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03-11-2012 Report From Santa Fe Click Here
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Video transcript on Report From Santa Fe with Lorene Mills with Forrest Fenn - 2nd Appearance LORENE MILLS: Hello. I’m Lorene Mills and welcome to the Report from Santa Fe. Our guest today is (gesturing) Forrest Fenn. Thank you for joining us.

FORREST FENN: Why do you say (gesturing) Forrest Fenn?

MILLS: Because I want you to take it (gesturing) Forrest! We are celebrating the fact that, just this month, you were at the Governor’s Mansion and The New Mexico Department of Agriculture, awarded you the Rounders Award. You and another wonderful writer, Slim Randles, got the 2012 Rounders Award. The Rounders Award was based on Max Evans’ book, now it’s over 50 years since he wrote this wonderful book which became an iconic movie. And so they named the Rounders Award after Max’s book, and he got the first Rounders Award. Tell me about what this means to you. What does being a Rounder mean to you?

FENN: They say on their website that the Rounders Award goes to someone who promotes and articulates the Western Way. But let me back up just a minute. I read Max Evans’ biography of Long John Dunne of Taos. And I was fascinated by the guy. The way that he could write; put words together in a sentence that I had not seen before. And so I was down at Collected Works bookstore and I said I would have really liked to have known this Max Evans because he sounds like my kind of guy. Dorothy Massey says, “Well, call him on the phone.” I said, “Is that guy still alive? He must be 500 years old.” She said, “No, he’s like 86 or something.” So I call Max on the phone. I said, “Max, I want to come down and interview you.” And he knew who I was because of my gallery. He said, “Well, come on down here.” And so I read Slim Randles biography of Max Evans.

MILLS: And it’s called “Old Max Evans, The First Thousand Years.”

FENN: Well I knocked on Max’s door and he opened it and I said, “Max Evans, I’m scared to death of you after reading what Slim Randles said about you: smuggling, and fist fights in bars and deals and things and boy. He put his arm around me and said, “Come on in we’re going to get along just fine.” I interviewed him, taped interviews, four hours, two different times. I have eight hours of him on tape. As a matter of fact, he told me who murdered Arthur Rochford Manby in Taos. It’s an unsolved murder. I’m writing a book called “Closet Stories of Taos.” It’s about the characters in Taos and the artists, but it isn’t an art book. But I’m going to solve that murder.

MILLS: Well, excellent. Excellent. Now, Max himself says being called a Rounder is not necessarily a compliment. He defines a Rounder as someone who is working the ranch, out in the countryside way too long. Finally comes to town and has more fun than he should. So, have you been having more fun than you should?

FENN: You know, I’m reminded of the word “rake.” You know what a rake is? A rake is somebody who is halfway between a scoundrel and a good guy. Errol Flynn was a rake.

MILLS: Uh-huh.

FENN: So I think Max and I fit in that category somewhere.

MILLS: I think the two of you do, and you’re two of my favorite people. Max is my favorite New Mexican writer. And when he celebrated the 50th anniversary of “The Rounders”, he had a novel out called “War and Music”. And he’s still writing. He’s got two new books to come out, but I’m not going to mention them, they’re a surprise. But, when I asked about the - you wrote him a letter and you said - well, tell us what you said when you asked whether you deserved the Rounders Award or not.

FENN: Well I know that Max’s fingerprints were all over that award for me. And I wrote him a letter thanking him, and I said, “I’m not sure I deserve this award, but I had cancer and I know I didn’t deserve that.” Max is not gold-plated, he is solid gold. I mean if there was anybody that articulated the way the west should be, and that’s Max Evans. To me, the West has always been good. But Max personifies the best of it, I think.

MILLS: I think so too. But you, I want to just look at some of your western works. Because that is why you got this award. This is a beautiful book you wrote about San Lazaro Pueblo. “The Secrets of San Lazaro Pueblo.”

FENN: Can I say something about that?

MILLS: Yes, please.

FENN: When I wrote that book, I was in a mood. I was mad at writers and publishers because they - you know why you put a dust jacket on a book? In the old days, you didn’t have a dust jacket. You put a dust jacket on a book to hide an ugly cover. Why don’t you have a great cover? The original purpose was to buy a book with a dust jacket on it. Take it home. Take the dust jacket off and throw it away and put the book on the shelf. That was the original thinking. So you wouldn’t damage your book before you get it home. But, when I wrote that book, I decided that - I have a number of books that great old covers. Polychrome colors. And I said, I’m not going to have a dust jacket on this book. The guy that was going to print my book said, “Well you can’t sell it if you don’t have a dust jacket.” And I said, “Well then I’ll just give it away.” But I went to a printer in Phoenix and I said, “I want this book printed on linen - the cover on linen.” He said, “We can’t print on linen.” I said, “Well then I’m out of here.” He said, “Wait just a minute, let us try it.” They had never tried it, but they had some linen. They ran it through and - hold that book up again. The cover of that book - there’s a painting of two prehistoric kachina dance masks that I excavated in San Lazaro Pueblo and the watercolor drawing on the front of that is by Jim Asher who lives here in Santa Fe. Great artist. He painted that for me.

MILLS: Well, um, thank you for that. I didn’t that. I’m going to quickly -

FENN: I told you more than you wanted to know about that

MILLS: No, no. I’m delighted to know that. I just wanted to show some of the other books that are part of your western, uh, oeuvre, because it’s one of the reasons why you got the Rounders Award. This is “Historic American Indian Dolls.” You have quite an incredible collection of them, and you write all about them. And then, in your position as a gallery owner, we’ll get to that in a minute, you have written about some of your favorite western artists. This one I love. Tell me about this book. Tell me about the title - it’s about Eric Sloane, the artist.

FENN: Eric Sloane was probably my best friend. You say Western Art, he painted New Mexico a lot, but he - a lot of his paintings are New England barns and covered bridges like on the cover. Eric was the most talented man that I ever knew. He could paint a major painting in a day. Like in four or five hours. Go to lunch with me, go to dinner with his wife that night and in 50 years, write 50 books. He knew everybody: Neil Armstrong, he sold a painting to Amelia Earhart. He knew Jimmy Doolittle. He had letters that came from James Cagney to him. I mean, it’s endless. The guy had so much talent.

MILS: And one other book, and then we’ll get back to your gallery. This is “The Beat of The Drum and the Whoop of The Dance” and it’s about…

FENN: Joseph Henry Sharp. I bought his estate nineteen years ago. I wrote that book in 1982. It was really the first book I ever wrote and I didn’t know how to write a book so I got a bunch of yellow pads and pencils and I’m writing about Joseph Sharp. I had 35 three by five inch cards that I had made notes on for a few years. But I was so new to writing, I started writing this biography, and when I made a mistake, I would erase that word instead of marking through it and keep going. I was determined not to have a computer. I later learned the folly of that decision. But the book went out of print, after, uh, too long of time. And I revised it, changed all the color plates, and had Clark Hewlings write the Foreword for me. And the new edition of that is the “Tipi Smoke.:

MILLS: Yes, yes, yes. Well, um, I want to talk a little bit about your background because you were 20 years, you were an Air Force fighter pilot. You flew 328 combat missions in Vietnam? And then, when you left the Air Force, you came to Santa Fe and opened a gallery but you said you had never studied art, never owned a painting, or new anybody who did.

FENN: Lorene, I had a bad tour in Vietnam. I was shot down twice. I was missing in action in Laos, wondering what my future was, and I sat there wondering all night long. I told myself, “You know, there has to be something better than this.”

MILLS: Yeah, really.

FENN: I had already been shot down once, this was the second time. I had been to Santa Fe before, and I told myself, when I retired from the Air Force after 20 years, I had to drive about eight miles to get to my home in Lubbock, TX. I got about halfway home and a weird feeling came over me. I stopped my little Volkswagon Bug along the road there, climbed through a barbed wire fence out into a cotton field. Couple of hundred yards out there. I took my watch off and I threw it just as far as I could throw it. And I had a little calendar in my wallet. I took that out and I shredded it and I spread it to the four winds. I said, “Forrest Fenn, you’ll never get up before daylight again, and you’ll never go to bed before dark.” And I haven’t done that. Those are two promises I made to myself.

MILLS: Wonderful!

FENN: In the Air Force, you know, you’re always going on alert, sometimes four o’clock. Working 15-16 hour days. But Santa Fe was the only place that I knew where the bus would stop and let me out. I could wear Hush Puppies and blue jeans. I had a gallery here for 17 years, and this is how I dressed. Blue jeans and Hush Puppies.

MILLS: Your gallery was really unique. You specialized not only in Indian art, uh Western art and artifacts, but Impressionists. The caliber of your art, now this was the famous Fenn Gallery, and you sold it, but for years, seventeen years you had the most unique and best gallery in Santa Fe.

FENN: You know how a gallery gets to be famous?


FENN: Advertise full page color.


FENN: Galleries that advertise half page black and white or quarter page black and white in big letters across the front it says to me, “Don’t Come In Here.” If you advertise full page color, they think you’re an expert. And it doesn't’ matter who you are, Lorene, it only matters who they think you are.

MILLS: Well, that’s true. As a matter of fact, you had said at one point that your, uh, epitaph might be, “I wish I could have lived to do, all the things I was attributed to.”

FENN: I’ve been attributed to a few things.

MILLS: You certainly have. You certainly have. You had a pond, a beautiful pond, at the gallery. You had an inhabitant named after a famous Anglo-Saxon: Beowulf.

FENN: Beowulf. I like to have water around me. I built the pond down at my gallery out behind. And when I sold my gallery and moved out to the Old Santa Fe Trail, I built another pond. I get over a thousand gallons of water a minute over my waterfall and it’s 11 feet deep. But at the gallery I had an alligator called Beowulf. Can I tell you a story about Gary Carruthers? He was running for Governor. Staying in one of my guest houses there, and we were having a fundraiser out there, and he was standing on a rock with his back to my pond. My pond is one foot behind him. And a hundred or so people out there, telling everybody how good he is, and what a great Governor he’s going to make. And Beowulf thought it was me talking and calling him to dinner.

MILLS: Ohhhh.

FENN: So clear across the pond, 60 to 70 feet, here comes Beowulf. The crowd can see Beowulf, the Governor can’t. So Beowulf came right up the the rear end of Gary Carruthers and opened his mouth like that and the crowd went wild. And Governor Carruthers thought he was making a good impression on these people. But then he saw what happened and he laughed, and he was good about that. You have to like Gary Carruthers.

MILLS: Well, I’m very fond of Gary Carruthers. And they always say New Mexico politics is full of alligators. So I’m glad the alligators did not get Governor Carruthers. He was staying in the guest house, but you have a tradition of many famous people: Jackie O, Cher, a lot of people have stayed in your guest houses

FENN: You know, the best thing about having, in my opinion, about having a gallery was the great people that came in. It was so much fun. I remember - you’re not old enough to know who Lillian Gish was.

MILLS: I am too.

FENN: The great silent movie star?

MILLS: Yes. Beautiful.

FENN: She came in one time, and I was standing by the front door. Such an elegant lady. I said I’m Forrest Fenn. I had recognized her, but I didn’t know who she was. You know how you do those things? She had a gloved hand. She put it on my hand and she said, “Lillian Gish.” An hour later, we’re still talking. Because I had written a book about Nikolai Fechin the great Russian-American painter. Lillian Gish posed for him, I think, in 1925 in her costume from Romola. I asked her what she knew about Nikolai Fechin and she said, “I don’t know anything about Nikolai Fechin, who is he?” I said, “Miss Gish, you posed for him for that great painting that’s in the Chicago Art Institute now.” She didn’t remember it. So I took her to my library and I pulled a newspaper clipping out of her standing beside Nikolai Fechin and that great painting between them in 1925. And she reads the very fine print. She’s 85 years old. I said, “You know, since about 45, I’ve been wearing glasses, how can you read that fine print without wearing glasses?” She said, “You know, when I was a little girl, my mother told me that your eyes are going to dry out and you’ll lose part of your vision.” She said, “If you put liquid in your eyes two or three times a day, you’ll never lose your eyesight, and I’ve done that all my life.” She could read without those glasses.

MILLS: Oh my goodness. Well, I want to remind our audience that we are joined today by Forrest Fenn. And we’re going to go into the reason that wherever I go people ask me about you and the treasure hunt. So, his most recent book is a wonderful memoir called, “The Thrill of The Chase.” And you really started something with this. You told me that you had been ill and you were looking back at your life and you realized that what mattered the most to you, as in all of you adventures was the thrill of the chase. And please, remind our audience what you did about this treasure, this hidden treasure, and then let’s talk about all the emails you get and all the people. People always come up to me and say, “Has anyone found the treasure yet?”

FENN: Well, this morning, I received my 5,057th email. And I’ve kept all of them. You know, I never did go to college, I never studied business and my whole life was Air Force. I joined as a private. I made Buck Sergeant, went to pilot training, got a commission, became a fighter pilot and, when I retired at age 40, over half of my life had been spent in the Air Force with no education and no experience other than that. So I decided that Santa Fe was the place I wanted to go, but I had to make some money. My retired pay was $800 a month with a wife and two kids, and I could get by on that, you know, if we didn’t go to movies, or didn’t drink Dr Pepper and that kind of thing. I just told myself - you know - and then, when I got, when I reached age 58, I got cancer. I lost a kidney. And I asked the surgeon before we went in for the operation, “What are the chances of this being cancer?” He said, “Five percent.” I said, “Okay. Let’s go with it.” Well a one hour operation turned into five. And afterward, he gave me a 20% chance of living three years. So I went through all of the emotion, you know, shock, disbelief, uh

MILLS: Denial, anger, yes.

FENN: I went through all of them. But after about - I’m a pragmatic person, and when I looked back at the career that I had, in the art business and the Air Force, I said, you know, I’ve had my share, so maybe I’m being called out. And I accepted that, but I said, I’ve had so much fun, particularly in Santa Fe, buying all these Indian things, and ancient Egyptian, and you name it, I had all of them in my gallery, I said, I’ve had so much fun collecting these things, if I’ve got to go, I’m just going to take it with me. And as a matter of fact, Ralph Lauren came into my house one day. He was a good collector. And he saw a bonnet that I had hanging on my wall. It was a Crow medicine bonnet and had ermine skins on it and antelope horns and he said, “I want to buy that thing.” I said, “I don’t want to sell it.” He said, “You have so many of them, you can’t take it with you.” You know what I said to him? “Then I’m not going.” And you know, I started thinking about that later and I said well, you know, If I got to go, why don’t I just take this stuff with me? And I got the idea that I’m going to buy - I gave $25,000 for a beautiful Flemish chest that they think dates to like 150 A.D. And I started going to gun shows and Indian shows and buying gold nuggets and gold coins. And about six months later I had 20.2 Troy pounds of gold in that chest. And jewelry that had emeralds and Ceylon sapphires and diamonds and…

MILLS: There’s a bracelet with 240 something rubies in it?

FENN: Um rubies, yeah.

MILLS: And a Spanish emerald ring. A beautiful big emerald.

FENN: We found that in the Galisteo basin with a metal detector. And two beautiful little jade ancient Chinese jade carvings of faces. I mean, the best things I had, you know, I was going to take them with me. I was 80 - I was 79 years old. So, you know, what do you have to look forward to?

MILLS: Well, so, tell us what you did with this chest.

FENN: Well, I took the chest out and I hid it. And in my book…

MILLS: “The Thrill of The Chase”

FENN: “The Thrill of The Chase” I say that it’s in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe. But there’s a lady, a neighbor over there. I didn’t know her, but she said she was a neighbor. She called me on the phone and she was really mad at me. I said, “Why are you mad at me?” She says, “There’s two guys out there digging up my front yard.” I said, “I”m sorry. Tell the guys to leave. The treasure chest is north of Santa Fe.” But you should read some of the emails I’ve read. Let me tell you what’s been fun about this. About 2500 emails have said, “Mr. Fenn, we know we’re not going to find the treasure chest, but I just want to thank you for getting me and the kids off the couch and out into the wind.

MILLS: Yes. I’ve read a lot of those emails. I just want to say that in your book, your memoir, “The Thrill of The Chase” you have a poem in which you’ve hidden the clues and I will tell you after I read that poem and I thought this girl is not finding any treasure from these clues. But they’re in there and you have hundreds of people that come to Santa Fe and points north looking for this hidden treasure.

FENN: I don’t know how many people have looked, but I’m sure throughout this last summer there were over a thousand.

MILLS: Yeah.

FENN: A lot of them go out looking and I don’t know about it till later.


FENN: Then they’ll send me an email and tell me they didn’t find it.

MILLS: Well, I’ve read some of those emails and one of them said, “I give up. I couldn’t find it, but I had a great summer with my son looking for it.”

FENN: Well, I write them back and I tell them don’t give up, it’s still out there.

MILLS: Yeah, yeah. Will you ever know when someone finds it?

FENN: The kind of person that will find it, is the kind of person that can’t keep it quiet. So I expect I’ll know about it. If I found something like that, I could keep it quiet for about 3 minutes. Then I’d tell everybody, you know?

MILLS: Well, you got even more national publicity. Newsweek did a piece on you and unfortunately you weren’t able to correct a lot of the inaccuracies in that, and they went ahead and published it, but that brought you more fame. So how has - and people have written saying thank you for giving me this dream. I work two jobs, I’m a single parent, but I think just knowing that I might be the one to find that treasure…

FENN: Well you know, I… I had the bomb, but Newsweek magazine lit the fuse. And I was inundated with - the Today show wanted me to come on their show and I’ve had eleven reality shows want me. I just tell all of them, um, you know, I’m not that kind of… I’d rather be out fishing on the creek.

MILLS: Yeah. Yes, and then some people said, “I’ve got to abandon the search because my wife says it’s either me or the - it’s either the treasure, or you stay here with me.

FENN: We got about 30 divorces over this. No, that one guy that said that talked his wife into going with him. And beautiful Gadi Schwartz, you know Gadi Schwartz?

MILLS: I do from Channel 4. KOB.

FENN: He went to Yellowstone looking for it, and he read in my book the story about looking for Lewis and Clark where Donny Jo and I had three Baby Ruth candy bars. That’s all the food we took for a week. Up in the mountains we were going to catch fish, and shoot rabbits and things, and he thought that was a fetish. So when he was up there in Yellowstone looking for the treasure chest, he saw a sign that said Red Canyon, which is the canyon that we went up on horseback for a week. He went back to town, and bought three Baby Ruth candy bars and went out there and nailed them on that fence. And later, he’s out looking for the treasure and he said he found two Baby Ruth candy bars - wrappers - laying on the ground there.

MILLS: Oh my goodness. Well, I want to encourage everyone to get your book, and to go out and make - decipher what they can out of this enigma hidden in a riddle. It’s very cleverly written. But, so “The Thrill of The Chase” - I want to know what you’re chasing now.

FENN: You know when I was in business, it’s going to sound very crass, but in the back of my mind, I told myself there’s never enough. Nothing is too good. That was the way I thought because I churning in my business, you know? I was trying to make a living. It wasn’t easy because I didn’t have any experience and, first two major shows I had, I didn’t sell anything. Not even a book. Because I didn’t know what I was doing, I decided if I was going to compete, I was going to have to hustle. And I decided I was going to be a hustler. Be friendly, talk to people, invite them in. And famous people would come in. I loved that when that would happen. I would always meet them at the door and shake their hand and take them to lunch if they’d go, because I’m always inspired by people who have done something significant with their life. I’m in awe of those people.

MILLS: Well, um, I just want to mention one more time this book, “The Thrill of The Chase.” You can buy it at Collected Works.

FENN: It’s the only place you can get that. I gave them all the copies they can sell.

MILLS: And it’s very important that they’re donating the proceeds from this book. People said, “Oh, he’s just doing this to make money.” No, the proceeds go through Collected Works and then go…

FENN: Well I’m not making any money. I’m not even getting my costs back on that book. But the Collected Works is putting 10% aside, and when the time comes we’re going to buy a cancer operation for somebody because that, that’s important to me.

MILLS: Yes. You are working on, I think, “The Closet Stories of Taos”?

FENN: “The Closet Stories of Taos.” You know, Taos was such a great place in the turn of the last century. 1900, 1905, there were so many great artists up there but, there was Long John Dunne, there was Doughbelly Price, there was Mace McHorse - is that not a great name?

MILLS: That’s a great name!

FENN: Mace McHorse owned the first car dealership up there. And Mabel Dodge Luhan got the first car and Long John Dunne got the second. And Dorothy Brett told me a story about Mabel Dodge Luhan getting the first bathtub in town. And, you know, Mabel was long dead when I came out this country but I knew Dorothy Brett and she was still mad. She said, “She would never let me use her bathtub.”

MILLS: Oh! You’re also doing an event at the Spanish Museum with Bill Fields and Jack Lefler. You’re doing the Stories of Santa Fe coming up in December.

FENN: I think they cornered Billy Fields and I because we’re so old we know everything that happened in Santa Fe in the old days.

MILLS: Where all the bodies are buried.

FENN: I think I had either the second or the third art gallery in Santa Fe. It hadn’t been that long - you know, we’re talking about 1972 really.

MILLS: Yes, well thank you for spending the time with us today. Our guest today is Forrest Fenn who is the winner, the co-winner with Slim Randles of the Rounders Award for 2012. And you’re also, although you’ve hidden treasure and entice people with the thrill of the chase, you yourself are a treasure.

FENN: Thank you. Max Evans is a treasure.

MILLS: It’s absolutely true so thank you for taking -

FENN: You’re a sweetheart for inviting me back. Thank you.

MILLS: Well, everyone asks me, “Where’s the treasure? Get a clue if you can!” So, our treasure today is Forrest Fenn and thank you.

FENN: Thank you.

MILLS: And I’m Lorene Mills. I’d like to thank you, our audience, for being with us today. This is Report From Santa Fe, we’ll see you next week.