Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Forrest Fenn, the millionaire Santa Fe, N.M., art dealer, combat pilot and concealer of a $1 million treasure chest, has died at age 90, Santa Fe police said.
Albuquerque treasure hunter Cynthia Meachum, who ran a Facebook group for treasure hunters, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that Fenn gave the hunters inspiration.
"But he gave us so much more than that," she wrote in an email. "The never-ending desire to continue to explore new places ... follow our dreams ... and to never stop yearning to discover that new adventure ahead."
Fenn started a decade-long treasure-hunting craze through the Rocky Mountains when he announced in 2010 that he had hidden a trove of trove of gold coins, nuggets and jewels somewhere between 5,000 and 10,200 feet in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming or Montana.
Fenn told UPI he believed hundreds of thousands of treasure hunters followed the cryptic clues in a poem Fenn published in his book, The Thrill of the Chase.
But an email this June convinced Fenn that the treasure had been found.
Fenn grew up in Temple, Texas, the son of a school principal and his wife. The family vacationed in Yellowstone National Park yearly where Fenn and his siblings fished and explored.
Fenn flew combat aircraft in the Vietnam War and retired with his family to Santa Fe, where he opened an art gallery in the 1970s that featured Native American artifacts.
Fenn owned property on which an ancient Anasazi Pueblo site had been in existence for 400 years. He hosted informal archeology camps at the site for local youths and visitors, and was sometimes criticized for not taking a more professional approach.
In 2009, Fenn was investigated by federal authorities probing an undercover ring of Anasazi Indian antiquities thieves, but was never charged.
After a cancer diagnosis, Fenn hatched his plan to leave a legacy treasure chest behind somewhere in the high country.
Some believed the treasure hunt was a hoax, while others said they'd seen it with their own eyes.
"There were big gold nuggets from Alaska the size of your fist and gold coins, Krugerrands, and some little pre-Columbian statues, including a little frog," Santa Fe author Doug Preston told UPI in February. He said he also saw "loose gems. It was like a pirate chest."
But although Fenn repeatedly said that the chest was in a spot easily reached by a 79-year-old man and urged caution, the hunt turned deadly for at least five people.
"I tell people, if it's dangerous, don't do it," Fenn told UPI in February.
In March, a 58-year-old snowmobiler died near Dinosaur National Monument in Utah while looking for the treasure.
In June 2017, Illinois resident Jeff Murphy, 53, fell to his death from a 500-foot cliff in Yellowstone while searching for treasure. That same month, Eric Ashby, 31, drowned in the Arkansas River in Colorado while on the hunt.
Retired Florida mechanic Randy Bilyeu drowned in January 2016, and Grand Junction, Colo., pastor Paris Wallace drowned in July 2017 in the Rio Grande River while searching for the treasure.
In June, Fenn announced that "a man from back East" had discovered the chest, and posted a photo on his blog. Fenn later said the treasure was found "in Wyoming." The alleged finder has not come forward.
"It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains and had not moved from the spot where I had it more than 10 years ago," Fenn wrote on his website. "I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot.
"I congratulate the thousands of people who participated in the search and hope they will continue to be drawn by the promise of other discoveries," Fenn wrote.
Fenn is survived by his wife and two daughters.