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Treasure hunter sentenced for damaging archeological resources in Yellowstone National Park

Case file photo by NPS Investigative Services Branch
Case file photo by NPS Investigative Services Branch
Rodrick Dow Craythorn
Posted at 12:57 PM, Mar 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-01 01:36:02-04

GREAT FALLS — Rodrick Dow Craythorn of Syracuse, Utah, was sentenced on Wednesday by Chief Federal District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl for excavating and damaging archeological resources in the cemetery of the Fort Yellowstone National Historic Landmark in Yellowstone National Park.

A news release from the U.S. Attorney's office says that Craythorn was found digging in Fort Yellowstone’s cemetery in late 2019 and early 2020 while looking for the "Forrest Fenn" treasure, believed to be worth millions. Rangers and special agents of the National Park Service discovered 17 sites of illegal excavation, including damage to a historic grave. The cemetery is a multi-component archeological site with historical human burials. The cemetery is included in the National Register of Historic Places and was designated on July 31, 2003, as a National Historic Landmark.

Craythorn was sentenced to six months in prison and six months of home detention, to be followed by two years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $31,566 in restitution.

Fenn was a Santa Fe, New Mexico, art dealer who buried a chest of gold, silver, and gems in the western United States and then left a clue-filled poem to solve its location. The investigation into this matter revealed that Craythorn had done extensive research on the Forest Fenn treasure and documented his efforts to family and friends. Craythorn did not find the treasure; it was found in June 2020 in Wyoming by Jack Stuef, a 32-year-old medical student from Michigan.

“Yellowstone is one of the country’s most popular national parks and we must do everything in our power to investigate and prosecute those who damage and destroy its natural and cultural resources. A national park is no place to stage an adult treasure hunt motivated by greed. The harmful actions of Mr. Craythorn, no matter the reason or intent, destroyed valuable archaeological resources that cannot be undone," said Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Murray. “I am pleased with the results of this case. The teamwork between Assistant United States Attorney Stephanie Hambrick and the rangers and special agents with our National Park Service resulted in the successful prosecution of a crime that a sentence of imprisonment is rarely imposed. Craythorn deserves time in a federal prison, no matter the length. Yet this case really serves to remind those enjoying our national parks the importance of respecting and preserving it for the whole of America," Murray said.

“This is the most significant investigation of damage to archaeological resources in Yellowstone National Park’s recent history,” said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly. “I want to sincerely thank law enforcement officers, special agents, archaeological staff, the Department of Justice District of Wyoming and the U.S. District Court Judge for their outstanding work on this complex case.”

“This is an example of a highly egregious resource violation stemming from the Forrest Fenn treasure hunt saga,” said Yellowstone National Park Chief Ranger Sarah Davis. “Today’s action by the DOJ sends a clear message that these types of transgressions will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted.”