Hunting for a mysterious chest of gold, rubies, and diamonds sounds like the plot from an old western. But the search for Santa Fe millionaire Forest Fenn's hidden treasure has turned plenty of modern lives upside down, none more so than a former Seattle cop named Darrell Selyer. But Darrell isn't the only treasure hunter, and Fenn's hidden cache is but one of many scattered across the globe.
The Other Treasures
The Beale Ciphers
A set of three ciphertexts, or coded documents, which provide information as to the whereabouts of a buried treasure supposedly worth about $63 million in precious metals and jewels. Thomas J. Beale wrote the ciphers, which detail the treasure he purportedly buried in Virginia in the 1820s. Beale gave a box with the ciphers to an innkeeper named Robert Morriss and then vanished. After the documents made their way into a pamphlet in the 1880s, scores of hunters have looked for the treasure, none successfully. Many believe it is a hoax.
The Lost 1715 Treasure Fleet
The treasure featured in the Matthew McConnaughey vehicle Fool’s Gold. Eleven of twelve ships in a Spanish treasure fleet returning to Spain from present day Florida sank in a hurricane, and with them, a trove of silver, gold, and gems. Some estimate the treasure’s value at over $100 million.
The Pearl Ship of Juan De Iturbe
Known as “the Lost Ship of the Desert.” According to legend, Spanish explorer Juan De Iturbe got his galleon stuck in tidal Lake Cahuilla, which is connected to the Gulf of California. The lake then dried up, and De Iturbe abandoned the galleon, which was laden with black pearls. Some say a mule driver took the pearls in 1774; others claim a farmer found a treasure chest in 1917. Some believe the treasure is still out there.
Victorio Peak Treasure
A trove of gold bullion worth $2 billion that foot doctor Doc Noss claimed to have found beneath a sombrero-shaped mountain in New Mexico in 1937. Some theorize the treasure came from Spanish missionaries. While attempting to remove the treasure with the help of an engineer, Noss used dynamite and collapsed a mine shaft, sealing the treasure deep in the mountain.
Little Big Horn Treasure
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold coins—back pay to Custer’s. It is believed that Sioux and Cheyenne forces took the gold and buried it in a secret location along the Little Big Horn River after killing Custer and his men. A Cheyenne chief named Two Moons is thought to have drawn a map to the treasure for a white trader.
The Other Seekers
The Wolf, 50
A former Canadian C-130 Search and Rescue pilot, “the Wolf” preferred not to be identified by his real name. He searches for the treasure in the Northern New Mexico and Western Colorado areas. He has three boys ages—15, 22, and 23—who have all gone out and helped him look. His book about the search, Finding Forrest Fenn, was self-published this summer. He says the profits will go to cancer research. To the Wolf, the clues are everything. “The search to me means living out a fantasy every boy grew up with—finding buried treasure,” he wrote. “The other meaningful part of the search is to match wits with the creator.”
Will Carter, 46
A self-described “country boy” who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Carter searches in order to defend Fenn from those who would defame him. When he was a little boy, Carter had his mother hide treasures and provide him with cryptic poems as clues. His fascination with treasure carried into adulthood; he discovered Fenn’s treasure on YouTube when reading about the Beale ciphers, a set of nearly 200-year-old texts that are said to lead to a massive treasure of gold and silver. Carter was irked that some people think Beale was a fraud—he doesn’t want Fenn to suffer the same fate. “His legacy needs protecting,” he wrote. “Someone has to find that treasure to keep the world from turning him into something he is not.” Carter has been searching in the West Yellowstone area.
Marti Kreis, 45
Blue Ridge, Georgia
Kreis goes by the name “Diggin’ Gypsy” on Dal Nietzel’s blog and says that she’s the one Fenn bet on to find the treasure. Unlike her other contemporaries, she says she’s experienced no setbacks or losses from her three-year search. “I don’t consider this a sacrifice,” she says. She buys old furniture and fixes it up for sale, and keeps adequate savings for her trips to Montana, where she and her sisters (including Melani Ivey) have searched more than 30 times. “It’s supposed to be about the fun of it all,” she says. “Getting out into nature and doing things you would never do. These are things we never would have done if Forrest hadn’t written that book.”
Frank Rose, 40, and Madilina Taylor, 41
Darrell Seyler isn’t the only one to encounter trouble. The Virginia couple needed a rescue this past June for the second time in two years, after Taylor broke her ankle in the Wyoming backcountry west of Cody. During the summer of 2013, they got lost for four days in the same area before getting rescued from a riverbank; they hadn’t brought food, water, or camping gear, and officials say a large grizzly was nearby. The couple will be responsible for the cost of the helicopter evacuation, and were warned not to trespass in the future.
Katya Luce, 59
Taos, New Mexico
Katya moved to Taos from Hawaii a year and a half ago specifically to find the treasure. She was too frustrated being that far away, and “[Taos] was a good base for scouting all of Northern New Mexico,” she said. Luce is a commercial hot air balloon pilot, a singer/songwriter, and once lived on a sailboat on Pier 39 in San Francisco. Her claim to fame in searching circles is having survived an encounter with a mountain lion. She had been searching near Cimarron, New Mexico, and went to check out the spillway when she heard a loud, mournful screaming. “I thought it sounds like a woman was hurt,” she said. Then a deer leapt in front of her, with a mountain lion roughly 30 feet behind it. “I froze dead in my tracks,” she said. She clutched her bear spray and chanted loudly until it left the area.