any buildings or other structures. “No need to dig up the old outhouses,” he says.
  • Actually, Fenn won’t even confirm that the treasure is buried. Nor will he confirm that it’s in New Mexico. In 2014, he published a treasure map that includes all of the Rockies in western Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado, as well as New Mexico north of Santa Fe.
  • In an advertisement that Fenn appeared in for the New Mexico Board of Tourism in 2015, he states, “I know the treasure chest is wet.” He also said that if he were standing near it, he’d smell “wonderful smells, of pine needles or piñon nuts or sagebrush.” After filming the commercial, though, he said that it didn’t contain any new clues, so you’ll have to decide for yourself how much this information is worth.
  • Fenn also reminds treasure seekers that he carried the 42-pound treasure chest into the wilderness on foot. He was in his late seventies at the time, so “don’t look anywhere where a 79- or 80-year-old man can’t put something. I’m not that fit. I can’t climb 14,000 feet.”
  • Fenn insists there really is a chest filled with treasure, and it really is hidden out there somewhere. He had to confirm this after one treasure hunter wrote a book about her search in 2014. As was the case with everyone else (so far), her search came up empty. But because she was sure she’d figured out the correct hiding place, she concluded that the real treasure must be the fun of the search itself. Fenn rejects her conclusion, though he does agree with the sentiment. The thrill of the hunt, after all, is what caused him to hide the treasure in the first place. “I’m trying to get fathers and mothers to go out into the countryside with their children. I want them to get away from the house and away from the TV and the texting, and while they’re looking for treasure they will also explore the outdoors,” he told the Albuquerque Journal in 2013. “That’s the adventure and the greater treasure.”

This article is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader. This groundbreaking series has been imitated time and time again but never equaled. And Uncanny is the Bathroom Readers’ Institute at their very best. Covering a wide array of topics—incredible origins, forgotten history, weird news, amazing science, dumb crooks, and more—readers of all ages will enjoy these 512 pages of the best stuff in print.

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  • Momojoe

    Next stop: Santa Fe..

  • Miki Nyckel

    What fun! That is indeed pretty neat. And I like his sentiments, about wanting familes to get out of the house and away from electronics.

  • BSHJ

    I never was any good at interpreting poetry….