Author Daniel Barbarisi visits Fraud Busting. He spent 3 years searching for Forrest Fenn’s Treasure-worth $1m and only findable if you could decode a very cryptic poem written by the eccentric antique dealer. Hundreds of thousands of people searched over 10 years and in 2020 it was announced that the treasure was found. Was the ever really a treasure? Was there a legitimate finder? Was the whole thing a fraud? You’ve got to listen to find out. Here’s the poem.
Could you have found the treasure? As I have gone alone in there And with my treasures bold, I can keep my secret where, And hint of riches new and old. Begin it where warm waters halt And take it in the canyon down, Not far, but too far to walk. Put in below the home of Brown. From there it’s no place for the meek, The end is drawing ever nigh; There’ll be no paddle up your creek, Just heavy loads and water high. If you’ve been wise and found the blaze, Look quickly down, your quest to cease, But tarry scant with marvel gaze, Just take the chest and go in peace. So why is it that I must go And leave my trove for all to seek? The answer I already know I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak. So hear me all and listen good, Your effort will be worth the cold. If you are brave and in the wood I give you title to the gold.
Here’s the full transcript
Traci Brown: Daniel, thank you so much for coming on Fraud Busting! I have got to tell you, I shot out of bed this morning, I was so excited! I love talking to all my guests, but you are just one that I could not wait to get to chat with today, so thank you so much!
Daniel Barbarisi: Wow! I hope I can live up to that, but I’m happy to do my best. Thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate it.
Traci Brown: Yea. Let’s talk a little bit about you. And we are going to talk a little bit about me too. Because you wrote the book, and it’s called – give me the title.
Daniel Barbarisi: Chasing the Thrill: Obsession, Death, and Glory in America’s Most Extraordinary Treasure Hunt.
Traci Brown: Exactly. You’re a treasure hunter and went searching for Fenn’s Treasure. Now, a lot of people have searched for Fenn’s Treasure over the last – what is it? Ten years, 10 or 15 years?
Daniel Barbarisi: Yea, 10 years, yea, 2010 to 2020 effectively.
Traci Brown: Yea. For those who aren’t, I guess, indoctrinated into the crowd, there is an old guy down in Santa Fe, an art dealer, collector of a lot of, I guess, ancient trinkets and things, hid them all in a box, put them in the woods somewhere, and wrote this really cryptic poem about it, and it turned into this huge . . . hundreds of thousands of people have searched for this treasure. Now, I’m going to let you take it up from here. If you want to talk a little bit about the mystique and how you got involved in this, and we’ll go from there.
Daniel Barbarisi: Yea, sure. Yea, you basically captured it there. Forrest Fenn was this ex-fighter pilot turned arts dealer to the stars, a big name in Southwestern art out of Santa Fe. In the late 1980s he was diagnosed with cancer, and he decided that he didn’t want his story to end there on some levels, and he went with a plan to put some of his valuables, about $1 million worth, I think it is fair to say, in a treasure chest. He was going to go out there with it and actually take some pills and die next to this box out in the wilderness. Fortunately, he beat the cancer that he was not expected to survive in the late 1980s, but he did not let go of the plan. So for the next 20+ years, he kind of curated that treasure chest and worked on this poem that would lead people to it. In 2010 he finally went out and put this chest out in the wilderness somewhere, and he fortunately did not die next to it, but he came back and he published a memoir that contained the poem and had stories about his life that potentially contained clues in them. Then the treasure hunt began. He kind of just let it go. It started small, but around 2012 to 2013 it got some media coverage and started to really blow up. From there, it just was off to the races. So I came into that scene around 2017. I had never heard of it before. A friend of mine who had been my mentor in my last book, Dueling with Kings, which is about the world of draft kings and fan duel, daily fantasy sports, which exploded onto the scene in 2015. He clued me in that this thing existed, that there was this treasure of Forest Fenn. He decided he was going to go look for it and I should go look with him and I should write about it. All that sounded good to me, so I began a dual project of becoming a treasure hunter and also a journalist in it trying to live that experience so that I could explain what it was really like to the outside world. From about 2017 until 2020, that is what I did, just trying to live in that thing and experience it and get close to all the hunters and Forrest Fenn and understand the history of this thing and the history of treasure hunting and all that so that I could relate that story to the larger world.
Traci Brown: Oh, I love that. Okay. I have actually searched for Fenn’s treasure. I sent you a little video. The majority of the searching I did was for an Australian reality TV show.
Daniel Barbarisi: Right. Yes, yes.
Traci Brown: But I got to submit some questions to Fenn, and he actually answered some of them, like in a video. They had someone go in on the video. I know that you actually got to meet Fenn himself. When we talk about the world that this created, I mean there are some unique characters in that world. I think if they weren’t doing like Dungeons and Dragons in their mom’s basement, they were out searching for treasure. It’s an interesting crowd that way, at least . . . because several of them got in touch with me, because I’m a body language expert and that’s what I do is read the body language. What did you experience with . . . what was the vibe like in the crowd? I read your whole book over the weekend. There were festivals and conferences and you got to meet some of the top people. Let’s talk about that.
Daniel Barbarisi: Sure. Starting with meeting Fenn, I got to interview him numerous times. He was always . . . I think he didn’t hate the idea that someone was writing a book about his hunt, and so he welcomed me in. The first time was very funny because I had done this approach where I was going to go and try to talk to people close to him because if I don’t get Forrest into my book, I’m kind of SOL in terms of writing a good book about this thing. First, I tried to go to those more prominent hunters that you mentioned. There are what I would call “celebrity hunters” within this thing, people everybody knows and talks about.
Traci Brown: Yea.
Daniel Barbarisi: They have outsized profiles compared to a lot of the other hunters. I went and tried to talk to a lot of them first so that hopefully they would decide that I’m not an idiot and then word would get back to Fenn and he would want to talk to me. So, I talked to a bunch of them first, and then about a month and a half later, I went and finally tried to get in touch with Fenn, shot off that email, and was like, send button, okay. Then he actually got back to me fairly quickly and he said, “Yea, Danny, I’m familiar with your work from the Wall Street Journal. I’d love to come and talk to you.” I was like, there is almost no way he is familiar with my work in the Wall Street Journal. I did sports and sports business on the Wall Street. Unless he was really interested in the day-to-day events of the Yankees, I can’t imagine that was true. But at the same time, that speaks to a lot of what was Fenn’s thing. He was very good at making people feel special, connecting with them. He was a real salesman and a showman, and he was very, very good at making sure people felt like the two of them were bonded in some way. I think that was his way of doing that. When I got to his house, the Wall Street Journal was right there on the entry way side table, such that he could reference that. I have heard that he’s done that with other people and their publications. He knows what he’s doing. He has a whole routine in some ways. Look, there is nothing wrong with that, but he’s very practiced in a lot of these things. Every time I met him was very interesting. I got to do what a lot of people didn’t, which was that I – he did a lot of interviews, but he did not a lot of interviews with a person who came back on multiple occasions and then was able to go, okay, let’s talk about these last six months in the hunt, let’s talk about what happened here, what about this specific thing, you know. The first time I met him, it was very much let’s go over the basics. Let’s go over these things. It was almost like the exact paint-by-numbers formula of one of these larger magazine stories. And then, on subsequent visits I was able to delve deeper and deal with him in different ways, and that was when I felt like I was really starting to get somewhere on a lot of levels. But yea, beyond that, as you noted, there is a cast of characters in this thing that is really what makes it . . .
Traci Brown: Yea!
Daniel Barbarisi: People who seek out a treasure hunt are going to likely be interesting characters in their own right, and that certainly was the case here. I got to meet a lot of those people and try to understand what makes them tick and why this thing speaks to them and what the value is in it for them. My biggest takeaway, all of these people came from very different lives and very different walks of life. I think there were some numbers that we kind of teased out, and I think anecdotally they are true. This was predominantly male. It skewed older, 45+. Obviously, it wasn’t all that, but I would say that those two things were in an outsized quantity. But I did find in a lot of them was the idea that these were people who were looking for validation, who saw the hunt and the chance to find the treasure as a way to prove themselves and to perhaps achieve something that had been elusive in life, and to finally make that great claim and that score, not financially, although obviously that helps, but to show that they were and are special and that they could do this thing when no one else could. That was something that I felt like I encountered a lot within this, which is kind of an interesting quality and certainly nothing wrong with that, but that this thing was going to be the way that they showed the world what they were truly made of.
Traci Brown: Now here’s what so interesting to me about these treasure hunters. There are forums online. There were YouTube shows, like weekly YouTube shows. I was on one of those. They called me. There are all these people together, yet nobody really wants to reveal anything, and I just thought that was fascinating in the way that they all tried to dissect these little codes that Fenn spoke in.
Daniel Barbarisi: Yea.
Traci Brown: It just kind of blew my mind, like the numbers of people, and I’m sure they’re coming out of the woodwork for you as well.
Daniel Barbarisi: Rainbox is a very cool place.
Traci Brown: With what little involvement I had, how many. . . I had people call me and tell me that they found it.
Daniel Barbarisi: Oh yea, all the time.
Traci Brown: So it happens to you too?
Daniel Barbarisi: I’m the true finder. I’ve got it, duh, duh, duh. This other thing is all BS. I can prove it. Oh, really? Okay. Everyday. All the time.
Traci Brown: Oh wow. Okay. Alright. I don’t feel that unique then. (Laughing).
Daniel Barbarisi: (Laughing).
Traci Brown: Now, the story gets really interesting because, and I know you can add to this, someone in 2020, I think it was spring, I believe.
Daniel Barbarisi: June actually, almost to the day last year.
Traci Brown: A year ago.
Daniel Barbarisi: Last year. June 6, 2020 was the announcement.
Traci Brown: So someone finds it, or at least it’s announced that it’s found. Okay. But, there were some other circumstances on that day that lend a little suspicion to things that you wrote about in your book. You want to talk about that?
Daniel Barbarisi: Yea. Sure. Yea. The big thing was that on June 6, 2020, Forrest Venn announced that his treasure had been found. As you can imagine, that set the community going agog. He didn’t give a lot of information initially. He didn’t tell much. He said that the treasure had been found. I think in an interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican, he said it had been found by a man from back East. He wasn’t going to reveal the location or the name of the person that found it, but it was somebody he didn’t know and more information would be forthcoming, but the treasure hunt is over basically. For a little while, that was all that anybody got. In any kind of a vacuum, people are going to try to fill that with whatever they can. When there is not sufficient information, that just leads to other things coming in. For a while, there was not sufficient information. At first, it took about 10 days even for Fenn to post pictures of the treasure chest being found to essentially prove that it was no longer out in the wilderness. I think that finally set to rest many of the . . . he never even buried it or ever even hid it, pardon me, not buried, but never even hid the treasure chest, kind of, stuff that had been going on for a long time. There was a lot of that that happened even in the 10 days after it was announced. People would say, look, this thing wasn’t even really out there. He’s just ending his giant fraud, blah, blah, blah. There was a fair amount of that. But then, finally he produced some pictures, and he shows himself in an office with the chest and then also, I believe, a picture of the chest out in the wilderness, you know, opened up, taken by the guy who found it. That was enough to at least prove some parts of it, but then people wanted more. They didn’t feel like that this was sufficient. They felt like they had done this thing for a long time and they wanted more than that. There were a lot of questions and a lot of unhappiness and a lot of anger, and Fenn, for the most part, wasn’t going to get in on any of it. He just wasn’t giving any more information. In mid-July, maybe it was late July, he announced that it had been found in Wyoming. It was an attempt to give some people some closure, but honestly that didn’t really work either.
Traci Brown: No. I was upset.
Daniel Barbarisi: Yea.
Traci Brown: I was.
Daniel Barbarisi: People who thought it was in Wyoming, they were like, oh, then I was really close! People who didn’t think it was in Wyoming, some of them said, oh, well, I wasn’t close. Then some of them said, well, that doesn’t matter. It’s not true anyway. It was really in Colorado. Oh, okay. Fine. You found that wasn’t as effective as I think Fenn thought it was going to be. The problem was people didn’t feel like they had enough information. They didn’t know if this finder was real. They didn’t know what was really going on, where the treasure was, really anything, and then Fenn didn’t want to seem to produce anything more. That created a lot of conspiracy theory.
One of the theories that was posited to me . . . there were a lot of things flying around, but one that was one of the better ones, or at least had new information to it, was that on the day that the find was announced there was an incident at Fenn’s house, and this was told to me by Cynthia Meachum, who is one of those aforementioned big name hunters who was very close to Fenn and had a lot of information other people didn’t have. She wanted to tell me, on the record, that on that day there was a guy who went to Fenn’s house and the Fenn family found he and this searcher there without masks, that there was a big blowup about that, and obviously without masks – it was the middle of the pandemic, you know.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea.
Daniel Barbarisi: Fenn was right on the verge of his 90th birthday at the time, so they wanted to protect him in so many ways. That caused a real dustup and Cynthia’s hypothesis was that led the family to essentially insist that Fenn call it off that day. That was at least new information, sourced information effectively, that everyone else didn’t know at the time. It certainly led me to wonder. Okay, I don’t know what’s going on here. That certainly sounded plausible. It is a thing that could have happened. The treasure hunt has caused him and his family a lot of problems over the years and has not been the easiest thing. That was not something that was necessarily going to . . . if Fenn died with the treasure still being out there, then that burden would largely transfer on his family for all time, and that’s a tough thing to deal with. That’s not fun for anybody in terms of being in that position. It certainly seemed plausible, and so I was willing to entertain that as a concept for a while. But then new information surfaced and your responsibility in that case is to say, oh, it doesn’t matter what we thought was plausible. We have new information now. We need to go look at the facts on the ground at this point. After new information developed, I immediately moved off that as a viable concept.
Traci Brown: Really? So you don’t even think it’s viable?
Daniel Barbarisi: Yea. That’s not what I think happened at all.
Traci Brown: Okay, okay.
Daniel Barbarisi: Once the finder revealed himself, I don’t think there is anything to that in the least.
Traci Brown: Okay. So, let’s talk about how the finder revealed himself, how you, out of everyone on the planet who wanted to talk to this guy, you were the one who’s done it. Let’s talk about that.
Daniel Barbarisi: Right. The next major thing that happened in this was that Forest Fenn died in early September of 2020. Unfortunately for me, when I was making plans to come and talk to him about all this, Fenn passed away. Unfortunately for everybody. Obviously, nobody wanted him to die. But at that point it seemed like, okay, we may not have any more information about this ever. Like, who knows what is going to come of this now? That was tough. That was tough to deal with on a lot of levels and for a lot of people. At that point, just kind of getting used to that, and then two weeks later, a post service on the anonymous publishing website, Medium, where you can publish anonymously, and it’s very good for that, someone was identifying themselves as the finder. He wrote this very long, a 3,000-word essay where he described a lot about finding the treasure and then an ode to Forrest Fenn, who he called his friend, and really delved into a lot of stuff that we had not seen before. He had also new pictures showing that this guy was legitimate. There was real stuff here. We should pay attention to this first. A lot of people said this is fraudulent in some way. This is false in some way, but I did not think that for a second. I thought this guy, whoever he was, when he was writing to me and a lot of things he said about Fenn added up to things I had felt from dealing with him. This person had clearly been a hunter. He understood the emotions of it too well. Everything he said rang really true to me. I wanted to get in touch with whoever this person was. But part of the key about Medium and why it is a good public platform for anonymous people is it doesn’t let you get in touch with the author of an anonymous post. You cannot do it. There is no like write the author.
Traci Brown: Right.
Daniel Barbarisi: You can put your information in the comments section. A lot of people did that. But if you knew that, you are opening yourself up to anybody. There is nothing that guarantees what whoever writes you is the person who wrote the post. There is nothing. You just put yourself out there. There is nothing for you, in my mind. I figured out there is a way to send a direct message, a very brief one, to the author of a Medium post, which is you find a typo in the post and it gives you a little bit of space to explain what the typo is. So, I flagged a sentence towards the end, or maybe it was a paragraph, and instead of saying, you have a typo – obviously there wasn’t a typo – “This is me, writing a book, email me here”, basically and was hoping he had heard of me and he knew what I was doing, because that time I had been in this hunt for three years. I certainly made no secret of what I was doing. I didn’t mean he had heard of me, but it wasn’t hard to figure out or know about me at that point. Like a day later I got an email back from a guy, a treasure hunting related email address saying “I got your message through the post. I might be willing to talk to you. Let’s discuss this.” So, that set off essentially a couple months of back and forth email conversation where I didn’t know who he was, just knew him as the finder, and we ended up talking about a lot of different things. But effectively, me trying to convince him that he should let me interview him and I should be able to talk to him.
Traci Brown: Yea!
Daniel Barbarisi: And so, I was very much in sell mode and trying to convince this person, who I knew nothing about, I had no biographical details, no frame of reference on him.
Traci Brown: Not even a name.
Daniel Barbarisi: No, especially not a name, but also just nothing, no information about the person, nothing at all. He could have been anything. That’s not true. In his post he said he was a Millennial.
Traci Brown: Oh, okay.
Daniel Barbarisi: And so, I knew roughly an age range. I knew I wasn’t dealing with a 65-year-old then. So I had Millennial male, pretty much, who had student loans, and that’s pretty much all I knew about him with the exception of a few things that trickled out over the course of our conversations. I basically just tried to convince him that he should talk to me. Eventually . . . so there were some lawsuits that were targeted against Fenn, and by extension against the finder of his treasure.
Traci Brown: Yea!
Daniel Barbarisi: By people who were unhappy. Yea. There have always been a couple of these things by people who said they deserved the treasure or that Fenn had promised it to them somehow. One woman put out one that said the finder had hacked her email and found her solve and then gone and used it to find the treasure, and she was the true finder.
Traci Brown: From what your book said, all those people filing the lawsuits were lawyers, so no one has gone to a lawyer to do this. That’s what I got out of that.
Daniel Barbarisi: Yea. I think that’s . . . yes, they had the ability to do it, without having to pay someone to do it, so you know, make of that what you will. Anyway, so one of the lawsuits had at least gone far enough where the finder thought that it is possible his name might come out in court, so he let me know that and he said, “Hey, this I who I am” basically, and I was like, oh, okay. Once he had told me who he was, I was like, if you think this is going to come out anyway, do you might if I told the world about it instead, instead of just coming out in a court document? I could write a story about it in a fairly major publication.
Traci Brown: Yea.
Daniel Barbarisi: And he said, “Okay, sure.” Then he let me interview him over the course of like three or four hours one day over Zoom.
Traci Brown: Oh wow.
Daniel Barbarisi: On this very computer. We were able to talk, and that was the first time, as far as I know, that he was interviewed by anybody. We talked about everything – not everything, but a lot of things. I felt like I got the chance to get to know him to some extent. Then I published essentially the results of that in an article in Outside magazine.
Traci Brown: Outside, yea.
Daniel Barbarisi: On December 7th, which let the world know who this guy was, that he was Jack Stuef, a 32-year-old, at the time, medical student out of Michigan, or raised in Michigan. You know, from that point, there was a finder in the world and people had to then come to terms with that piece of new information, even though I had felt pretty confident about that for several months now, I think until there was a name out there, the rest of the world wasn’t really going to accept that.
Traci Brown: Let’s talk about that just for a second.
Daniel Barbarisi: Yea.
Traci Brown: Because I’m a body language, deception detection expert . . .
Daniel Barbarisi: Okay. What am I doing wrong right now?
Traci Brown: Everything! No. I’m just kidding. You’re doing great. But I’m watching you, so be careful.
Daniel Barbarisi: Okay. I know! I know!
Traci Brown: Because I’ve read the essay, I’m just curious. What did you get with talking to this guy that would lead you to believe that he was telling the truth? Is it like a gut feel thing or was there one thing that happened that you went, hmm, there’s something there? It could be one line or something that he did.
Daniel Barbarisi: There are a number of various things. There were a lot of things. We talked for almost four hours. I’ve been interviewing people for 20 years. I’m not a body language expert, but I’ve done a lot of things with a lot of people, many of whom wanted to lie to me for various reasons. He had a level of detail to everything he was saying that was very authentic in my mind. He was either part of a very, very, very, very self-involved deception, or he was telling me what he knew, and I could ask a million questions. He was also very good about not telling me what he didn’t want to. He drew walls around certain things in certain areas that made sense and didn’t in other areas. We would talk about all kinds of things. There were a lot of reasons that I felt like he was authentic. Probably the biggest reason is in the book itself, and I’m not sure if you want to give that one away. It’s what he allowed me to do related to the treasure.
Traci Brown: We have to talk about that! We have to!
Daniel Barbarisi: Have to is not exactly necessarily . . . have to is relative.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Daniel Barbarisi: But . . .
Traci Brown: My heart will be broken if we don’t talk about it.
Daniel Barbarisi: Alright, alright, alright. We can. It’s fine. The book’s been out for three weeks or whatever. We can talk about it. Yea. I came into that conversation having already seen the treasure and have had the person who I corresponded with allow me to do that via their lawyer. I had a pretty big flag of authenticity waving to begin with.
Traci Brown: Unless, okay, unless he’s a designated finder, right, which is one – I know you don’t believe – that’s what your eye roll there meant. Right.
Daniel Barbarisi: Yes. You can read that body language pretty well.
Traci Brown: Yea. So, what do you think about that theory? Obviously, you don’t think much of it.
Daniel Barbarisi: No. I don’t.
Traci Brown: Like, it’s plausible, isn’t it?
Daniel Barbarisi: There are a lot of things that are plausible. Believe me, I have been asked about all of them, and they are all in my inbox. There are a lot of things that are plausible in this. Plausible doesn’t mean probable. People seek to . . . because they can’t know everything, and honestly, in this case, even if they did, there is a lot of investment in people who don’t want this thing to be over or don’t it to have ended the way it said it ended. Look, is it theoretically possible that one of these various conspiracy theories – there are 15 of them that are out there, whatever – that one of the various ones is right? Yea, I guess it is theoretically possible, but I don’t have any reason to think that. I had the benefit of doing a number of things that nobody else did, primary of which was seeing the treasure, but in some ways, that is not even primary. Maybe primary is being able to talk to this guy and ask him whatever and have him just respond in real time. You get a lot of your questions answered that way. Look, there were things that he would discuss off the record that are not in the book. There are things that he would discuss that just didn’t make the cut because of space reasons, and a lot of those things are things that in the aggregate made me feel pretty good that this is not some grand conspiracy. This is guy who looked fo this treasure over a long period of time and really worked at it and eventually he got it. I just don’t have any reason to doubt that. Just because something also makes sense doesn’t mean it’s true.
Traci Brown: Oh, yea.
Daniel Barbarisi: That’s not as fun for people a lot of the time. It doesn’t give you the same level of investment in the story, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Traci Brown: Right. Okay. For people listening, here is why you’ve got to get the book, because you get to find out how you ended up and how much of the treasure you got to see and . . .
Daniel Barbarisi: All of it, as far as I know.
Traci Brown: I was trying to leave a little room for people to buy the book.
Daniel Barbarisi: No, it’s alright. We are doing. We can do it. As part of my discussions with him, the finder was nice enough to let me fly out to Santa Fe and actually see the treasure, which you know makes me, certainly at the time, one of a very, very small handful of people who were able to do that. I was able to go and go to his lawyer’s office and go in there and basically play around with the treasure chest.
Traci Brown: Now see, I wanted the finder, Jack, to be there. I was like, where is freaking Jack?
Daniel Barbarisi: He doesn’t live in Santa Fe.
Traci Brown: I don’t care where he lives. I wanted you to meet him!
Daniel Barbarisi: I mean, look, I would like to. I have never met him in person. I’ve talked to him many times in various formats, but I have never met him. I’d like to meet him too. Who knows? Maybe someday we will. But pandemic conditions did not make that easy. This was a trip that came together very fast. He said, “Hey, do you want to see this thing?” I was like, “Yes! I want to do that at the earliest opportunity.” And so I did. Don’t forget, I was on book deadline too, so the earlier I could actually see this thing was better for my purposes because that allowed me to go do that and then immediately turn around and write the thing.
Traci Brown: Now, didn’t you finish the book? Because I heard you on the Outside podcast.
Daniel Barbarisi: Oh yea.
Traci Brown: Didn’t you finish the book, and then all of a sudden, the treasure got found, and you had to go back and redo it?
Daniel Barbarisi: Yes. The last, essentially, three chapters of the book as it exists in actual real book form, are nothing like the original manuscript draft chapters I had that I turned in to my editor either at the very end of May or like the first day of June. I don’t remember which it was, but that was essentially my deadline for turning in the book, version 1.0. It was always scheduled for publication around this time this year. I don’t how much you know about book publication stuff, there is an incredible lead time to it.
Traci Brown: Oh yea. It’s like a year to a year and a half sometimes.
Daniel Barbarisi: Yea, right. Exactly. They want to have huge amounts of time when you actually turn these things in and so that’s what I did. I think, okay, no one’s going to find this treasure anytime in the lifetime of the book. I had some kind of, what I would call, frankly, subpar naval gazing ending chapters. They were fine. They did the job. They got you out of the book, but I don’t think it was anything that was very good. It’s funny, then when the treasure was actually found, like a week later, my first thought was like, argh! No! Like the world has just ended! I’m so screwed! I have to now rip up like half the book and account for it. What the hell am I going to do? But it actually ended up, because of the things we just talked about, being an incredible boon for me because I was able to get this crazy story of who the finder was and document all that stuff and have things that nobody else had and really, in ways I never expected to, insert myself into the story and become a part of it in a way that I certainly did not think was going to happen.
Traci Brown: Oh, it’s divinely . . .
Daniel Barbarisi: It is kind of crazy, honestly.
Traci Brown: God, like for sure.
Daniel Barbarisi: It was pretty nuts. I was very lucky. But at the time I was like, oh no! Like, I’m so screwed. Until September, I was just like behind the eight ball, just trying to figure out, okay, what’s happening now with this? What’s happening now? Oh, great, now Forrest Fenn just died. Like, I have nothing. All that stuff came together pretty fast in the September through December period. I was just rushing to the finish because December is not even six months before the book was due to come out. They did not like that I didn’t have an ending in that timeframe, and they were very good in trusting me that I was getting good stuff. I promise you, I’m getting this done! I’m sorry. It’s all happening in real time! It’s all happening like right now! I very much had to race against time for all those purposes. That’s why I was like, look, I’ll get to Santa Fe. If you will let me see this thing, I’ll get there basically tomorrow effectively. It took me a few days more than that, but I got out there as fast as I could and I got back and got writing as fast as I could, a nice little quarantine hotel, and whatever work I could on the backend. Yea, I was able to see and go through and document what was in that treasure chest.
Traci Brown: What’s it really like when someone brings this thing in? Because it looked like kind of a little cement box. You can look it up online.
Daniel Barbarisi: Bronze, not cement, bronze.
Traci Brown: Okay. Okay. Bronze. But it’s been out in the woods for 10 years. You know it’s worth, just a fortune. So you’re in this lawyer’s office like, and they bring this thing in and set it down in front of you. What could be going through your mind? Were you shaking or like was it like this big victory moment?
Daniel Barbarisi: I don’t know if I was shaking. It was very sudden, certainly. First, you go in there and you’re like, how am I going to do this? I was like, I should get gloves. On the way down there, I actually stopped at a supermarket on [00:31:40] Seriosavy?, I believe, in Santa Fe, a big main thoroughfare. I was like, I need gloves! So I rush into this, I don’t even remember the name of the supermarket, but you know, a standard supermarket place and buy a pair of gloves as soon as I can find them, rush in there and rush back to the car, and I’m like, now I’m going to be late, but I have gloves, and they’ll probably want that. Of course, I come into the office and there’s like a thing of plastic gloves right on the table there. I was like, alright, fine, well, whatever. I made the effort. This in theory like a valuable sacred-ish thing. I shouldn’t treat it lightly. I go in there. I was definitely . . . I wouldn’t say I was nervous because that’s not really right. It was more, ooh, this is a big moment. The guy just brings it in. He’s like, “Here you go.” I was like, oh, okay. It was heavy. It was legitimately heavy, so trying to place it down on this glass-covered table, and at that point, it’s like, okay, I’ll just open this treasure chest that is just here that I’ve spent the last essentially three and a half years thinking about and obsessing over in various ways, this thing that has been the core of this experience for so long. Like, just picked it up and opened the box, and there’s a treasure there and there is all this stuff. The chest is not – this is in the book – it’s not that big. I mean, it some senses, it is both overwhelming and underwhelming in that it’s not very big. At the same time, it’s this treasure that you’ve though so much about and you can finally see these items.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea.
Daniel Barbarisi: Take out these gold nuggets. It’s just such a cool experience to get to do that. I found myself, in one sense, slightly out of control, in the way that I was like taking things out of the chest. I think in the book I gave it kind of the Christmas morning description, but the idea is you are ripping these things open because you want to see what you get. I was taking all the things out and I didn’t want to get to the bottom because when you do that means there is nothing else in there.
Traci Brown: Right, right. Yea.
Daniel Barbarisi: It was almost like a voracious hunger to get through to what’s the next thing. Here’s this and here’s that. Here’s this, and what’s this? Woah! What’s that?! You get to the bottom and there’s a little bit of disappointment there because there is just the bottom of this chest and it’s empty. You’ve seen what there is to see in it, and there’s not – I don’t know – some magical . . . you know, the Holy Grail wasn’t in there or whatever. Whatever it was going to be, there was what he said there was. There was Forrest Fenn’s treasure, and that is amazing, but also when you have done that, I think, at least for me, there couldn’t help but be a slight feeling of like, oh, I got to the end of it.
Traci Brown: Uh-huh.
Daniel Barbarisi: Yea. At that point though, I shifted very quickly into reporter mode and started to try to document what was in the chest because nobody else had had this opportunity, certainly nobody else in my position.
Traci Brown: Yea, year.
Daniel Barbarisi: I felt like I had a responsibility to try to catalog what it all was. I started just taking pictures of all the stuff and then trying to write down, okay, this many of these types of coins, and this many big nuggets. I did an imperfect job, but I had a limited amount of time. I was there trying to live this experience of seeing this thing and feel it all and remember because I have to now relate it onto to the page very quickly, but then also try to do what I could to document what was in this thing. Just did that really and then once I felt like I had done that, the lawyers were actually smart enough to say, “Do you want us to get some pictures of you with it?” And I was like, “Oh, yes!” I very much need that because this is the world of Forrest Fenn and literally will believe this happened if I don’t have picture of myself with it.
Traci Brown: Now, now, because I just read the ebook that your publisher sent. Do you have real pictures in the book? Do you have those pictures?
Daniel Barbarisi: No, I don’t. That’s funny. One of the things that Forrest Fenn would say to me like every time, he would say this pretty much every time that we would sit down, was, are you going to have pictures in your book? I was like, “No, Forrest, I don’t think it’s really that kind of book. I don’t think I’m going to have really any good pictures anyway.” He was like, “You should have pictures! Pictures are better!” I was like, “Okay. Fine.” I just didn’t envision it that way, and I didn’t have any. For 90% of this, I didn’t have any pictures worth presenting. It’s funny that in the end, he was very right. It was way too late by that point, but then I had pictures that very much worth putting in, but I didn’t have the opportunity to do that.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea. Are you going to publish them anywhere? Put them on a blog, do something?
Daniel Barbarisi: Oh, they’re on my website.
Traci Brown: Oh, they are?! Oh, okay. And your website is . . . ?
Daniel Barbarisi: DanielBarbarisi.com.
Traci Brown: Okay, okay. Cool, cool.
Daniel Barbarisi: Oh yea. Some of them have been published in various book excerpts and things like that, which set various parts of the community aflutter when the first picture of the treasure with me with it and the treasure all out on the table was in the Outside – oh no – actually it was two different pictures. There was a picture I put out in the Outside magazine excerpt that ran, I think, the day before the book came out, and that has me with the treasure and then one in my current employer, The Athletic, there is a picture of me with the treasure all out on the table. Both of those should be on my website now. I just generally put them there after they become public.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Daniel Barbarisi: Forrest Fenn was right. I should have had pictures in the book, but it was, unfortunately, too late by that time.
Traci Brown: Now, can you . . . ? I’m just curious if you have a sense? Was this in northern Wyoming or southern Wyoming?
Daniel Barbarisi: I have no idea.
Traci Brown: You have no idea? Because . . .
Daniel Barbarisi: One of the parts of the arrangement essentially that the finder and I made was that I wasn’t going to actively try to find out from him the location of the chest and thus use that, and I don’t think he would have let me interview him if that was the case. I essentially made that very clear to him that I understood his reservations for that, and I’m not going to try to use whatever I gleaned from him in the course of conversations where he was being pretty open to then reverse engineer a solution.
Traci Brown: Right.
Daniel Barbarisi: I don’t know and I haven’t known, and honestly, it was a very good decision not to know because ultimately that would have ended up with me being like a conduit for people who want to know the answer to this and can’t get Jack to tell them, and so they would just go to me. I am very happy to tell anyone who wants to know, I don’t know where the treasure is, and I am not trying to find out, and I’m not. The cost of doing that well outweighs the benefits for me.
Traci Brown: Yea, yea. I get it.
Daniel Barbarisi: I don’t want to put myself in that position at all, and believe me, the number of people that ask me anyway is very high and I have to tell them the same thing. “I don’t know, man, and I don’t want to know.”
Traci Brown: See, I want to know about the clues. I want to know.
Daniel Barbarisi: Sure. I mean, intellectually, I’d like to know.
Traci Brown: If you read the clues, Daniel, my last name is Brown. This this could be . . .
Daniel Barbarisi: You have the treasure!
Traci Brown: It could be in my backyard! Right?!
Daniel Barbarisi: Yes, the home of Brown, wherever you live, you’re the treasure!
Traci Brown: I am! (Laughing).
Daniel Barbarisi: Exactly! Look, there is that kind of . . . I’m sure you can find that on the internet if you wanted to. Every possible conspiracy is on the internet somewhere on this.
Traci Brown: It’s all out there. Thank you so much!
Daniel Barbarisi: Look, we can talk longer if you want. It’s fine. I got here a little late. I don’t know if you can.
Traci Brown: Oh, yea. I think we’re good. I think we’ve got enough. Because I’ve got to tell you, Chasing . . . it is worth a read. It is worth it. I think you did a fantastic job digging into the culture and the community and actually came out the other end in victory as a writer. I could not give you higher props for what you’ve done.
Daniel Barbarisi: Thank you! Go write me some nice Amazon reviews, man!
Traci Brown: Yea, yea. A big high five to you!
Daniel Barbarisi: Thank you!
Traci Brown: Make sure, everybody, go out, get Chasing the Thrill. You are going to love it. You are calling no fraud on the Forrest Fenn deal.
Daniel Barbarisi: Heck yea. I mean look, I just don’t, I don’t see it, honestly. Again, I was willing to entertain those kinds of things when we didn’t have a lot of information, and then I went and got a lot more information. At that point, I felt pretty good about what I learned. Look, again, I’m not opposed to the idea. You read the book. A lot of these treasure hunts have ended in some sort of malfeasance. This is a world that has that kind of stuff almost endemic to it, but that doesn’t mean it always does happen. You have to be open to that possibility. I certainly have been, but once I got the information that I got, I felt pretty good that like most of these things happened the way that we think they did. Effectively, this went this way.
Traci Brown: Yea.
Daniel Barbarisi: Yea, I feel pretty good saying that.
Traci Brown: You crushed it. Love it! Love it!
Daniel Barbarisi: Thank you!
Traci Brown: Yea!