River in a valley
Yellowstone National Park, where Forrest Fenn's treasure was found in 2020 (Photo: Rebecca L. Latson/Getty)

A New Podcast Shows the Dark Side of Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Hunt

In ‘Missed Fortune,’ a series inspired by a story he wrote for Outside, host Peter Frick-Wright shines a spotlight on the fanatics who chased an eccentric art collector’s hidden riches at all costs

River in a valley

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Forrest Fenn’s treasure could bring out the worst in people. Few know that better than journalist and former Outside Podcast host Peter Frick-Wright, who first wrote about the late millionaire’s hidden chest—and the obsessives who searched for it—for Outside magazine in 2015.

That feature story, “On the Hunt for America’s Last Great Treasure,” wasn’t the first article on the hunt, but it seemed to set off a domino effect of reporting on the mystery, with lengthy deep-dives from New York Magazine, The New Yorker, Vox, and Wired, as well as a Cavalry Media podcast released in June, X Marks The Spot: The Legend of Forrest Fenn. Considering all the ink spilled over the sometimes-deadly hunt, one would be forgiven for wondering if there’s anything more to say about the eccentric art collector’s decade-long cat-and-mouse game.

But Frick-Wright’s new Apple Original podcast Missed Fortune offers an intimate look at the chase and its human cost that only years of dedication to a story can provide—the sort of single-minded preoccupation that Fenn’s strongest devotees possess. The nine episodes follow the main subject of Frick-Wright’s 2015 story, ex-police officer and treasure hunter Darrell Seyler, who became homeless while attempting to crack the code to Fenn’s hidden fortune. Frick-Wright spent eight years reporting on the hunt for the treasure—including conversations with Fenn himself—all culminating in Missed Fortune, which 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 hunt began in 2010 when Fenn, a wealthy art dealer in New Mexico, hid a chest filled with gold and jewels somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, with only a 24-line poem hinting at its whereabouts. In pursuit of these riches, searchers depleted their life savings, tanked their marriages, and served prison time. Five people’s quests 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, at age 90. Conspiracy theories continue to proliferate online about just what really happened with the chest’s discovery, and a lawsuit accusing Fenn of moving the treasure is ongoing. Its plaintiff, Jamie McCracken, claims he has evidence that Fenn was still alive after his death was announced.

You don’t have to know any of this background on the treasure hunt to listen to Missed Fortune. The series lays it all out while illustrating how Fenn’s game became much bigger than him, and why so many people would risk everything they had just to solve a riddle.

While the actual pile of gems was surely enticing, for a lot of hunters, it wasn’t about the money—after all, Fenn had previously admitted not knowing how much the treasure was worth, despite estimates of $1 million to $5 million floating around in news reports. What Frick-Wright found, through his hours of conversations with Seyler, was that the hunt stood in for a set of intangible valuables—“belonging, purpose, accomplishment.”

“That stuff is water in the desert for Darrell—the pain and disappointment it brings, just drops in the ocean,” Frick-Wright says in the fourth episode. “So, there just won’t be any quitting. Not really. For Darrell, the only way out of this hunt is through it.”

Of course, someone else found the treasure before Seyler, who was by that time “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 hunt is over, which is probably for the best.