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There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills

Fenn's Treasure In The Treasure State?

by Sarah Cairoli  |  Friday Sep. 2nd, 2016

Five years ago, a retiree named Forrest Fenn hid a treasure chest containing $2 million in gold and jewels somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Since then, hordes of treasure hunters have set out to solve the mystery armed only with words on a page. Fenn wrote a poem that he claims reveals the location of the treasure. He has also written two memoirs that purportedly give insight into exactly who Fenn is and exactly where he might have hidden such immense riches.

In case you are itching to find millions hidden in the mountains, here is Fenn’s famous poem as it is published on his website oldsantafetradingco.com:

As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.

Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.

From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.

If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.

So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.

Some treasure hunters see references to southwest Montana and Yellowstone National Park all over this poem. Could Fenn’s treasure be buried in our backyards? The longer you look at the poem, the more tempting it becomes to try and make his words fit into our little slice of the Rockies. Surely, warm waters halt in Yellowstone as they move from the park’s bubbling hot springs to the cool, surrounding streams. Canyons abound in Yellowstone and its nearby forests. The phrase “home of Brown” might be most perplexing; does it refer to Brown trout as the other water references in the poem might suggest, or could it refer to vistas painted by Grafton Tyler Brown, one of the first African American painters to travel the West depicting its natural splendor? He spent quite a bit of time painting landscapes in Yellowstone, according to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Over the years, Fenn has doled out a few supplemental clues. For example, the 42 pound treasure chest is hidden at an elevation of over 5,000 feet, but it is hidden in a place that an 80-year old man could access easily. Fenn regularly insists that the treasure is not in a dangerous spot. The treasure is not in a graveyard and is not associated with any type of building. He has also eliminated the states of Idaho or Utah as possible hiding places.

This treasure hunt has led many into the outdoors in search of its bounty, and many people praise the adventure as a brilliant man’s efforts to encourage more people to embrace nature. Yet, Fenn has never shown anyone the treasure, not even his wife. There is no way to prove that the treasure exists because Fenn will not tell anyone where he has it hidden. No one claims to have found the treasure yet, so if it does exist, it is still out there somewhere, and some people are willing to take great risks to find it.

This July, Park County Search and Rescue was called to search for treasure hunter Madilina Taylor for the third time. Taylor has traveled multiple times from Virginia to search for Fenn’s treasure, but when she failed to return on time, Search and Rescue was called, according to the Powell Tribune. The search crew was familiar with Taylor because they had extracted her from the same area last summer after she broke her ankle while on the hunt. In 2013, Taylor and her boyfriend were rescued after spending four days lost in the backcountry and suffering from exposure. The couple had only intended to hike for the day and was unprepared to spend the night outside. They were lucky their treasure hunt didn’t end their lives.

In January 2016, a Colorado man ventured to New Mexico in search of the treasure. He and his dog Leo dropped a raft into the frigid waters of the Rio Grande with high hopes of returning as millionaires. Randy Bilyeu was never seen alive again. His boat and dog were found, but it wasn’t until July that his remains were recovered and the search ended. Fenn helped fund the search for Bilyeu, and has recently been adamantly reminding people that his treasure is not in a dangerous place.

If you are intrigued by the treasure hunt, be sure to enter the wilderness prepared and willing to follow the rules. Do not dig on private property without permission and remember: whoever owns the land the treasure is hidden on technically owns the treasure. Best not to hoot and holler too loud if you find it. Bringing metal detectors and digging equipment into Yellowstone National Park is absolutely forbidden. Chances are, if the treasure is hidden there, Fenn didn’t do any digging to hide it.

Fenn is surprisingly accessible and regularly communicates with treasure hunters who have questions; however, he hasn’t given out any new clues in quite some time. He has said that some people have come very close to finding it, but to his knowledge, no one has claimed the prize yet.

So, several questions remain, the most obvious of which is: Where is the treasure? A more perplexing question might be: Does the treasure even exist? The poem Fenn wrote is incredibly ambiguous, and his target area encompasses several thousand miles, so why do people continue to head into the wilderness thinking they can find this needle in a haystack? This last question has as many possible answers as there are treasure hunters. Are you intrigued? The next time you head into the local mountains, keep your eyes out for Fenn’s small, bronze box. Who knows? You might just stumble on a fortune.  

About the Author(s)

Sarah Cairoli

Sarah Cairoli is a local writer, tutor, and mother who has been enjoying all Bozeman has to offer for the past decade. She can be reached at scairoli30@hotmail.com(scairoli30 (at) hotmail [d0t] com,)

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