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Utah treasure hunter sentenced after digging in historic Yellowstone cemetery

Yellowstone park rangers and special agents discovered damage to a historic grave and 17 sites of illegal excavation.

(Photo courtesy of National Park Service, Investigative Services Branch) This case file photo shows the damage in the Fort Yellowstone cemetery, a historic site in Yellowstone National Park. Rodrick Dow Craythorn, of Syracuse, Utah, was found digging for buried treasure last year.

A Syracuse man was sentenced to six months in prison after being convicted of digging for buried treasure in Yellowstone National Park.

Acting U.S. Attorney Bob Murray announced Wednesday that 52-year-old Rodrick Dow Craythorn excavated and damaged archeological resources in the cemetery of the Fort Yellowstone National Historic Landmark.

Rangers and special agents of the National Park Service discovered 17 sites of illegal excavation, including damage to a historic grave.

Craythorn was found digging in Fort Yellowstone’s cemetery in late 2019 and early 2020 while looking for a treasure believed to be worth millions. He was indicted last September.

Author and art dealer Forrest Fenn famously buried a treasure chest filled with gold, jewels and other goods in the Western United States. A poem by Fenn offered clues to its location.

A National Park Service news release reported that Craythorn had done extensive research on the Forest Fenn treasure and documented his efforts to family and friends. However, Craythorn failed to find the treasure, and the chest was found later in Wyoming by Jack Stuef.

Chief Federal District Judge Scott W. Skavdahl sentenced Craythorn to six months of imprisonment and six months of home detention, followed by two years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $31,566 in restitution.

NPS Special Agent Les Seago said the case was the “first significant ARPA felony conviction in Yellowstone National Park.”

According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice for the District of Wyoming, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) of 1979 governs the excavation of archaeological sites on Federal lands.

“Those who violate ARPA in national parks threaten the very fabric of our National Park System. They threaten the agency’s ability to preserve cultural resources for the enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations,” Seago said.

The cemetery is an archeological site with historical human burials, is included in the National Register of Historic Places, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark on July 31, 2003.

Fort Yellowstone served as U.S. Army headquarters until 1918. At least 54 people were buried in the cemetery between 1888 and 1916, among them were civilian Army employees and relatives of military personnel.

“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,” Murray said, adding that the teamwork between authorities and the 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. This case serves to remind those enjoying our national parks the importance of respecting and preserving it for the whole of America,” Murray said.

Yellowstone National Park Chief Ranger Sarah Davis said Wednesday’s action by the Department of Justice “sends a clear message that these types of transgressions will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted.”

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