Forrest Fenn’s treasure could bring out the worst in people. Few know it better than the journalist and former outdoor podcast host Peter Frick-Wright, who first wrote about the late millionaire’s hidden chest, and the obsessives who were searching for it, to Outside magazine in 2015.
That lead story, “In Search of America’s Last Great Treasure,” wasn’t the first feature on the hunt, but it seemed to set off a ripple effect in reporting on the mystery, with extended deep dives of new york magazine, the new yorker, voxY cablingas well as a Cavalry Media podcast launched in June, X Marks the Spot: The Legend of Forrest Fenn. Considering all the ink spilled about the sometimes deadly hunt, one would be forgiven for wondering if there’s anything else to be said about the eccentric art collector’s decade-long game of cat and mouse.
But Frick-Wright’s New Original Apple Podcast lost fortune offers an intimate look at the persecution and its human toll that only years of dedication to a story can provide – the kind of single-minded concern possessed by Fenn’s strongest devotees. The nine episodes follow the main subject of the 2015 Frick-Wright story, former police officer and treasure hunter Darrell Seyler, who became homeless while trying to crack the code to Fenn’s hidden fortune. Frick-Wright spent eight years reporting on the treasure hunt, including conversations with Fenn himself, all culminating in lost fortunewhich has so far released five episodes since it premiered on August 15. (Outside is one of the producers of the series).
For the uninitiated: The search began in 2010 when Fenn, a wealthy art dealer in New Mexico, hid a chest full of gold and jewelry somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, with only a 24-line poem hinting at its whereabouts. In pursuit of these riches, the seekers depleted their life savings, ruined their marriages, and served time in prison. Five people’s missions ended in death. The treasure was finally found by Jack Stuef, then a 32-year-old medical student, on June 6, 2020. Fenn died two months later, on September 7, 2020, aged 90. Conspiracy theories continue to proliferate online about exactly what really happened with the chest’s discovery, and a lawsuit accusing Fenn of moving the treasure is underway. His plaintiff, Jamie McCracken, claims that he has evidence that Fenn was still alive after his death was announced.
You Don’t Have To Know Anything About This Scavenger Hunt Background To Listen lost fortune. The series lays it all out while illustrating how Fenn’s game became so much bigger than he was, and why so many people would risk everything they had just to solve a puzzle.
While the royal pile of gems was surely tempting, for many hunters, it wasn’t about the money; after all, Fenn had previously admitted that he didn’t know how much the treasure was worth, despite estimates of $1 million to $5 million floating around in news reports. What Frick-Wright discovered, through her hours of conversations with Seyler, was that search substituted for a set of intangible values: “belonging, purpose, achievement.”
“That’s water in the desert for Darrell – the pain and disappointment he brings are just drops in the ocean,” says Frick-Wright in the fourth episode. “So, there will simply be no resignations. Not really. For Darrell, the only way out of this hunt is through her.”
Of course, someone else found the treasure before Seyler, who at the time was “just another risk-tolerant treasure hunter, a face in the crowd,” as Frick-Wright describes him. Now, for Seyler and other former Fenn treasure hunters, the search is over, which is probably for the best.