Forrest Fenn: The Thrill of the Chase

There’s gold in them thar hills, or at least, so says Santa Fe art dealer, collector and raconteur turned author, Forrest Fenn. The octogenarian has hidden a treasure worth upwards of a million dollars, written about it in his book The Thrill of the Chase and there’s been a treasure hunting frenzy for months.

Forrest Fenn, treasure chest, Sant aFe, The Thrill of the Chase, Photo, courtesy of Forrest Fenn

Forrest Fenn’s treasure chest filled with gold and more. Who will find it? photo is of the back cover of The Thrill of the Chase

It took a while for the word to get out and the gold fever to brew, Fenn told us during an interview last spring. We sat in his book lined library on a chilly April afternoon and talked treasure. Every inch of the room not covered in books displays pieces from his extensive collection of Native American art and artifacts.

The Thrill of the Chase (a memoir) and the hidden booty came about after a 1988 cancer diagnosis. The doctor gave Fenn a 20% chance of living three years, “After a couple of weeks of soaking this in,” he said, I decided, “if I had to go, I was just going to take it with me.” He got an antique chest that he says cost $25,000 and filled it with gold coins, gold nuggets, rubies, emeralds, diamonds, sapphires, pre-Columbian gold objects, carved Chinese jade, and “all kinds of stuff”.  He said it took him about 12 to 15 years to amass the bounty in the treasure chest.” You can’t go out and buy hundreds and hundreds of gold nuggets,” he quipped. Total weight of the loaded treasure chest: 42 pounds.

Art and antiquities dearler (and authof of The Thrill of the Chase) Forrest Femm in his library photo Steve Collins

Forrest Fenn in his study, photo/Steve Collins

About three years ago he wrote The Thrill of the Chase about his early life in Texas, his time as a military pilot – he was shot down twice in Vietnam — and his subsequent move to Santa Fe where he became an art and antiques dealer. He published the book himself. For the first three years the $35 book quietly sold a few hundred copies.

Then fate took over. Early in 2013, journalist Margie Goldsmith wrote a piece  about The Thrill of the Chase for Hemisphere Magazine, the publication found in all the seat-backs on all United Airlines flights. Apparently a lot of people are flying the friendly skies and reading the magazine. His website got 79,000 hits two or three days after the magazines’ release. Then an enterprising TV producer discovered the story. Within a week Fenn was on all the network morning shows, starting with The Today Show. Journalists and filmmakers from all over the world came to Santa Fe to interview him. The story has hit Asia, Europe and Australia. He said he’s turned down reality shows and Inside Edition. “I’m afraid I’m overcooking the story,” he said.

ome of the Native American artifacts antiquities dealer Forrest Fenn has collected over the years photo Steve Collins

Weapons and regalia, photo Steve Collins

Over cooked or not, people are flocking to Santa Fe to look for Fenn’s treasure. But, is the treasure here? The only thing Fenn has revealed is, “The treasure chest is somewhere in the mountains north of Santa Fe”. The mountains he’s talking about are the Rocky Mountains and if you look at a map, you’ll see they go clear through Canada and into Alaska. That’s a lot of ground for would-be treasure hunters to cover. Fenn wrote a poem which he said contains nine clues. “If you can figure out the clues,” Fenn said, “you’ll find the treasure.”

Don’t ever play poker with Forrest Fenn; the man has a totally straight face and doesn’t give anything away. A conversation with him is a verbal duel and the best you’re going to get is a draw. When I used the word “buried” in a question the response was, “It may be buried, I’m not saying it isn’t buried. I’m just not giving that as a clue.” When I did an end-run around that, he smiled and said, “You’re coming up to speed fast here”. When asked how he got the treasure out to its resting place, he replied “Very carefully”. It wasn’t going to get any better than this. He enjoys being cagey and he’s good at it.

fireplace in author Forrest Fenn's library. He worte The Thrill of the Chase photo Steve Collins

Fireplace, photo Steve Collins

A few more questions he deflected:
BF: Is it in a place where if people find it they can easily take it away?
FF: I’m not going to answer that.

BF: Is it accurate to say a person wouldn’t have to break any laws to get the treasure?
FF: That’s a clue I don’t want to give.  If they don’t know the rules, tell them to stay home and play Canasta.

There was no point in asking any more questions about the treasure. He just wasn’t going to answer them. He did say why he wrote The Thrill of the Chase. One reason was to tell his story, but “one of my main reasons was to generate an atmosphere that would get kids off the couch and out of the game room and into the sunshine,” Fend told me, “The future of this country depends on our youth.”

More articifacts in Author Forest Fenn's library. He wroter The thri;; of the Chase, photo Steve Collins

More books and artifacts in Fenn’s den, photo/ Steve Collins

And youth and their families are getting out on this quest. Santa Fe hotel rooms saw a rise in occupancy over spring break and summer is busier than it’s been in years. Several hotels are even offering gold hunter packages. Tour guide friends are getting calls to lead folks to the treasure.

Is there a treasure or is this a publicity stunt and a way to fill his coffers? Fenn isn’t making money for this, though he’s getting a ton of publicity. He pays for all the publishing costs out of his pocket. Santa Fe’s independent bookseller, Collected Works Bookstore & Coffee House, owns exclusive rights to The Thrill of the Chase and all proceeds go to them with the exception of with10% that is going to help cancer patients who can’t afford care selected by local oncologists. Fenn isn’t getting a penny from the now escalated sales. When we spoke with him in April, he was publishing a second edition of 7,500 copies. It’s now in its third printing and selling well.

Hide painting in Author Forrest Fenn's library photo Steve Collins, photo Steve Collins

Hide painting, photo Steve Collins

If you go out looking for the treasure, Fenn cautions you to be safe and responsible; it can be dangerous out there, especially in winter. Don’t be a daredevil, he wasn’t. “I want all the people that are looking for the treasure chest to understand that they should not go looking anywhere where a 79 or 80 year old man could not carry a 42 pound box.” Caveat: this now 81 year old man rides a horse, was a pilot and just about anyone can drive an off road vehicle to a lot of places in the mountains north of Santa Fe. If the treasure is hidden in the Pecos Wilderness, treasure hunters will have to be patient. Due to forest fires in that area, it will be closed to the public for the next few years. But, take heart, there’s a lot of other areas to explore in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe.

Forrest Fenn, Artifacts from the San Lazaro pueblo, The Thrill of the Chase, photo Steve Collins

Artifacts from the San Lazaro Pueblo excavation, photo/Steve Collins

Fenn said earlier this summer that a few people had come within 500 feet of the treasure and had not found it. He didn’t say how he knew that. A few weeks ago, a guy named Frankie somehow got hold of our phone number thinking it was Forrest Fenn’s Old Santa Fe Trading Company. Frankie wanted to ask the author if the treasure had been found because, he knew where it was. He promised to call me when he found it. I’m still waiting for the phone to ring.

Have you been out to search for the treasure?

We went to visit with Fenn almost a year after our first interview. The treasure was still out there. Read our follow-up interview on The Thrill of the Chase.

This post was added to a blog round-up hosted by Travel Writer Rants and Raves. They asked for the Best Travel Ideas of 2013. We thought coming to Santa Fe to search for gold was a great one.

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12 Responses to “Forrest Fenn: The Thrill of the Chase”

  1. Leigh
    July 26, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    I love this story and there’s nothing like a search for treasure to get people off their couches. Interesting that some people have come close to the treasure. It makes me wonder if he’s got a hidden camera. I bet he’s having a blast with all the gold hunters. Good idea to get kids moving too. I’m all for that.

    • Billie Frank
      July 26, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

      I think he knows because everyone emails him. They hope he’ll answer their questions. I think he is having a blast- it’s a great payoff for a very generous gesture.

  2. Elizabeth
    December 6, 2013 at 12:03 pm #

    This was a good story indeed! I wonder what is going on now?

    • Billie Frank
      December 6, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

      As far as they know the gold is still out there- but someone could find it and not tell anyone, I checked with Collected Works today.

  3. Suzanne Fluhr (Boomeresque)
    December 6, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    Why didn’t we know about this when we visited Santa Fe in October — especially since we took the high road to Taos from there? Isn’t that in the mountains north of Santa Fe? Maybe we were standing right next to it—although something tells me it’s not hidden at a scenic overlook.

    • Billie Frank
      December 6, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

      You don’t read my blog religiously. We would have lent you the book. Next time. It’s anybody’s guess where it’s hidden. Everyone has a different theory.

  4. Gaelyn
    December 6, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    What a great story. I hope the gold never gets found so the story goes on forever. Smart man.

    • Billie Frank
      December 8, 2013 at 11:06 am #

      I agree. It’s been bringing a lot of tourists to the area. I’ve heard people say if they found it they wouldn’t tell- but…

  5. Irene S Levine
    December 9, 2013 at 7:00 am #

    Great story! Margie’s story shows how potent our articles can be!

    • Billie Frank
      December 9, 2013 at 11:23 am #

      I think the combination of original venue for her story and people’s get rich quick dreams it was a winning combination.

  6. Deborah Smithhart
    March 14, 2014 at 8:51 am #

    Hi,
    I was just wondering, isn’t there a female coauthor on The Thrill Of The Chase ???

    • Billie Frank
      August 4, 2014 at 8:04 am #

      Not that I’m aware of. It’s not listed in the book.

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