In 2010, art dealer Forrest Fenn revealed that he had buried a treasure somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. For years, hundreds of thousands of people obsessively searched for the mysterious bronze chest filled with valuable coins, jewelry and artifacts. The adventure finally ended with Jack Stuef, a 32-year-old medical student, who found the chest at an undisclosed location in June 2020. Fenn died three months later at age 90.
Now, pieces of Fenn’s legendary treasure are once again up for grabs—only this time, they’ll go to the highest bidder. Heritage Auctions is selling 476 items once hidden in the chest at an online auction that runs through December 12.
Fenn, a former Air Force pilot who grew up in Temple, Texas, decided to announce the treasure hunt after he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He wrote a cryptic, 24-line poem in his self-published 2010 memoir The Thrill of the Chase to offer clues about the chest’s location; occasionally, he also posted clues online. Fenn estimated that the treasure was worth around $2 million.
Searchers picked up the hunt with gusto—sometimes at great personal risk. At least five people died while searching for the treasure, and one man was sentenced to jail time after authorities caught him digging up graves in Yellowstone National Park. Other searchers spent their life savings or quit their jobs to find the chest.
Police asked Fenn to call off the hunt, citing the danger it posed to searchers, but he declined to do so.
“Life is too short to wear both a belt and suspenders,” Fenn told the New York Times’ Jonah Engel Bromwich in 2017 after a second person died in pursuit of the treasure. “If someone drowns in the swimming pool we shouldn’t drain the pool, we should teach people to swim.”
After Stuef found the chest—possibly in Yellowstone—Fenn wrote on his blog that 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 [ten] years ago.” While Stuef did not immediately identify himself as the treasure’s finder, he eventually revealed his name to Outside magazine’s Daniel Barbarisi.
According to a statement from Heritage Auctions, Fenn met Stuef on June 11, 2020 and confirmed that the treasure was authentic. Then, on September 19, 2022, Stuef sold the treasure to Tesouro Sagrado Holdings, LLC, which is now putting most of the items up for auction.
“After my identity was revealed almost two years ago, some fans of the treasure hunt reached out to tell me they hoped they could purchase an item from the treasure to commemorate their own adventures searching for it,” Stuef wrote in a recent blog post. “I’m happy that today those people finally have the opportunity to do so, with a large number of items from which to choose.”
With enough cash, treasure-hunters can now get their hands on hundreds of precious coins, a 549-gram Alaskan gold nugget, a pair of scissors, a gold pectoral and a frog pendant that dates to between 700 and 1000 C.E., among other items.
One of the objects up for auction is decidedly more personal: a small, wax-sealed glass jar that purportedly contains Fenn’s 20,000-word autobiography, written in teeny-tiny font. In The Thrill of the Chase, Fenn wrote that he included the document because “maybe the lucky finder would want to know a little about the foolish person who abandoned such an opulent cache … The printed text is so small that a magnifying glass is needed to read the words.”
Wherever the pieces of the treasure end up, the mystique surrounding them persists—which may have been exactly what Fenn wanted.
“Could Fenn have ever really imagined what he had set in motion that day he secreted away his chest?” wrote Barbarisi in his 2021 book Chasing the Thrill: Obsession, Death, and Glory in America's Most Extraordinary Treasure Hunt. “Had he understood all along it would make people think, believe, do? Had all of it been part of his grand plan? Or had he just liked to play games with the world, roll the dice and see what happened?”