The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The decade-old quest for a hidden treasure chest is over. The millionaire who hid it says it was just found.

Antiquities dealer and author Forrest Fenn at his home in Santa Fe, N.M., in 2013. (Jeri Clausing/AP)

A real-life treasure hunt is over.

A New Mexico art and antiques collector announced 10 years ago that he hid a chest containing $2 million in riches deep in the Rocky Mountains. He told people to go hunt for it — and hundreds of thousands of adventurers did just that. At least five people died while on the quest.

Forrest Fenn, the man who hid the 42-pound bronze chest, said it had finally been unearthed over the weekend.

“The search is over,” Fenn, 89, wrote on his website. “The treasure has been found.”

The finder of the treasure wanted to remain anonymous, Fenn said. He was one of an estimated 350,000 people who, over the past decade, risked their lives in search of the buried bounty.

The elusive 13th-century treasure chest was filled with rare artifacts, precious jewels, gold, rubies, diamonds and other valuables, Fenn has said through the years.

In an interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican news outlet, Fenn said that the treasure was found Saturday and that the man who uncovered the chest sent him a photograph as evidence of the discovery. Fenn has not released the photo, and said the man is from “back East.”

In Fenn’s announcement, he said that the riches were buried “under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains.”

The boxed fortune had not been moved from the original location where it was placed 10 years ago, Fenn said. He said he placed it there on his own during two separate excursions.

The hundreds of thousands of people who searched for the cache relied on clues in a 24-line poem included in Fenn’s 2010 autobiography, “The Thrill of the Chase.” Fenn said the purpose of the hunt was to encourage people to immerse themselves in the wilderness and engage in an old-fashioned adventure.

But Fenn’s decade-long game of seek-and-find fueled controversy over the years. Many believe the Fenn treasure is a hoax.

Still, a number of adventurers quit their jobs to dedicate themselves to the mission, and some died while searching.

Randy Bilyeu — a 54-year-old man who moved to Colorado from Atlanta to be closer to the treasure — died in pursuit of the hidden riches in 2016.

So did Jeff Murphy, a 53-year-old man who disappeared in Yellowstone National Park in 2018 during his quest to claim the fortune.

At least two others also died searching for the treasure, including a pastor who lived in Colorado.

Jeff Murphy died from a fatal fall at Yellowstone National Park in June. Authorities say he was looking for a $2 million treasure chest. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

In 2017, the New Mexico State Police urged Fenn to call off the hunt, as it was evidently a safety hazard for those participating in it.

But Fenn refused, saying the bronze chest would stay put.

And although the search is over, legal battles spurred by it are still in full swing.

Many of the treasure seekers have filed lawsuits against Fenn, claiming he used misleading clues to deliberately divert people from ultimately locating the chest.

Though Fenn has refused to comment on the claims, he congratulated all who participated in the hunt and said he hopes people “will continue to be drawn by the promise of other discoveries.”

Now that the 10-year search is over, Fenn told the Santa Fe New Mexican he had mixed emotions about the end of his famed, yet deadly, hunt.

“I feel halfway kind of glad, halfway kind of sad because the chase is over,” he said.


A previous version of this article misspelled the name of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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