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By Julia Glum
June 7, 2020
Photograph by Sarina Finkelstein

A famous modern-day treasure hunt that has captivated hundreds of thousands of people around the world may have just come to an end. Last year we reported on Forrest Fenn, the elderly art collector who claims to have hidden a chest full of gold, jewelry and other precious items in the Rocky Mountains about a decade ago — and now he says someone has finally found his stash.

The announcement arrived late Saturday in a post on dalneitzel.com, a website devoted to dissecting the poem Fenn wrote containing clues about the treasure’s location. (Fenn doesn’t post directly on the website himself; instead, he sends in messages to Dal Neitzel, a searcher based in Washington.)

The same wording appeared on the website for the Old Santa Fe Trading Co., Fenn’s official website. It read:

Fenn later confirmed the news to Money, writing, “Yes, it is true.”

This is a major development in the legend of Fenn’s treasure hunt, which the collector has said he was inspired to start after a cancer diagnosis in the 1980s. The search picked up steam in 2013 and has involved an estimated 350,000 people — many of whom have invested their savings and retirement into the hunt. Some are even making money from it, selling coins, books, maps and art inspired by the search.

The chest is rumored to be worth up to $5 million, but for many, the search is more about the online community than it is the money. People congregate in Facebook groups, chase-dedicated forums and on YouTube to debate their solutions to Fenn’s poem, forming connections along the way. It’s not necessary to do boots-on-the-ground visit out west in order to join the fun.

However, there are some critics. Even on Reddit Sunday, one searcher asked why Fenn didn’t give more information about the finder in his post and why he phrased the announcement the way he did.

In the past, skeptics have argued the entire search is a hoax — and a dangerous one, given that roughly five people have died in the wilderness looking for the treasure. In 2017, the then-chief of the New Mexico State Police demanded Fenn call off the hunt because “people make poor decisions” when there are such riches at stake. In May, an Indiana man got a five-year ban from Yellowstone National Park after he had to be rescued while looking for Fenn’s treasure.

The antiques dealer himself has been at risk, too.

Searchers have stalked Fenn, shown up to his New Mexico house uninvited and threatened him for information. This past December, a Colorado man sued Fenn for $1.5 million, saying that he’d been fooled “by fraudulent statements.” That prompted another searcher to file in Fenn’s defense saying he’d located the cache, which was actually a “virtual art installation or metaphorical ‘treasure.'” (Fenn counter-sued the Colorado man, and the lawsuit was dropped in March.)

All of that is to say that there’s a lot riding on Fenn’s claim that his treasure has been found. A lot of questions remain — Who found Forrest Fenn’s treasure? Where was it? What happens now? — but it seems the story is far from over.

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