they spent every summer in Yellowstone National Park, where young Forrest and his brother Skippy launched many an adventure. He describes the brothers trying to fly a homemade plane and tells about being left on the side of the road after an argument during a road trip.
Fenn never went to college, although he did attend classes at Texas A&M University with his friends for a short time, before it was discovered he was not a registered student, the book says.
He married his high school sweetheart, Peggy Jean Proctor, and spent nearly two decades in the Air Force, including much-decorated service as a fighter pilot in Vietnam.
After returning to Texas, he, his wife and two daughters moved to Santa Fe, where, over time, he became one of this artistic enclave's best known and most successful gallery owners.
Details on how a man with no art background made such a dramatic but successful transition are scarce in his book. When asked to elaborate, he says simply, "I never went to college. I never went to business school. I never learned the rules that make businesses fail."
Those who know him credit his love of people. As an art dealer, he hosted a virtual who's who of the rich and famous at his gallery and guest house, including Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Sam Shephard, Jessica Lange and Michael Douglas, to name a few. Even at 82, he still throws one hell of a party, friends say, mixing up the guest list with the many actors, artists, writers and political leaders who live in or frequent this artistic mountain hideaway.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about Fenn -- whom some locals refer to as Santa Fe's Indiana Jones -- is that he was a treasure hunter himself.
"Forrest is a trader," said Dan Nietzel, a professional treasure hunter who has searched for Fenn's treasure. "He traded for these things. I think people think he went around digging all these things up."
But there are some intangibles Fenn has spent his life searching out.
"I love mysteries. I love adventures," he says.
As a teen, scouring Yellowstone every summer, he almost led friend Donnie Joe to an early demise when they got lost on horseback in Montana's Gallatin National Forest trying to retrace the steps of Lewis and Clark, according to his memoir.
"Donnie got in a serious swivet and wouldn't speak to me for a while, except to say that our unfortunate adventure was ill-conceived, dumb thought out, and I was over-rated like my horse," he writes.
His book moves on to the Vietnam War, describing his Air Force service, his combat missions and even his survival after being shot down.
While it's sometimes hard to know whether Fenn's zest for "embellishment" adds to his stories, military records emphatically back this chapter. They confirm that as a fighter pilot he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, silver and bronze stars, a purple heart and other medals. In one engagement, enemy fire shattered the canopy of his jet, cutting his face, and yet he continued to attack, the records show. In another, he showed "outstanding heroism," making repeated low strafing passes to draw fire until wounded forces on the ground could be rescued. He rose to the rank of major.
Fenn also describes himself as an amateur archaeologist. In the mid-1980s, he bought a ranch near Santa Fe that includes the 57-acre ancient pueblo of San Lazaro, where he has spent years digging up bones, pottery and other artifacts that he keeps in a room off his garage.
And while he says he made his fortune selling paintings, his love is clearly of antiquities. His personal study, which was designed to house a 17-by-28-foot Persian rug from the late 1800s, is filled from floor to ceiling with valuables, ranging from gilded fore-edge books to war memorabilia, a brandy bottle left in his guest house by Kennedy Onassis, and even what he says is Sitting Bull's pipe.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2006 raided his home as part of an antiquities theft probe, but Fenn was never charged.
"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."
That's part of the poem of clues to the treasure's location, which Fenn published in his memoir three years ago. News reports have created a run on the book.
Based on the more than 9,000 emails Fenn says he has received just in the past few months, he estimates thousands of treasure hunters will descend on northern New Mexico this spring.
Dana Ortega, director of sales and marketing at Santa Fe's Inn and Spa at Loretto, said the hotel, which offers a special package starting at $300 that includes a copy of Fenn's now hard-to-find book, has seen a huge spike in interest.