When a state Department of Game and Fish warden stopped a man from digging beneath a descanso along the upper Pecos River at the Terrero Campground last month, the digger said he was trying to find a treasure hidden by Santa Fe artifact collector Forrest Fenn.
Department spokesman Dan Williams said on March 21, the man used hand tools to dig 18 inches under about half of a 12-inch by 12-inch concrete base supporting an iron cross at the entrance to State Game Commission property just across the river from the Terrero store.
“He told our officer that he was looking for Forrest Fenn’s treasure,” Williams said.
Williams said the man, who wasn’t identified, will be charged under a state law making it a misdemeanor to “excavate, injure, destroy or remove any cultural resource or artifact” on State Game Commission land.
In Fenn’s 2011 biography, The Thrill of the Chase, he includes a 24-line poem that he says contains clues to where he hid an antique bronze lockbox with pieces of gold, a 17th-century Spanish emerald ring, a ruby-studded bracelet, diamonds and other booty worth $2 million.
“I knew exactly where to hide the chest so it would be difficult to find but not impossible,” Fenn wrote. “It’s in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe.”
On March 9, a woman from Texas was rescued in the backcountry of Bandelier National Monument after she had become lost searching for Fenn’s treasure. She told her rescuers she had been inspired to look for the treasure after seeing Fenn interviewed on NBC’s Today show.
Various people from around the country have called The New Mexican about Fenn’s claims over the last year. Collected Works, a local bookstore that is the only place where buyers can get Fenn’s book other than Amazon.com or from Fenn himself, reported a run on the book after Fenn’s national TV appearance.
Williams said if the man who dug under the descanso — “resting place” in Spanish, usually a homemade memorial placed where someone has died or where their ashes have been scattered — had found Fenn’s treasure, he could not have kept it because state law prevents taking artifacts from state land. He said the same rules would probably apply to most federal land.
“Our officer asked him to repair, to back fill where he was digging, which the guy apparently did, but it may not be to our satisfaction,” he said. “We may have to go in there to tamp it down better and fix it up so that it doesn’t get undermined by erosion.”
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.