(Story updated on 05/27/21 to correct juxtaposition of the names of Daniel Barbarisi and Jack Stuef.)
The Fenn Treasure is a gift that keeps on giving – at least for the curious, the frustrated non-finders and those who write about it. Hidden by the eccentric millionaire Forrest Fenn in 2010, it challenged many – and killed a few – before being found in 2020. Fenn died shortly after meeting the finder, whose name was also kept hidden until investigative journalist Daniel Barbarisi revealed – with permission – that the Fenn treasure’s finder’s finder was Jack Stuef. What was not revealed were the contents of the estimated $2 million treasure … until now. In his new book, “Chasing the Thrill: Obsession, Death, and Glory in America’s Most Extraordinary Treasure Hunt,” Daniel Barbarisi details meeting Stuef and his treasure in person. Write down your guesses and then read on.
“Hey, do you want to come see the treasure?”
An email from Jack Stuef a few months prior to the publication of Daniel Barbarisi’s article in Outside magazine outing Stuef as the Fenn treasure finder, set the big reveal in motion. Barbarisi flew to Santa Fe in October 2020.
“Nobody except for Fenn and the finder, however, had been able to really go through the chest, pull everything out, and document the contents—until now. The actual chest, I knew, was the bronze Romanesque lockbox, dating from roughly 1150, with carvings along its sides and top depicting the Castle of Love, a well-known Gothic art motif where maidens sit atop the castle, and knights at the base try to scale it and reach them.”
In an excerpt from the book published in “Outside,” Barbarisi first details what he already knew and what experts making educated guesses predicted was in the small chest. To see it in person in the presence of Stuef’s attorneys in their office, he agreed to pay their fees without identifying them and to not open a vial containing Fenn’s autobiography nor to reveal anything he could read through the glass. Barbarisi sat in the same chair Fenn sat in when Stuef brought it to him.
“Then, just like that, the conference-room door opened and a man walked in bearing a bronze box, ten by ten by five, worn and weathered and perfect. He hurried quickly over to my side of the table as I, in true surprise, stammered something out about not expecting it all to be quite so easy. He chuckled in reply as he walked up and casually handed me Forrest Fenn’s treasure chest.”
And that’s where the excerpt ends … the rest is in the book. However, Barbarisi listed what experts believed were in the chest — 265 gold coins of varying types, gold nuggets and dust, golden frogs, golden mirrors, gold nose rings, a gold necklace, an ancient Tairona/Sinu necklace, Chinese carved jade faces, a turquoise bracelet that Fenn had wanted to buy back, Fenn’s 20,000-word autobiography, and unknown numbers of emeralds, rubies and diamonds. Expert Matt DeMoss totaled the estimates and put a value in today’s market at between $555,487 and $1,327,450 – not including the bonus factor of this being the actual Fenn treasure.
Yes, your quest for the Fenn Treasure requires buying a book. Whether you do or not (it sounds like the best account of Fenn’s life and the life of his treasure yet), one thing is certain … you haven’t heard the end of Forrest Fenn and his treasure.