Author reveals drama of Forrest Fenn treasure hunt

Daniel Barbarisi was in shock.

After spending 4 years looking for a treasure chest that had allegedly been hidden within the Rocky Mountains by an enigmatic antiques vendor, he was now about to carry the storied loot in his arms.

“I took it, my fingers curling around the base, my hands closing around the raised nine-hundred year-old designs carved into the chest’s side,” writes Barbarisi in his new ebook, “Chasing the Thrill: Obsession, Death and Glory in America’s Most Extraordinary Treasure Hunt” (Knopf).

Sitting in a lawyer’s workplace in Santa Fe, NM, he combed by way of gold cash, some of them courting again to the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires; hunks of gold; an intricate Mayan necklace; pre-Columbian nostril rings; Chinese carved jade faces; and extra “sumptuous jewelry.” It was all discovered in the summertime of 2020 by Jack Stuef, a medical scholar from Michigan who, fearing an onslaught of authorized and different threats, initially tried to stay nameless.

Dan Barbarisi
Dan Barbarisi
Zandy Mangold for NY Post

Much of the trove was nonetheless enclosed within the Ziploc luggage that Forrest Fenn had used to maintain the gadgets secure from the weather when he hid his treasure in 2010, the 12 months he was first identified with terminal most cancers. After beating the illness, Fenn famously challenged adventurers world wide to a modern-day seek for the property with clues embedded in a 24-line poem in his memoir, “The Thrill of the Chase.”

Some 350,000 would-be Indiana Jones varieties answered the call. Five misplaced their lives looking for the cache, together with Paris Wallace, a pastor who died in 2017 whereas attempting to cross a tributary of the Rio Grande. The river additionally proved deadly for Randy Bilyeu, a 54-year-old grandfather who set out aboard a raft together with his canine in January 2016; authorities found the raft and the canine, however didn’t find Bilyeau’s physique for six months.

Stuef, 32, first heard about Fenn’s treasure from a Twitter publish in early 2018. “I’ve probably thought about it for at least a couple of hours a day, everyday, since I learned about it,” he informed Barbarisi. “I think I got a little embarrassed by how obsessed I was with it.”

He revealed his search to nobody, fearing that he would look “like an idiot” if he didn’t discover the loot. “And maybe I didn’t want to admit to myself what a hold it had on me.”

Jack Stuef has announced he found the Forrest Fenn treasure.
Jack Stuef (left) introduced he discovered the Forrest Fenn treasure.
Jack Stuef/

Stuef grew up in Michigan with a ardour for journey. He was hooked on “Push Nevada,” a 2002 tv collection which allowed viewers to unravel a thriller for one million greenback prize. He attended Georgetown University and was concerned in a couple of lower-tier scandals whereas working as a journalist — resigning from the Wonkette Web website after making a tasteless joke about one of Sarah Palin’s kids and publicly apologizing for mischaracterizing a preferred cartoonist’s political leanings whereas employed by Stuef ended up enrolling in medical college however didn’t like learning medication, and informed Barbarisi he solely regarded ahead to fixing Fenn’s thriller.

He entered the treasure hunt a number of years after Fenn, an octogenarian former Vietnam War fighter pilot from Texas, was interviewed on nationwide tv about his distinctive problem. A frenzied hunt ensued as hundreds pored over Fenn’s writing and interviews for clues, and began blogs and YouTube channels to chronicle each second of their searches. (Among them was John Wayne Bobbitt, whose spouse Lorena had notoriously lower off his penis in 1993, alleging years of sexual abuse.)

Many hunters made the pilgrimage to Santa Fe, the place Fenn had owned an antiques retailer frequented by his well-known associates Ralph Lauren and Donald Rumsfeld. The state of New Mexico constructed its tourism marketing campaign across the treasure hunt.

Coins found in New Mexico
Jack Stuef initially tried to stay nameless after discovering the treasure.
Jack Stuef/

All had been satisfied they knew the place the treasure was hidden. “One thing that was always very surprising to me was the level of conviction people had in their solves,” stated Boston-based creator Barbarisi.

But it additionally obtained bizarre: Some ladies explorers alleged that Fenn had sought sexual favors in change for clues. And many seekers imbued Fenn with a cult-like standing, organizing annual “Fennboree” barbecues and establishing shrines that depicted him as a Captain America motion determine painted gold.

One Florida realtor informed The Post that he had spent 4 years looking for the treasure, and skim Fenn’s ebook 23 instances in search of clues. A therapeutic massage therapist spent 4 years establishing anagrams from the phrases of Fenn’s poem and shelled out greater than $10,000 on her travels to New Mexico, the place she believed the anagrams pointed.

On June 6, 2020, Fenn introduced that the treasure had been positioned — however refused to disclose any particulars concerning the location or the finder, who he solely described as a person from “back east.” He swore he would by no means once more converse of the journey.

Jack Steuf
Jack Steuf
Jack Stuef/

This lack of element infuriated many treasure hunters who questioned whether or not Fenn was even telling the reality. Some started to marvel if there had been a treasure in any respect. Many “immediately felt cheated,” writes Barbarisi.

Barbarisi’s looking accomplice, Jay “Beep” Raynor, who had accompanied him on searches within the Rockies, was amongst these let down by the tip of the story. “I think I went through minor stages of grief, where at first I was like, ‘Ah, nice for the finder,’ and then after a few days I kind of felt like there’s a little piece of my life that was missing,” he says within the ebook.

Fenn died of a coronary heart assault in September 2020, on the age of 90. Admitting he was the champion, Stuef printed the nameless essay “A Remembrance of Forrest Fenn” on In it, he refused to establish the place he had discovered the treasure; the one id clues he gave had been that he was a millennial and saddled with scholar debt.

Barbarisi reached out to the nameless author by way of the Web website, figuring it might go nowhere. Minutes later, he was stunned when Stuef replied — and revealed that he was about to be outed in a lawsuit introduced by one of the embittered Fenn treasure seekers. Apparently figuring he had nothing to lose anymore, Stuef agreed to talk to Barbarisi.

(The creator finally revealed Stuef’s id in a narrative he wrote for Outside journal in October.)

Stuef opened up about how he got here to find the prize. Unlike many searchers, who tried to learn between each line of Fenn’s poem, he centered on studying as a lot as attainable concerning the man himself.

“[He] came to the conclusion that the key to the hunt was in truly understanding Fenn, and his motivations for hiding the chest,” writes Barbarisi. “There was no need to use anagrams or break codes or find GPS coordinates hidden in the words, as so many searchers were trying to do. One needed only to understand what the poem’s author wanted to convey.”

In an interview, Fenn had stated that he’d hidden the products in a spot the place, after being identified with most cancers, he’d envisioned “lying down to die.” 

So Stuef used that as his guiding gentle, looking for clues to that place in Fenn’s interviews and memoir. It finally led him to Wyoming. He made three journeys earlier than he discovered the treasure, hidden in a nook — “a depression in uneven ground in the middle of a Wyoming forest.”

Forrest Fenn hid an estimated $2 million of gold jewelry and other artifacts for treasures hunters to find.
Forrest Fenn hid an estimated $2 million of gold jewellery and different artifacts for treasures hunters to seek out.
Forrest Fenn by way of AP

“It was very dirty, very dirty,” Stuef informed Barbarisi about his first glimpse of the field buried underneath pine needles and grime. “There were spiderwebs around the perimeter and inside, a bunch of coin-shaped objects that I could tell were gold colored….”

Shocked at what he had found, Stuef took pictures of the chest and emailed Fenn to ask his permission to maneuver the loot. “My immediate feeling at that point went from skepticism to paranoia,” stated Stuef, including that he knew the discover would not sit well with searchers who had spent years and, in some circumstances, lots of of hundreds of {dollars} of their hunt. (Stuef refuses to elaborate any extra on the precise location, fearing the realm could be swarmed with annoyed treasure seekers and Fenn followers.)

An emotional Fenn known as Stuef inside minutes of receiving his electronic mail.

Once he obtained the go-ahead from Fenn, Stuef positioned the dirt-caked 42-pound bronze chest in a blue Ikea bag and stuffed it in his backpack for the quick trek again to his automobile. Stuef, who had spent two years looking for the chest, stated he broke down from the emotional reduction. He took the chest again to his resort room the place he used all of the towels to fastidiously clear each merchandise earlier than his assembly with Fenn in Santa Fe.

As anticipated, the Fenn blogosphere erupted in rage and disbelief after the announcement.

"Chasing the Thrill" by Daniel Barbarisi
“Chasing the Thrill” by Daniel Barbarisi

“There were charges that he hadn’t really found it in Wyoming, but in another state, that [Stuef] was in cahoots with the family to deceive the searchers in some fashion; even that Stuef wasn’t somehow the real finder, or that he didn’t really have the treasure,” writes Barbarisi.

In order to show them flawed, Stuef agreed to point out Barbarisi the artifacts if he promised to not establish the legal professionals who’re preserving the treasure secure for him. Barbarisi additionally needed to promise he wouldn’t disclose the contents of Fenn’s autobiography — completely different from his memoir — which was encased in a glass vial within the chest.

And now that he has held the much-desired treasure in his personal arms, Barbarisi desires to guarantee his fellow seekers that the trove may be very a lot actual:

“Despite whatever else he’d done, Fenn had been telling the truth about this box and what was in it; that he had hidden it somewhere out there, and the finder really and truly had obtained it.”

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