Anyone who watched Colombo for more then two shows knows that the development of a profile of the perpetrator is the key to solving a mystery. This is a profile of the perpetrator of our little mystery, Forrest Fenn.
If you have read Mr. Fenn’s memoir, The Thrill of the Chase, you know that he is the former owner of a very successful art gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., as well as a writer of books, a philanthropist, an amateur archeologist of note and a collector of many things—gold, knives, books, art, bottle caps and bits of string. Mostly, though, he collects the artifacts of early North American Indians of the Plains and the Rockies. He is a fly-fisherman and a lover of all things mountains—specifically the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. He is a pilot, a veteran of two wars, a risk-taker and a decorated hero; a ruggedly built gentleman with a friendly face and an immense curiosity; he has the imagination of a five-year old steadied with the discipline of a warrior. Other than a few aging National Park retirees, he is one of the few people now living in New Mexico who actually know who Osborne Russell was.
I am pretty sure that no one has ever called Forrest Fenn dumb—except for Forrest Fenn himself, a couple of “old biddies” from his youth, his teenage chum, Donnie Joe, and maybe his Spanish teacher. To be sure, according to his own statements, he slept through classes, barely made it out of high school and, overcome by a fit of foolhardiness, is now offering up a million dollars for the taking. On the other hand, he also flew close to 300 combat missions in one of the most complicated fighting machines ever built and, for a time, held a nuclear weapon in his care. He made a fortune in a very competitive business where he had no formal education or prior experience and then published half a dozen books on the subject. A diagnosis of ADHD has got to be in his files somewhere.
Consequently, when Forrest Fenn makes light of his education and mental faculties, he is using his considerable native intelligence to lull you to sleep, to win you over and then give you a thorough trouncing. Despite his being tossed from his unregistered space at Texas A&M and being twice shot out of the SouthEast Asian sky, I am guessing that Forrest Fenn has seldom been defeated at something he really wanted to win.
Mr. Fenn has a crafty side to him. His admitted sales philosophy is that of a game that he is going to win, not by cheating but by setting you up. Some of his anecdotes in The Thrill of the Chase are examples of such behavior. He even offers a few surreptitious phrases in the very first chapters that explain exactly what he is up to: “I tend to use some words that aren’t in the dictionary, and others that are, I bend a little.” (p. 3), “Occasionally it’s wise for the fox to dress like the hound” (p. 7), “I never thought I had to believe every thing I said” (p. 14) and, later in a story called “Jump-starting the Learning Curve”, his father councils, “What we have learned is that you should always tell the truth, but you should not always tell ALL of the truth” (p. 26).
Thus, among the clues that he has given us, one must fully expect “clues” that are not what they seem at first reading. Perhaps the major clue in the entire book is one of these. On p. 131 he writes, ”I knew exactly where to hide the chest so it would be difficult to find but not impossible. It’s in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe.” Note the difference between that sentence and, “…a treasure chest he says he buried somewhere in the mountains north of Santa Fe.”
And therein lies the trap. All news articles I have seen on the subject of his treasure chest interpret their own rephrasing of his statement to mean, “… in the mountains of Northern New Mexico.” But that is not what Forrest Fenn said. His statement could mean that he has hidden his treasure chest in any of the mountains from Santa Fe north to, and through, Alaska. Likewise, he never says that he “buried” the treasure but only that he “hid” it. The Nation’s press from The Santa Fe New Mexican to The Huffington Post have conspired to lead us astray and I am convinced a chuckle can be heard every time Forrest Fenn reads such things.
However, despite this discovery after a “detailed analysis” of his profile, I am not sure if this bit of information helps a whole lot. Before, we had to look in what amounted to two National Forests, a couple of areas managed by the National Park Service and several square miles belonging to the Bureau of Land Management. Now we have over a hundred National Parks and Forests covering several million acres that we have to think about.
I figured this out just as I was closing in on a promising spot along the road between Canjelon and El Rito. And now I have to go to Alaska? Not bad, I say. It is something I have always wanted to do. I even have a nephew who has been a fishing guide up there for years—so long in fact, he’s not even afraid of grizzly bears—a real Joe Meek. Surely he knows where the home of Brown is.