No, this isn’t a hoax. An American millionaire seriously decided to bury $1 million dollars’ worth of valuables in a chest somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. And he only offered one clue. He wanted to encourage families to enjoy their time being outdoors, but the hunt for his treasure has turned dark for some individuals.
This hidden treasure has created a massive treasure hunt, and for almost 10 years now, and just recently (late 2020) the treasure has been found, and the man who discovered it has come forward. So how did he find it? What did he do that hundreds before him weren’t able to do? Well, before we reveal the finder’s secret, you should know what the treasure hunters before him went through…
One couple decided to document their journey in searching for the treasure. But first, a little bit about the peculiar man that started the whole mystery. Somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the Canadian border, there are about 1,000 miles of land where a hidden treasure is buried.
Or so the story goes. U.S. millionaire Forrest Fenn, 86 years old Vietnam Veteran and art dealer, claims that back in 2010, he hid a treasure chest somewhere in the wilderness. He said that about 350,000 people have searched for his treasure and that he has no way of actually knowing if anyone has got close. His words were: “It could be found soon or 1,000 years from now.”
“No one knows where that treasure chest is but me,” Fenn said in 2016. Even his wife doesn’t know the location. “If I die tomorrow, the knowledge of that location goes in the coffin with me.”
He did leave one clue, however…
Fenn chose to leave one clue, however, and that was a cryptic 24-line poem that he himself wrote in his self-published memoir, “The Thrill of the Chase.”
“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,” one stanza from his poem reads.
His guidance for treasure hunters is: “Read the clues in my poem over and over and study maps of the Rocky Mountain. Try to marry the two. The treasure is out there waiting for the person who can make all the lines cross in the right spot.”
Since no one has yet to find the supposed treasure, being that about 9 years have passed, we can only go off the words of this man and trust that he is telling the truth. Supposedly, the chest is a square foot in size and weighs 40 pounds.
So what’s in the chest that’s worth millions?
He said the contents of the chest include emeralds, rubies, gold coins, and diamonds which are all artifacts that Fenn, a self-taught archaeologist, collected during his explorations in the Southwest.
In 1988, Fenn was diagnosed with cancer and that was the moment he decided to fill the chest. His plan was to drag it into the mountains and die beside it. He survived his bought of cancer, and his dark plans were disrupted.
He ended up leaving the chest in a walk-in vault in his house for years. And apparently, even a couple of witnesses confirmed that they saw it filled with valuables.
He then chose to hide the chest and years later would launch one of the most epic treasure hunts ever known. It was during the Great Recession of 2008 when Fenn said that “Lots of people [were] losing their job, despair was written all over the headlines, and I just wanted to give some people hope.”
The mystery of the treasure has created a full-on obsession.
Once people heard of Fenn’s treasure, treasure hunters started to become obsessed. Ricky Idlett, a steamboat operator in Mississippi is one of them.
He said, “Most of my 12 hours every night I’m on Google or something looking up clues. Every night. Every night I’m looking.” There are even online forums where treasure enthusiasts swap theories about where the treasure could be found. There’s a whole subreddit called “r/FindingFennsGold”
Fenn created a whole mystery and with the bed he made, he has to lie in it. He gets about 100 emails a day and has even had to call the police when unwelcome visitors showed up at his house threatening him.
He reported that “This one guy called me. He said, ‘Tell me where the treasure is right now. I’m going to kill you.’”
The search has even led to fatal outcomes…
The quest for the treasure has unfortunately been fatal for some highly devoted searchers. It’s believed that at least four people died in accidents while on the hunt. Understandably, this led to a backlash where people called for Fenn to end the hunt.
But he didn’t. What he did instead added a few more clues on his blog in an attempt to keep people safe is they choose to go on the mission.
Fenn wanted it to be known that “The treasure chest is not underwater, nor is it near the Rio Grande River. It is not necessary to move large rocks or climb up or down a steep precipice. Please remember that I was about 80 when I made two trips from my vehicle to where I hid the treasure.” That’s a good point.
He wanted to add that the whole point is to enjoy the hunt. “The search is supposed to be fun,” he said. He claims that a large part of hiding the treasure was to encourage families to enjoy the outdoors. “I wanted to give the kids something to do,” he said.
He had one goal in mind…
“They spend too much time in the game room or playing with their little hand-held texting machines. I hope parents will take their children camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains. I hope they will fish, look for fossils, turn rotten logs over to see what’s under them, and look for my treasure.”
Fenn’s treasure became the subject of a video on YouTube where a couple decided to go on a journey to find it and documented it on the way.
Early last year, Estelle messaged her friend Zack and said: “Random question, but would you be interested in looking for a treasure with me?”
He replied with: “OMG, are you talking about Fenn’s treasure?” Zack had been following the story since it broke in 2010.
Estelle figured the poem would be easy to decipher… or so she thought.
Estelle was lured in by the “simplicity” of the poem, and she convinced herself that it was easy to solve. So from June to August 2016, Estelle and Zack exchanged 24,000 text messages about the treasure.
At the time, Zack was in Washington D.C. and Estelle was in New York City. And then the next Fall, they decided to join the hunt for the treasure.
They interviewed people who already went on the quest, and came up with three theories that they were sure would lead to the chest. So they headed out West to start their journey.
Going to the Rockies was so different from the urban lives they were living. It was also a story worth going after a mystery, a problem to be solved, mountains, and strange characters.
And before they knew it, they were in the middle of a rainstorm in Wyoming, wondering how they got there.
Estelle and Zack read Fenn’s book “The Thrill of the Chase” from front to back. They sent a number of emails to Fenn. But he declined their request to interview him.
They started an insane collection of maps, topographies, lists of geological formations, regional histories, and archaeological accounts from the 19th century. The next thing they had to do was join the vast community of Fenn’s treasure hunters.
They found themselves just outside of Yellowstone National Park, looking for a tiny little box about the size of a Happy Meal. They found it all so strange, the treasure, and the old millionaire.
They thought of Fenn is one of those rare characters, straight out of a Wild West film. In the army, he was a pilot, later becoming an amateur archeologist. Eventually moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and opening an art gallery.
And his collection has made him a fortune.
Over the years, Fenn started a massive collection of artifacts valuable to some of the finest museums. He made a fortune selling them to U.S. presidents and Hollywood tycoons.
Fenn’s poem with the clues to the treasure is cryptic and not as simple as it seems, considering almost 10 years have passed and no one has figured it out. Apparently, there are nine clues in his poem.
The poem starts: 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.
Word on the street is that four of the nine clues have been solved. And the story goes that some people have gotten within 250 feet of the gold.
There are both public and private Facebook groups, with more than 8,000 members entering deep philosophical debates over the clues and what they mean.
And the community has a strange dynamic.
People on the online forums posed many questions about the clues and where the treasure could be. Questions like, “What kind of hill can an 80-year-old-man climb?” and “Does anyone have dreams about the treasure too?” are ones that people love to debate.
There’s a strange unspoken dynamic in the community of Fenn’s treasure hunters. They don’t want to give away too much but they also want to know what others have found.
In their research, Zack and Estelle came across a map made by amateur cartographers, and they were able to narrow down the original search area from 27 million acres to about 591,000 acres.
That means they reduced the search plane by 98%. But still, that’s 23,310 acres of wild land.
How do Zack and Estelle plan on finding the chest?
Zack and Estelle spent weeks coming up with their own theories. Zack spent an entire afternoon trying to convince Estelle that the longitude and latitude markers on Fenn’s map were a clue.
Estelle figured out the first clue from the first line of the poem: “Where warm waters halt.” She said, “that’s the Firehole River Falls right in the heart of Yellowstone National Park.”
The two friends found out that in 2007, water temperatures in the Firehole River Falls rose to 82 degrees, which killed a lot of trout there, pretty much ending their life.
Coincidentally, right above the falls, there’s a canyon that leads to the Madison River. The Madison River goes straight to Hebgen Lake. It was right on the border of Montana and Wyoming.
Was this a lead to the next clue?
They realized it was a place Fenn explored as a kid, so it must count for something. By Hebgen Lake is a grizzly bear territory, which relates to the clue “home of Brown,” and Red Canyon Creek, “no paddle up your creek.”
They found more facts from the poem’s clues. For instance, in 1959, a massive earthquake shook the region and the Hebgen Lake Dam turned into Quake Lake. There was even a deadly landslide, relating to the line of the poem: “heavy loads and water high.”
While they may be getting closer to the treasure and thought they were getting all the clues, they had to remember that the poem is highly interpretive.
And thousands of people came up with hundreds of different theories that they figured were able to put the pieces of the puzzle together. But there’s no way that everyone could be right.
One person came within 200 feet of the treasure.
Can you imagine? Being so close yet so far? Someone was standing 200 feet away from millions of dollars. While on their journey, they were vividly reminded that they need to be safe, even needing to buy bear spray.
The spray they bought had seven seconds of spray in it, which could be just about enough to ward off one grizzly bear. They hoped they wouldn’t need to use it.
The mystery of Fenn’s treasure has lured many people into the wilderness who weren’t necessarily prepared for the adventure.
The two talked to a park ranger who said that some have even ventured into the snow with tennis shoes. Clearly, a rookie mistake and one that only a city-dweller would make.
One morning on their journey, Zack and Estelle were in the office of a medical investigator to find out how the hiker who searched for Fenn’s treasure died.
In January 2016, Randy Bilyeu went missing after he went out to look for the chest. Six months later, he was found dead. He was a 54-year-old man from New Mexico.
Bilyeu’s ex-wife criticized Fenn’s moral character. She wrote an open letter to the millionaire. “Hunters risk their lives to search for your hoax,” she wrote. “Do you care?”
Fenn later responded by writing, “I certainly didn’t intend for anyone to get killed.”
At one point in their adventure, Zack decided to climb up the entire face of a cliff to try to get into a cave which was a couple hundred feet high.
Some thought that the Fenn treasure might be in a cave because one clue was interpreted as a spot that you could come back to in 10,000 years, which could hypothetically still be around. But it wasn’t in the cave.
The two were wandering around Wyoming constantly asking themselves, “What would Fenn do? Where would an adventurous fly fisherman who loves history, artifacts, and practical jokes hide a treasure chest?”
Zack, who made the short film about their journey on YouTube, said that he “would like to make a film that gains his respect a little bit. I would like to think that Fenn is sitting somewhere tipping his cowboy hat to us.”
Zack and Estelle headed back into the heart of Yellowstone Park. It’s actually the oldest park in the United States.
They found out that Forrest is a board member at Buffalo Bill Center. And some hunters think that Fenn hid the treasure when he was there on a trip for a board members’ meeting in 2009. That he just took off one morning, hid the treasure, and came back for his event.
They figured this theory would correspond with the area of Lamar Valley and coincide with Fenn’s fascination with the Native American history that the valley holds.
So the two drove all the way down Highway 212 to a place called Ice Box Canyon. In the canyon is a creek called Soda Butte Creek. They figured was “where warm waters halt.”
Each treasure hunter has a line from the poem that they obsess over. The line that seems to get the most attention is, “Put in below the home of Brown.”
Every searcher said, “If we can find the home of Brown, we can find the treasure.” It points to a specific location. And that intrigued everyone. One of the things that stood out was that Brown was capitalized.
They were in the Lamar Ranger Station, an old ranch in the historic district of the park. There used to be a very well-known ranger there named Gary Brown, “home of Brown.”
When they got to the station, they saw that the main facilities were closed down. Like many others, they started the journey with rose-colored glasses, but then every failing clue kept defeating them. They tried to remain encouraged and hopeful.
Fenn said that his poem specifically leads to a very concrete spot. But the clues are so vague and misinterpreted that they couldn’t imagine finding it. They started to feel crazy, that their journey was changing them.
They decided to give up and go home. They started to question if there even was indeed a treasure to be found. They wondered if it was all a hoax.
On their way back, Zack and Estelle debated the entire thing. But they figured that Fenn went through way too much trouble for it to be a hoax. So they wondered why would he even do this at all?
On their drive home, they suddenly found themselves looking out at sheep in a field with a massive rainbow behind them. Zack said, “The treasure at the end of the rainbow, unbelievable.”
The trip left an impact on both of them. They went down dozens of trails over five days and found nothing. They didn’t find the treasure and have absolutely no idea if they even came close.
Before they left for home, they put a little Forrest Fenn figurine where they stopped to see the rainbow.
The burning question remains: where is the treasure? And will anyone ever find it? As Fenn said, he may pass away before someone does and the secret will die with him.
Now that would be a shame. It would be an incredible story, but it would be a shame if no one were to ever find it. Are you going to be the one? Good luck!
As of June 2020, the search is officially over. A treasure chest full of gold, jewelry, and valuables worth $1 million was finally found in the Rocky Mountains. Forrest Fenn confirmed that “the search is over” on his website. At that point, Fenn said he didn’t know the person who found the treasure. He did, however, state where he left the treasure chest.
“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,” he said. “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.”
The 90-year-old Fenn has recently passed away. Before he did, though, he said the treasure was found by a man from “back East” who chose to remain nameless. Fenn said the discovery was also confirmed with a photograph. According to Fenn, the chest contains hundreds of rare gold coins, gold dust, gold nuggets, and other valuable artifacts.
Over the years, Fenn inspired thousands of treasure hunters to rummage through the vast Rocky Mountains. Now, a lucky man earned his loot. On his website, Fenn said that more information and photos will be coming soon. When asked how he feels about it, he said: “I don’t know, I feel halfway kind of glad, halfway kind of sad because the chase is over.”
Jack Stuef is a 32-year-old medical student from Michigan, who just revealed that he found Fenn’s treasure chest. He only disclosed his identity because a recent lawsuit would make his name public. That said, he’s still not willing to part with the treasure’s secrets and the clues that led him to it.
Stuef said he spent two years searching for the treasure, finally finding it in the Wyoming wilderness in June 2020. Fenn kept Stuef’s identity secret at Stuef’s request. Stuef claimed that he was worried about the safety of his family. “For the past six months, I have remained anonymous, not because I have anything to hide, but because Forrest and his family endured stalkers, death threats, home invasions, frivolous lawsuits, and a potential kidnapping — all at the hands of people with delusions related to his treasure,” he wrote in a Medium post. “I don’t want those things to happen to me and my family.”
Shortly before Fenn’s passing in September, a woman filed a lawsuit that claimed whoever found the treasure had done so by hacking her personal texts and emails. Stuef denied such charges to Outside magazine during an interview. Since finding the treasure, Stuef said he moved to a “more secure building with guards and multiple levels of security” in order to protect himself.
The treasure sits in a vault in New Mexico, where it will remain until he goes forward and sells it. He also said that he’ll never reveal the location where he found the chest because he wants to preserve the wildlife there and prevent other explorers from following his trail. Despite the lawsuit, Stuef said he’s “optimistic that this experience will still be a positive chapter in my life.”