When Forrest Fenn announced his famed treasure was claimed in June, he said he wouldn’t reveal the finder’s identity without his permission. After Fenn died in September it seemed like that day would never come. But, seven months later, the finder has finally come forward.
Here’s a brief timeline on how we got here:
June 6 – Fenn writes on his blog that the treasure has been found. He initially doesn’t release any details on the finder or location. “I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot,” Fenn writes.
June 16 – Fenn posts three photos of him with the treasure in what appears to be a lawyer’s office. Again, he doesn’t include any new information. “The finder wants me to remain silent and I always said the finder gets to make those two calls. Who and where,” Fenn writes.
July 22 – Fenn writes a blog post for the first time in over a month. He says he feels an obligation to the community to at minimum disclose which state the treasure was found. “Because I promised the finder I would not reveal who found it or where, I have remained mostly silent,” Fenn writes. “However, the finder understands how important closure is for many searchers, so today he agreed that we should reveal that the treasure was found in Wyoming.”
September 7 – Fenn’s family announces that Fenn has died of natural causes.
September 23 – Medium publishes a blog entitled “A Remembrance of Forrest Fenn” from an anonymous author that simply goes by The Finder. “I am the person who found Forrest’s famed treasure. The moment it happened was not the triumphant Hollywood ending some surely envisioned; it just felt like I had just survived something and was fortunate to come out on the other end,” The Finder writes.
The Finder says it took him 25 full days of scouring one specific area to locate the treasure. And although he solved the riddle in 2018, he wasn’t able to locate the actual chest until two years later.
“This treasure hunt was the most frustrating experience of my life. There were a few times when I, exhausted, covered in scratches and bites and sweat and pine pitch, and nearing the end of my day’s water supply, sat down on a downed tree and just cried alone in the woods in sheer frustration.”
December 7 – Outside Magazine publishes an article titled “The Man Who Found Forrest Fenn’s Treasure,” written by Daniel Barbarisi. Barbarisi reveals that The Finder is ready to lose his anonymity. “It took two months of correspondence before the man who found Forrest Fenn’s treasure told me his name,” Barbarisi writes. “And that’s when I learned that a 32-year-old Michigan native and medical student was the person who had finally solved Fenn’s poem. His name is Jack Stuef.”
Stuef had no intentions of ever revealing his identity, but lawsuits surrounding the find threatened his namelessness. The case that prompted him to come forward was brought by a Chicago real estate attorney who alleges Stuef hacked her texts and emails to steal her solve. Stuef says he’s never met her or heard of her, and that her claim the treasure was hidden in New Mexico is inaccurate.
“I thought that whoever found the chest would be absolutely hated, because it ends everyone’s dream,” Stuef told Outside Magazine. “That’s something of a burden. I realize I put an end to something that meant so much to so many people. I always thought that, based on people suing Forrest in the past, it was something that could happen.”
Stuef is originally from Michigan but attended college at Georgetown University, where he graduated in 2009. After school he began a career as a writer, working for publications like The Onion and Buzzfeed. He eventually left the media business and enrolled in medical school.
While many Fenn treasure enthusiasts had been chasing the chest since 2010, Stuef didn’t even learn of the hunt until 2018. But once he started to dig into the poem that contained the clues, he was hooked. Stuef recognized that it was consuming his life and didn’t think his family and friends would understand the pursuit.
“I think I got a little embarrassed by how obsessed I was with it,” Stuef told Outside. “If I didn’t find it, I would look kind of like an idiot. And maybe I didn’t want to admit to myself what a hold it had on me.”
Stuef says it was Fenn’s interviews that gave him the final pieces of the puzzle. And despite a lot of speculation, solving the riddle didn’t include the use of anagrams, kangaroo words, GPS coordinates, or sophisticated codes. It was media appearances that provided him with the last crucial details.
“Fenn never made more than a couple of subtle slip-ups in front of all the dogged reporters who came to his house, and even those apparently haven’t been caught by anyone besides me,” Stuef told Outside. “I don’t want to ruin this treasure hunt by saying it was made for an English major, but it’s based on a close read of a text. I mean, that’s what it is. It’s having the correct interpretation of a poem. I understood him by reading his words, and listening to him talk over and over and over and over again.”
But while we now know the treasure’s general location and finder, Stuef says he has no plans to divulge how he cracked the code or where the bounty was hidden. He fears that the spot will become a tourist destination and lose what made it so special to Fenn.
“I know there’s so many people who just want to know,” Stuef told Outside. “They worked on this for a long time. And they just want to be handed the answer. I totally understand that. But doing that, I think, is a death sentence to this place. It has huge meaning to Forrest, and I don’t want to see it destroyed.”
The treasure hasn’t made Stuef a rich man, yet. Although he plans to sell it, he doesn’t know when, where, or in what way it will be offered. He’s considered splitting it up or selling it whole, but ultimately wants the sale to honor Fenn’s last wish: make sure the chest ends up in a public place where searchers can view it.
For a box that Fenn worked so hard to hide and keep away from people, it’s about to be one of the most viewed modern artifacts in the world.
If you want more on Fenn’s life and treasure, listen to Episode 246 of The MeatEater Podcast where we sit down with journalist Ben Wallace.