During the Vietnam War, Fenn
flew 328 missions, was shot down twice, and received over 25 medals including 2 Purple Hearts.
It all began with an arrowhead.
, a decorated war veteran,Â author of the book "The Thrill of the Chase" and the orchestrator of this treasure hunt, found this first artifact when exploring with his
father as a boy.Â His
enthusiasm for exploring and collecting artifacts continued throughout his
life- while he
was in the Air Force, he
seized the opportunity of being in foreign locales to explore and collect objects from all over the world.
has traded, discovered, and purchased artifacts from places such as Vietnam, Brazil, Libya, Germany, and Italy- where a friend's father allowed him to sift through the volcanic ash and ancient ruins of Pompeii.
He was caught- but won over the security guard with an amphora of ancient wine found among the ruins.
would trade cigarettes and American products for artifacts, antiques and curiosities- from a Vietnamese POW, he
acquired the sandals the man had fashioned out of tires.
loved the business of acquiring and trading art more than the art itself.
retirement from the Air Force in 1970, Fenn
family relocated to Santa Fe, where he
, a man with no artistic training, no business training, and no college degree, opened an art gallery that became one of the most successful galleries in New Mexico.
The Fenn Gallery
was so successful due to the shrewd marketing of Forrest Fenn
and the wide array of fascinating artifacts and paintings.
Whenever celebrity collectors would arrive in Santa Fe, Fenn
would scoop them up from the airport and host them in his
luxurious guest houses of the walled compound containing the gallery (with a sumptuous apartment above for Fenn
family), and a pond and garden filled with exotic flora and fauna.
The guest rooms would also be filled with art and artifacts-each with a price tag, of course.
High-profile guests enjoyed his
company and zest for storytelling, including Jackie Onassis
, who left a bottle of brandy on her
room's sink, which Fenn
has kept to this day.
sold the gallery in 1988 to Nedra Matteuci, but maintains his own extensive collection of Indian artifacts (and those from all over the world) in his home.
The idea began in 1996, when Fenn
was diagnosed with Â cancer.
bought an ornate bronze chest from the 12th century for $22,000 and began to slowly fill it with gold coins, nuggets, and a jar of gold dust panned in Alaska.
also added ancient Chinese jade carvings, pre-Columbian gold animal figures, a 17th century Spanish gold ring, and an exquisite bracelet of turquoise beads- excavated from a Mesa Verde ruin in 1903 and won by Fenn
in a game of pool.
The original plan was to carry the chest out into the mountains where someday an intrepid explorer would find the treasure, along with his
bones and a complete autobiography contained in a jar in the chest, chock full with type so small it would need to be read with a microscope.
The poem holds 9 clues as to the treasure's location- which remember, will be in a place that an old man could walk to.
's recovery threw a wrench in this plan, and upon his
remission the chest was set aside for yearsÂ as Fenn enjoyed his
retirement, flying in his
single-engine plane and excavating the San Lazaro pueblo.
In 2010, hisÂ 80th birthday sparked the idea anew, and he
carried the 42 pound chest into the mountains north of Santa Fe.
memoir, "The Thrill of the Chase", he
included a 24-line poem with hidden clues (in addition to the more subtle clues woven into the book) with a challenge to anyone who could find the treasure.
As of this moment, the treasure has yet to be found.
Yet, based on Fenn's philosophy, the real treasure is the thrill of the chase.
The quest for the gold has sparked interest in exploring the Rocky Mountains, and it has stirred people from apathetic stupor into focused excitement.Â Forrest Fenn
gets hundreds of emails, and among the many requests for more clues, he
has also often been thanked for the positive change this search has brought to their lives- families have been reunited, people have regained their zest for life, and some have brought healthy changes into their lives after hiking the mountains searching for treasure.
Fenn claims he
wanted to give people something positive to focus on during the recession- and instead of bequeathing money directly to one individual, he
has given countless people an even more valuable gift: opportunity, adventure, and hope.
was awarded True West Magazine's
"True Westerner Award" in 2014, for his
commitment to preserving the heritage of the American West.
Sangre de Christo Mountains
Forrest Fenn- Old Santa Fe Trading Co.