A few hundred emails, calls from a network television producer and a visit from a vacationing family. Just another day for Santa Fe adventurer and legend Forrest Fenn.
His attention Tuesday afternoon was occupied by a Clovis family who had sent him an email weeks earlier, saying they were bringing their four children on an outing and would love to meet him. Milissa Wieland said she felt compelled to thank Fenn because her daughters were engaged in the adventure of finding Fenn’s hidden treasure, using clues he included in his 2010 memoir, The Thrill of the Chase.
“We went online and ordered the book, and we took the girls out, and they were sure we were going to find some gold,” said Milissa Wieland’s husband, Brandon, a construction worker. He said they decided to focus on the Eagle Nest area and searched around Cimarron Canyon with the young children before driving to Santa Fe to meet Fenn.
In the meantime, they stayed overnight at a hotel, ate at the Olive Garden, went to some museums and visited the Plaza, where they were filmed for a Today show segment that will air Thursday morning. Fenn is also expected to be featured on the NBC network morning show — the second time this year. A correspondent from Houston and producer from Miami are expected at his home at 3 a.m. Thursday for a two-minute live segment, Fenn said.
A native of Texas and an Air Force veteran, Fenn is a former art and antiquities dealer who owned a Santa Fe business for 17 years and developed relationships around the world. His 42-pound hidden treasure chest was first revealed in The Thrill of the Chase. He claims the chest includes his favorite bracelet as well as a 2,000- year-old fetish necklace, gold, jewelry and artifacts. He has tossed out the value as $1 million, but that is just a guess, he says.
The Forest Fenn frenzy escalated earlier this year when he appeared on both Good Morning America and the Today show, and those segments sparked more interest in his memoir and the treasure hunt. Fenn says profits from the book are going to charity — so doubters can’t say he is profiting from a hoax. He turns 83 in August and expects to be finished with another book in late summer.
A poem in The Thrill of the Chase supposedly gives hints to the whereabouts of the chest. He has provided few other details, aside from saying the treasure is hidden in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe and above 5,000 feet. “My church is in the mountains and the river bottoms where dreams and fantasies alike go to play,” he writes in the preface to the memoir.
Recently, he told an interviewer that serious searchers should read the memoir, then the poem, and then read the book again to juxtaposition language and clues from each.
At a recent Santa Fe book signing, Fenn said two search parties had come within 500 feet of the chest. How does he know? “They all tell me exactly where they are,” trying to leverage more clues or location insight, he says.
Milissa Wieland said if they did find the trove, she would come right back in Santa Fe to give Fenn back his bracelet. Then the family would find a way to keep the mystery alive. “I think we’d put it right back in the box and hide it again,” said Brandon Wieland.
“It wasn’t about finding the treasure,” Milissa Wieland said. “We went to the mountains and explored a little bit. They love being outdoors, hunting and fishing.”
The three older Wieland girls — ages 6, 4, and 3, were wide-eyed and fascinated during the meeting with Fenn, while their 2-month-old baby sister slept. Fenn invited the family into his Hogwarts-like study, which is adorned with pottery, Indian and Western artifacts, knives, bows, photos, mementos and arrows, as well as thousands of books.
He showed the girls a row of bronze bells he had formed in wax and then cast at the Shidoni Foundry. The clappers are from a 17th-century Spanish galleon, he says, and his name is molded on the bottom of each bell. “I buried eight of these,” he told the girls. “A thousand years from now, when someone finds this, they’ll say, ‘this Forest Fenn guy, he was alright.’
“It pays to look ahead, girls,” he said.
He called the girls around a table and asked one of the sisters to open up a small, wooden box. It was filled with new U.S. dollar coins. He gave $1 to each girl and asked her to save it.
The former gallery owner, traveler and amateur archaeologist is meticulous with his collection — he has some 8,000 arrowheads, and everything is photographed and documented. He has even archived the 17,000 emails he received in connection with the treasure hunt, he said.
After 45 minutes in the study, where the family posed for pictures and explored, two of Fenn’s own granddaughters ran into the room, followed by his daughter, Zoe Old.
The granddaughters showed grandad their newest cheerleader moves. Fenn asked if the Wielands wanted to see the family’s 1-month-old pet lamb, Lambsey, and all paraded outside. After petting the animal, he guided the visitors to a nearby 1880s wagon, a relic from the Westward migration on the Santa Fe Trail, which likely came right past the front door of the Fenn home. They posed for photos.
Meantime, Peggy Fenn, his wife of 60 years, sat in the shade as the family’s six or so dogs wandered in and out. She said the adventures are likely to last well into Santa Fe’s summer tourism season.
And don’t bother asking her for any hints on the location of the treasure. “I don’t know,” she said, “I have no idea.”