Featured Question and Chatting with Forrest Fenn: Indian Doll Collection

old indian doll collectionBefore Forrest Fenn published The Thrill of the Chase, which includes a poem consisting of nine clues to lead a searcher to his hidden treasure chest of gold, he published 7 other books.  One of which is entitled, Historic American Indian Dolls (and the children who played with them).  Although leading to a different type, this book guides a person to treasure too.  The treasure of a collection.

Forrest carefully describes and generously shares images in his book on each of the precious Indian dolls he held in his care.  I loved the story Forrest tells on when he was first inspired to write about them:

“So, as I sat there past midnight in the solitude I had grown to treasure, I heard a different sound, faint but somehow compelling.  What could it be?  I thought.  Beside my desk at banco level there came infrequent whispers form the failing fire, but they could not have been the cause of my distraction.  Then I glanced over at the dolls.  There were crowded on a table against the west wall, all 58 of them, and they staring at me as if they couldn’t believe I was ignoring them.  Suddenly I was convinced that I was seeing disappointment in their eyes.  Was it their voices I had heard, quietly begging me to tell their story?  It was at that instant that I decided to write this book.”

forrest fenn's indian dolls

Only one with hat (bottom left)

That paragraph is one of my favorites, and when I walked into his office, the dolls were one of the first items I noticed.  They have a silent presence that speaks loudly.  The friendships, the smiles, the comforts each one gave to a child; and the skills, the care, the pleasure dedicated in making them, emits an energy that can’t be missed.

It is true, if you listen and look attentively, at anything, secret treasures begin to reveal themselves.

As Forrest sometimes calls them, ‘The Crowd of 58’ began to tell their secrets to him as he picked each one up to write about them.  I won’t tell them all.  Only one.  The mysterious pocket with treasure. Of course.

thrill of the chase

Doll with pocket treasure

While studying an 1885 Arapahoe doll, Forrest shares in his book how he felt something hard under what was an assumed faux left breast pocket.  However, further investigation revealed an 1842 dime had been secretly hidden within.  Forrest writes, “Perhaps the coin was a talisman, thought to contain some sort of defending magic, or a shield, protecting the doll’s heart, and so the child’s.”

Wow.  How cool is that!?

Ok, one more. I loved learning about them. And I personally found this next one educational when visiting the Southwest.  Living in the North East there aren’t any cactus and so I realized after being pricked by one just how useful the following surely would have been.

When I first looked upon the 14” Apache doll with long flipped up shoes, they reminded me of a Clown’s shoes.  I thought what the heck?  Forrest explained the shoes were, “boots with turned up toe flaps- that helped defend against the dreaded cholla cactus and other aggressive desert plants.”

Oh….that’s better.  Thank you. And let me get a pair of those for next time walking in the desert.

The above few ‘secrets’ offer excellent examples of how the Indian dolls are definitely more than mere toys to admire.  So much can be learned and gained from researching them.  The dolls mirror the lives, clothing, beliefs, etc of those who lovingly fashioned them.  They reveal treasures by exploring all of what they might have meant to a child and to the parent who helped create them during a time now lost.

But anyone with a passion for collecting knows the joy a ‘crowd’ can bring.  No matter what is being collected, stories are hidden within the prized group.  And these stories are a treasure to discover!

thrill of the chase

Forrest Fenn’s collection


I asked Forrest, which was his favorite Indian Doll and why?

Jenny, I’m not sure which is my favorite, but my favorites are the Southern Cheyenne dolls. I have seven that I think were made by the same woman about 1870ish. Each has the distinctive style “signature” of the maker.

There is a comfortable warmth that comes with an old much-used doll that isn’t evident in most other artifacts. For one thing, generally there is no violence in their history. When I was writing my doll book, late at night, I frequently placed one of the dolls beside me in my chair. A certain coziness came with the doll, and the practice seemed to stimulate my words and my thought processes. I’m not sure coziness is the right word, but I hope you know what I mean. f

 forrest fenn Cheyenne Dolls

The Seven Cheyenne Dolls


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25 Responses

  1. Jenny Kile says:

    Thank you for telling the dolls stories, Forrest. I enjoyed them and continue to learn on this Chase!! It’s awesome.

  2. KitKat says:

    I collect dolls, but do not have any American Indian dolls. I need to add one now. Thanks Forrest

  3. thrillchaser says:

    How old is the oldest?

  4. Tom says:

    I read some Indians would use human hair scalped on a doll to denigrate the enemy more. Do any of yours have human hair?

  5. 23kachinas says:

    You can see each one was made with care for someone special, nice to know there’s a book of stories guessing at the mysteries left behind.

  6. Carolyn says:

    I want to find one of those dolls somewhere!

  7. JC1117 says:

    Hello, Forrest (and Jenny). You two are like peas and carrots. 🙂 Coziness is one good word to describe the deep, emotional feeling you are expressing. I like another word…but it literally cannot be translated into English. You can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it describes the feeling you’re expressing in a profound way. The word is Saudade…the presence of absence. It’s the feeling that comes to me when I see those dolls.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Saudade (European Portuguese: [sɐwˈðaðɨ], Brazilian Portuguese: [sawˈdadi] or [sawˈdadʒi], Galician: [sawˈðaðe]; plural saudades)[1] is a word in Portuguese and Galician (from which it entered Spanish) that claims no direct translation in English. It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return.[2] A stronger form of saudade might be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or a family member who has gone missing, moved away, separated, or died.

    Saudade was once described as “the love that remains” after someone is gone. Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone (e.g., one’s children, parents, sibling, grandparents, friends, pets) or something (e.g., places, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) that should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence. It brings sad and happy feelings all together, sadness for missing and happiness for having experienced the feeling.

    In Portuguese, “Tenho saudades tuas” (European Portuguese) or “Tenho saudades de você” (Brazilian Portuguese), translates as “I have saudade of you” meaning “I miss you”, but carries a much stronger tone. In fact, one can have saudade of someone whom one is with, but have some feeling of loss towards the past or the future.

    In Brazil, the day of Saudade is officially celebrated on 30 January.”


    • 42 says:

      JC 1117 – I’m not sure this applies to Forrest’s doll collection, but your word ‘saudade’ is a perfect word in that.. its sad tonality and definition marries heart song to heart ache in equal measure. Memories of lost loved ones often lift the veil of our hearts allowing saudade to live deep in our being. From what I’ve read in Forrest’s memoirs he would be acquainted with how important memories are in healing heart ache. But, I doubt this particular doll book post holds any hints for deep thinkers. In the past I’ve read too much into things ff writes as holding specific meaning or hints. It’s all such a game to him. Doubtful f understands it’s not a game for numerous folks giving much thought, time and money to searching.

      • JC1117 says:

        Hello, 42. Forrest understands human nature and struggle much, much more than most people realize. He is not to blame for other people’s choices. I don’t know of a single person whose arm Forrest has twisted so that he can get his way. I doubt even Dal has gotten his arm twisted by Forrest…well…maybe an Indian burn or two. Anybody remember that? lol! I haven’t had or done one of those since I was a kid. He has done a wonderful thing with his Treasure Hunt. What an incredible opportunity he has given others to expand their minds and stretch their abilities…and…possibly…bring a great deal of peace and financial stability to their lives. I have a lot of faith in Forrest, and I believe he knows exactly what he’s doing and what others put themselves through by their own choices.

    • 23kachinas says:

      Thank you JC1117 for sharing the word saudade. It’s proof that sometimes you need another language to express a deeper feeling.

  8. Kathryn says:

    Interesting discussion and artifacts. They look great for reading about but I have a fear of dolls. Did you, Forrest, put any of them in the chest? Hopefully they are all at your place keeping each other company 🙂

    • Kathryn says:

      OMG, is that the item that was placed in the chest that “SHE” would have liked? The item that was placed in and not mentioned? Oh dear, would you like that back by any chance 🙂

  9. cynthia says:

    Very nicely written story about ff’s doll collection…thanks for sharing.

  10. Belle says:

    Simple pleasures

  11. Nate Beck says:

    Native Americans will always have a special place in my heart as my research into their different cultures is what began my journey into historical and spiritual research.

    This is a fine collection Forrest has and I really enjoyed this article.

    Wonderful stories.

  12. WiseOne says:

    Hi Jenny, I love your Q&A sessions with Forrest. Thank you.
    Forrest’s doll collection has always been a topic I’ve wanted to read more about. What a special treat for you to get to see it in person and also talk to him about it.

    @ JC1117, I know “saudade”… That’s a great word. I found it a few years ago. I was happy to learn there actually was a word to describe this nostalgic, melancholic longing, or as you say “presence of absence”.

    I’d also like to think the word cozy or “coziness” as he said, as being an intimate way of sensing a doll’s spirit / history, thus stimulating f’s thought processes while writing. That’s interesting.

  13. Eliza says:




  14. Brad Hartliep says:

    Forrest: I love how you gave the Dolls life. You let them Speak to you. You saw the Spirit within them gazing back, asking you to listen and to tell their story. To so many people, they would have been but items to be catalogued and placed under glass, with a 3×5 description of the fabric and design and maybe the Tribe and where they were found; with no thought of the children who played with them, or their beliefs, or what the Dolls could tell them, or of their experiences and hardships in an Age gone by ..

    It’s unfortunate I never had the opportunity to meet you and get to know you 35 or 40 years ago and worked with you at San Lazaro or out hiking for artifacts or the Friendships you made with so many Indians. My fleeting knowledge of the Great Desert West and of the Cultures of the Indian Tribes would be so much the greater expanded and fulfilled by multiple exponentials of Discovery ..

    All My Best,


  15. HappyThoth says:

    Seven Sages.. Seven Shining Dolls.. why am i not surprised?
    nu clues.. clews.. strands
    forrest tied them together with square knots
    It was Ariadne who gave Theseus a clew which she had obtained from Daedalus. In some versions of the myth it was an ordinary clew, a simple ball of thread. It was to prove invaluable in his quest to survive the terrors of the Labyrinth.

    • Point Foot says:

      I have been thinking about that giant ball of string. I kinda figure it has to play a part in the chase though I haven’t heard anyone say how. Since Forrest was an avid fisherman it has crossed my mind that maybe some parts of the string are fishing line. Wouldn’t that be interesting? If there is fishing line might there not be a lure? And wouldn’t a lure be a fly of some kind? But then again maybe I’m just stretching my imagination too far. Ah well it’s almost time to go back to dreamland. Maybe I will be dreaming of treasures in my deep sleep.

      • HappyThoth says:

        thank you for that PF.. I think that take the CLOVIS right to the CRUS of the issue.

        SLOANE No.3329

        Q. – How Long is the Cable rope of your Lodge?

        A. – As Long as from the Lop of the Liver to the root of the tongue.

        Modern industrial fishing lines can be as long as 75 miles — the same distance as from sea level to space.

        • HappyThoth says:

          ““So, as I sat there past midnight in the solitude I had grown to treasure, I heard a different sound, faint but somehow compelling.”


          “6) What more would you like to say?
          Where there is fire there is smoke, Satis quOd Sufficit”

          “Send Out Sucker”

          CANDY ANN

  16. Lyzee says:

    I am a collector also. Living in the Southeast of the US … SWPA coal mining country … I have had little exposure to the SW relics. I do have over 200 vintage and antique dolls, but they are of the type dolly dolls and lady dolls. I believe Native American dolls have been offered maybe at least once at local auction. I had no knowledge about them so I had no desire to spend my money on them. I do have some smallish plastic Indian dolls that I keep in my collection. I would have a much larger collection but I am a doll collector forced doll dealer to pay bills. I think Fenn mentioned once that he was successful in the Art World because he was not a collector. I keep more than I sell. LOL I love these type of dolls … I have never had this type of doll available for purchase. Kachinas … I have seen them on ebay … but did not have knowledge needed to purchase for profit.


    Place Safety First

  17. Lyzee says:

    North East US SW PA

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