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Treasure-seeker charged with damaging Yellowstone during hunt for Forrest Fenn prize

Rodrick Dow Craythorn allegedly dug in the park looking for the Forrest Fenn treasure. The chest was later found in Wyoming.
Image: Fort Yellowstone Cemetery
A Utah man searching for buried treasure in the Fort Yellowstone Cemetery has been indicted on charges related to damaging archaeological items.NPS

A Utah man accused of digging in Yellowstone National Park while looking for the Forrest Fenn treasure faces two federal charges, prosecutors said.

The treasure, a chest containing jewelry and gems, was hidden by an art collector a decade ago, with seekers trying to decipher clues left in a book he wrote before it was found in June.

Rodrick Dow Craythorn, 52, was looking for it and dug in the Fort Yellowstone Cemetery inside the national park between Oct. 1, 2019, and May 24, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Wyoming said in a statement.

Craythorn, of Syracuse, Utah, was indicted by a grand jury Sept. 16 on two federal counts, and on Thursday, he pleaded not guilty during an initial court appearance, prosecutors said.

His attorney declined to comment Thursday evening. Court records show that Craythorn has been released on his own recognizance.

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The indictment does not detail exactly what occurred and when, or damage to the cemetery except to say it was greater than $1,000. The U.S. attorney's office statement says he was found digging in the historic cemetery.

Requests for comment from a spokesman of the U.S. attorney's office and Yellowstone National Park were not immediately returned Thursday evening.

The treasure was named after the person who hid it, New Mexico art dealer Forrest Fenn. He hid the chest sometime between 2009 and 2010.

He left searchers nine clues in his book, "The Thrill of the Chase," to help them find the treasure and said the hunt was meant to get people outside and explore nature.

Fenn announced in June that the treasure was found, but he did not say by whom or where. The U.S. attorney's office said it was found in Wyoming. Fenn died in September.

In announcing that the treasure had been found, Fenn wrote: "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 hid it more than 10 years ago."

It does not appear that the person who found it has ever been publicly identified.

Fenn said at the time of the discovery that a man from "back East" emailed him a photograph confirming it, but the person wanted to remain anonymous.

The search for the treasure led to at least five deaths. Thousands were reported to have looked for it at some point. In 2017, the chief of the New Mexico state police discouraged people from hunting for it, citing the dangers involved.

An attempt to find a phone number for Craythorn could not immediately be found Thursday night.

He was indicted on charges of excavating or trafficking in archeological resources, and injury or depredation to United States property.

Court documents suggest that if convicted, one federal charge carries a sentence of between zero and two years in prison and up to a $20,000 fine; the second carries a possible sentence of between zero and 10 years and up to a $250,000 fine.

He is set for trial on Dec. 14, the U.S. attorney's office said.