Jun 24, 2015

Could the Cody/Yellowstone area hold the million-dollar Fenn treasure?

Sightseers, photographers, wildlife lovers and families on vacation all flock to the Cody/Yellowstone area each summer and so, perhaps, do treasure hunters.

When Sante Fe arts and antiques dealer Forrest Fenn announced in 2010 that he'd stashed a box with more than $1 million worth of treasure somewhere in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado or New Mexico, it inspired thousands of people to go looking for it. The local search for the Fenn treasure leapt into public view earlier this month, when a couple from Virginia wound up needing the aid of the Park County Search and Rescue Unit.

Many hunters believe the Fenn treasure is hidden in or near Yellowstone National Park.

The area north of the Wapiti Valley that Frank E. Rose Jr. and Madilina Taylor had been searching meets some of the broad clues that Fenn has given over the years: it’s in the Rocky Mountains, north of Sante Fe and between 5,000 and 10,200 feet above sea level. However, Fenn has also indicated that he hid the treasure in a fairly accessible area — one that he was able to reach at the age of 80, and while carrying the pounds of valuables.

He's said that part of his goal in starting the treasure hunt was to get more Americans out into the outdoors.

“It is unfortunate that some searchers go into the mountains unprepared for what they find,” Fenn said in an email, after reading of the recent rescue west of Cody.

The Fenn treasure has drawn a lot of media attention, including this piece from an Australian broadcaster.

Many of the clues come from a poem Fenn included in his 2010 memoir, “The Thrill of the Chase.”

Dal Neitzel, one of the most prominent and dedicated hunters of the treasure, can’t say whether Rose and Taylor picked a good place to search.

“I can say that I think there are a lot more places I would have personally looked before I tried that area,” he said in an email. “But everyone’s interpretation of the poem and its clues are different.”

Some question whether Fenn actually hid a physical treasure, but many others believe that it’s not only real, it's also near or within Yellowstone National Park. (Fenn frequently visited the park as a child, including camping at Fishing Bridge.) Neitzel actually spent some time searching the Yellowstone area (which included a visit to West Yellowstone, Montana) a couple weeks ago.

“Everyone’s interpretation of the poem and its clues are different,” said Neitzel, a seeker of the treasure.

There is irrefutable proof that Fenn has stashed some of his gold in the Cody area, but it’s not what you might think: the Buffalo Bill Center of West’s vaults hold 1.425 ounces of 1890s Klondike gold that Fenn — a past member of the board of trustees — gifted to the center. The gold nuggets, dust and the original moose-skin poke (or pouch) are currently stored in the center's vaults, but you can see them online and pictured below.

The Klondike gold dust hidden with the Fenn treasure came from this moose-skin poke, which Fenn later donated to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Photo courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming. Gift of Forrest Fenn. DRA.101.1

What makes the donated gold more intriguing is that Fenn has said one of the items with the treasure is a jar of gold dust mined during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush.

James St. John, a geologist and paleontologist, photographed the donated gold at the center in 2010 and wondered if it and the gold stashed with the treasure came from the same source. In a Friday email, Fenn confirmed that's the case.

“It is the same,” Fenn wrote. “All of it came out of the same poke.”

Marquerite House, a Buffalo Bill Center of the West spokeswoman, says interest surrounding the Fenn treasure seems to sort of ebb and flow. At one point, someone was convinced it lay beneath the iconic statute of Buffalo Bill Cody that lies between the center and West Park Hospital, House said. (For his part, Fenn has said the hiding spot is “not associated with any structure.”)

“Those (hunters) that look in an area for a few days buy food and stay in motels and visit antique shops and fly shops and get gas and rafting trips, so it seems likely that they are useful to the economy,” Neitzel said.

Another treasurer hunter became convinced that Fenn had stashed the valuables in the Meeteetse area.

“I just wanted to say I know your treasure is on the wood river by Brown Mountain south of Meetetsee (sic), Wy,” the individual wrote in an email to Fenn that was published by The New Mexican newspaper in May. “But as I am too broke to be able to go there, I just wanted to tell you. Thank you.”

Neitzel blogs about the the treasure hunt on his website and says he can get between 600 and 1,000 hits an hour from visitors around the world.

Fenn has estimated that upwards of 30,000 people flocked to New Mexico last year to look for the treasure, and Neitzel figures at least as many have been searching Wyoming.

“So two rescued out of 30,000 looking doesn’t seem so bad,” Neitzel said in an email, referring to the recently rescued Virginians. “And those that look in an area for a few days buy food and stay in motels and visit antique shops and fly shops and get gas and rafting trips, so it seems likely that they are useful to the economy.”

~By CJ Baker, cj@codynewscompany.com


  1. I think you my friend, have done some great home work with this story. The point taken to heart is the value to the people that share in the experience of the quest. Getting out into the world and enjoying life with a hint of riches new and old in the back of their minds, as they truly enjoy life as it was meant to be. The core of the purpose that was created by Forrest Fenn in ( " The Thrill of The Chase " ) I hope people will Listen and be safe out there. Forrest I believe, as stated above. Did in fact, Hide this Treasure for all to seek. Thank you again this was a great story and post. Jeff Burch @ Forrest Fenns world,... Have a great life people and share with the world your joy. JB

  2. A possible location of the treasure is at Fox Lake MT off the beaten path. It matches the poem.. Fox Lake is seasonal. The water level drops end of summer so the north lake is dried up and can easily bury something.

    The poem:
    Begin at Canyon Lake and take it down Farley Creek. (climb down)
    Put in below Fox Lake near left (nigh left of an animal)
    Don’t go up Russell Creek (your creek = Osborne Russell)

    In the wilderness, its wet (now) but not later, 500ft from the camp site. All lines up


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