Strange Mystery of Victorio Peak
Victorio Peak southwest of Alamogordo, New Mexico
New Mexico is a
complex tapestry of natural beauty with mountains the dominant feature in the
landscape. Except for the eastern fringe, no part of the state is without them.
Some maps name seventy-three ranges, from Animas to Zuni. They include seven
peaks rising above 13,000 feet, eighty-five more than two miles high, and more
than three hundred notable enough to warrant names. All are part of the Southern
Rockies, and all have their own strange tales of legends and myths. No legend,
however, is more mysterious than the one associated with Victorio Peak.
Victorio Peak is a nondescript,
craggy outcropping of rock barely five hundred feet tall. It is nestled near the
center of a dry desert lake known as the Hembrillo Basin in the desolate
wastelands of northern Dona Ana County in the southern part of the state. The
Basin is a lonesome, empty place with miles and miles of solitude broken neither
by fence post nor telephone wires. The nearest settlements are forty miles
distant, and getting to the rugged sentinel in the forbidding Basin requires
skill and dexterity in traversing the barren landscape.
The Hembrillo Basin itself is the
southern gateway to the vast hundred mile stretch of blistering, arid desert
known as the Jornada del Muerto. It is Spanish for "Journey of Death,"
and it is just that. Back in the days of early Spanish exploration, travelers
would sometimes leave the lush Rio Grande Valley about fifteen miles north of
Las Cruces at a place where the river cut west. Trying to continue their journey
north across the barren wasteland toward Socorro usually turned into a big
mistake. This route did shorten their trip by several days, but it also took the
travelers into the domain of hostile Apache Indians. Many died in the Indian
attacks, and many more in the unforgiving desert. It seems ironic that this
bleak, forbidding wasteland would hold one of the most baffling mysteries of all
If ever anyone was destined to
find a fortune in hidden gold, that person was Milton Ernest "Doc"
Noss. He was born in Oklahoma, and he claimed that it was the Cheyenne half of
him which led him on the fringe of excitement all his life. He loved the
unknown, and took any variety of jobs all over the Southwest. Routine things
bored him, and he never stayed too long in any one place. If adventure called,
Doc was the first one on the trail.
On one of his frequent trips
through southern New Mexico, he met a pretty brown-haired woman named Ova
Beckworth. She was loving and generous and absolutely enamored with Doc. In
1933, Doc married Ova, whom he affectionately nicknamed "Babe." They
settled down in Hot Springs, which now goes under the name of Truth or
Consequences in honor of a popular television game show of the 1950’s. It was
here that Doc opened a foot clinic. If he was any kind of medical doctor, the
records have not been found to prove it.
Hot Springs was known as one of
the Southwest’s best health resorts. People from all over the country came to
ease their aches and pains in the healing, warm water, soak up the warm
sunshine, and bask in the warm New Mexico hospitality. It was not long before
Babe and Doc made many friends.
In November 1937, Doc, Babe, and
four others left on a deer hunt into the Hembrillo Basin. They drove toward
Victorio Peak, setting up camp on the desert floor not far from the base of the
peak. Early the next morning, the men headed into the wilderness, leaving the
women in camp. Doc was a loner, and not wanting to hunt with so many others
around, he headed toward Victorio Peak to hunt by himself.
As Doc scouted around the base of
the mountain, it began to drizzle. It was only a light rain, but a cold rain,
and he decided to seek shelter. Since Victorio Peak is a barren, treeless
pinnacle of rock and dirt, he scampered up the peak, searching for a rocky
overhang large enough to scoot under. Near the summit, he spied a huge boulder
and headed toward it. He saw evidence of early inhabitants, but did not know if
they had lived there long, or merely used it as a temporary shelter the way he
was doing. In the dim light, while waiting for the rain to subside, he noticed a
stone that looked as if it had been worked in some fashion. He reached down, but
was unable to budge it. Carefully digging around it, he was finally able to work
his hands under it. When he lifted it clear, he found a hole which appeared to
lead straight down into the heart of the mountain.
Instantly intrigued, Doc ignored
the rain and peered over the side into the gaping blackness. He saw what he took
to be an old, man-made shaft with a thick, wooden pole attached at one side. The
pole had deep gouges at regular intervals for footholds and appeared rotten,
leading Doc to believe the opening was the entrance to an ancient, abandoned
mine shaft. He totally forgot all about hunting, as he carefully positioned
himself under the boulder out of the rain. He planned adventure of a different
When it stopped raining, Doc
returned to camp and told Babe of his discovery, cautioning her not to tell the
others. It was his plan to return later and investigate the shaft privately. If
it was an abandoned mine, it would not matter, but if he found gold, he did not
want to share it with anyone.
Several days later, Doc and Babe
Noss returned to Victorio Peak with ropes and flashlights. When Doc inched his
way down through the tight, narrow passage into the mountain, he uncovered the
most controversial subject in New Mexico history---a topic involving
unimaginable wealth, murder and mystery. The participants are as varied as they
are unique. They appear to range from Don Juan de Onate’s brutal conquest of
New Mexico in the 16th Century to our federal government of today, encompassing
18th Century Mexican friars and a legendary 19th Century Apache war chief along
the way. It is one of the most incredible chapters in American history.
According to reports, Doc’s
initial journey down the shaft was nothing less than spectacular. After testing
the wooden pole attached at one side and deciding it was too risky for his
weight, he descended by rope nearly sixty feet through the narrow opening. Near
the bottom he encountered a huge boulder hanging from the ceiling, almost
blocking his way. Unknown to him at the time, this boulder would later play an
important role in his adventure.
At the bottom of the narrow shaft
was a chamber about the size of a small room with drawings around the walls. Doc
thought these sketches were made by Indians, as they were crude and stick-like.
Some were painted, while others were chiseled into the rock face. At the other
end of the chamber, the shaft continued sloping downward. Descending another
hundred and twenty feet before it leveled off, Doc found that the passageway
emptied into a huge, natural cavern large enough "for a freight train to
pass through." He saw several smaller rooms chiseled from the rock along
As Doc inched his way across the
great cavern, he made a terrifying discovery...a human skeleton. The hands were
bound behind the back, and the skeleton was kneeling, securely tied to a stake
driven into the ground, as if the person had been deliberately left there to
die. Before leaving the room, he found more skeletons, most of them bound and
secured to stakes like the first. Some skeletons were found stacked in a small
enclosure, as if in a burial chamber. All told, he reportedly found twenty-seven
human skeletons in the caverns of the mountain.
As Doc explored the side caverns
of Victorio Peak, he found amazing riches amounting to extreme wealth by
today’s standards. Jewels, coins, saddles, and priceless artifacts were
everywhere, including a gold statue of the Virgin Mary. In one chamber, he found
an old Wells Fargo box and leather pouches neatly stacked to the ceiling. He
even found some old letters, the most recent of which was dated 1880. On the lid
of one old chest were words written in old English script. The contents of the
caverns appeared to represent several different nationalities, and it baffled
These chests and artifacts were
only the tip of the iceberg. In a deeper cavern, Doc found what he thought was a
stack of worthless pig-iron bars. He estimated there were over sixteen thousand
bars weighing over forty pounds apiece "stacked up against the wall like
cordwood." He was barely able to lift one, much less think of carrying it
back to the surface. Later, the wealth in the cave was calculated to be worth
more than two billion dollars. No matter what the estimate, it was clear that
Doc had found a substantial treasure, much of it in gold bullion.
Doc filled his pockets with gold
coins, grabbed a couple of jeweled swords, and laboriously returned to Babe
waiting anxiously at the surface. After telling her of what he had seen and
showing her the loot, she insisted he go back into the mine for one of the
pig-iron bars. After much searching, he finally found a small iron bar that he
could carry back through the narrow passageway, but it was difficult maneuvering
through the tight passage with the heavy bar. When he reached the surface, he
told Babe, "This is the last one of them babies I’m gonna bring
By then, it was late afternoon,
the sun almost on the horizon. When Babe rolled the bar over, she noticed a
yellow gleam where the gravel of the hillside had scratched off centuries of
black grime. She showed the gold metal to Doc. He said, "Well Babe, if
it’s gold, and all that other is gold like it, we can call John D. Rockefeller
From the time Doc Noss discovered
the treasure in Victorio Peak, he and Babe spent every free moment exploring the
tunnels that led deep inside the mountain. They began living in a tent at the
base of the peak, working the claim each day for hours on end. On each trip, Doc
would retrieve two gold bars and artifacts. At one time, he brought out a crown
that Babe cleaned in her sink in town. According to Babe’s report, it
contained two hundred forty-three diamonds and one pigeon-blood ruby. Yet, Doc
trusted no one, not even his wife. He disappeared at night into the desert with
his booty, hiding pieces of the treasure in places that he never revealed.
Among the artifacts Doc is
reported to have retrieved from the cache were four codices---leather pages with
hand-tooled instructions---one dated 1797. According to Doc, the codices were
reburied in the desert in a chest with other artifacts. Although the originals
have never been recovered, there was a copy of one, a translation of which
explains the significance of the number seven, according to Pope Pius III.
"Seven is the holy
number," the passage begins. It then continues for several lines before
ending with a cryptic message: "In seven languages, seven signs, and
languages in seven foreign nations, look for the Seven Cities of Gold. Seventy
miles north of El Paso del Norte in the seventh peak, Soledad, these cities have
seven sealed doors, three sealed toward the rising of the Sol sun, three sealed
toward the setting of the Sol sun, one deep within Casa del Cueva de Oro, at
high noon. Receive health, wealth, and honor."
Believers say that Doc Noss found
the Casa del Cueva de Oro, Spanish for the House of the Golden Cave.
"Soledad" was the former name of Victorio Peak, and Doc apparently
found the seventh door located "at high noon," but the promised
health, wealth, and honor were denied him. Four years before his discovery,
Congress had passed the Gold Act, which outlawed the private ownership of gold.
Doc was unable to profit from his treasure on the open market.
When Doc’s story eventually hit
the headlines, scholars began speculating on how the enormous treasure could
have come to be stashed inside Victorio Peak. It was not hard to come up with
theories. New Mexico has undergone a lot of transition from the time of the
earliest friars to modern time. One of the theories scholars advanced dates back
to Don Juan de Onate, who, in 1598, founded New Mexico as a Spanish colony. He
knew the tales of the Seven Cities of Gold, and he surely sought them. But Onate
was cruel, brutally subjugating the Indians to do his bidding. He beat and
tortured them, forcing them to mine gold and silver. It has been reported that
he amassed a treasure of gold, silver and jewels before being ordered to Mexico
City in 1607. If he did not take the fortune with him, he must have stored it
somewhere…Victorio Peak perhaps?
Another theory is that the
treasure belonged to a Catholic missionary named Felipe La Rue, or La Ruz, as
church documents are said to give his name. He was a native of France and was
among the small group of priests who volunteered for service in Mexico. His
party sailed to Florida, crossed the Gulf of Mexico to Vera Cruz, and from
there, it went to Mexico City by ox cart. After a short rest, Padre La Rue left
for the north, where he took up his work among the Indians and peons at a large
hacienda near what is now the city of Chihuahua, reaching there in 1798.
From the people at his new
station, he heard stories about a fabulous source of rich minerals in the
mountains to the north. If he was interested in these stories, he did not reveal
it to others. Instead, he continued with his teachings and ministering to the
sick and spiritual needs of his small parish. Among his parishioners was an old
man, who had been an explorer and soldier of fortune during his youth. This man
had traveled widely over the country to the north, and as Padre La Rue
personally cared for this ailing old man, the two became good friends.
One day, Padre La Rue asked about
the riches which lay to the north. The old man said that if the good priest
wanted gold, there was a rich deposit of it located high in the mountains about
two days’ travel north of El Paso del Norte, which is the present-day site of
El Paso, Texas. According to the legend, the man said, "After one day’s
travel from El Paso del Norte, you will come to three small peaks yet further to
the north. Upon first sight of these peaks, turn to the east and cross the
desert toward the mountains. In the mountains, you will find a basin where there
is a spring at the foot of a solitary peak. On this peak, you will find
gold." A few days later, the old man died.
It was not until the crops failed
that Padre La Rue thought of the solitary peak filled with gold. His little
parish needed water and a better climate, and he called everyone together,
asking if they would follow him north. They all agreed, and the little party set
out for their new country. After crossing El Paso del Norte, they followed the
course of the Rio Grande to the small village of La Mesilla near Las Cruces.
North of there, they sighted the three peaks and turned east across the dreaded
Jornada del Muerto, finally arriving in the San Andreas Mountains. After a
couple of days of exploration, they located a basin in which there was a spring
at the base of a solitary peak, just as the old man had said.
Scholars all believe this basin
was the Hembrillo Basin, and the solitary peak was Soledad Peak. After a fierce
battle between the Army and Chief Victorio of the Apaches in 1880, the peak
assumed a new name of Victorio Peak. It is not to be confused with Victoria Peak
in the Black Range Mountains near Kingston, New Mexico.
Padre La Rue established a crude
camp and sent the men out to search for the gold the old man had promised was
there. On one side of the peak, they located a rich vein, ultimately working the
mine for years. They tunneled into the mountain and followed the vein downward.
The deeper they went, the richer the ore became. The little priest assigned
dozens of monks and Indians to mine the gold, form it into ingots and, except
for whatever was needed for supplies, stack it along one wall of a natural
cavern inside the mountain.
Word eventually reached church
officials in Mexico City that the hacienda had been abandoned, and Padre La
Rue’s tiny colony was missing. A search party went to investigate. When they
returned and reported that the entire population had left for the mountains to
the north, soldiers were dispatched with orders to locate the priest and demand
It was when a small group was in
La Mesilla purchasing supplies that they learned the Mexican Army was on the
horizon. Hurrying to camp, they spread the alarm. It was one thing for Padre La
Rue to leave his post without permission of church officials in Mexico City, but
it was quite another not to deliver the Royal Fifth (or Quinta) of the gold for
shipment to Spain. Padre La Rue was in a lot of trouble.
Padre La Rue immediately set about
concealing all traces of the mine. Working day and night, knowing the soldiers
were drawing ever closer, he had his little group labor to conceal the entrance.
When the soldiers finally arrived and demanded to know where the gold came from
which was used to purchase the supplies in La Mesilla, Padre La Rue refused to
answer. He died under torture, as did many of his followers, and although the
soldiers looked all over for evidence of a mine, they were forced to return to
Mexico City with nothing to show for their long journey. The Lost Padre Mine, as
it has been called ever since, went into the history pages as a beloved legend.
Many scholars think that Doc Noss
stumbled upon the Lost Padre Mine, but there are a few who speculate that the
treasure could be the missing wealth of Emperor Maxmilian. As emperor of Mexico
in the 1860’s, Maxmilian attempted to get his gold out of Mexico, especially
when he learned of an assassination plot. He was, in fact, assassinated in 1867.
Legend says he sent a palace full of valuables to the United States, and it has
never been found. Although it has been rumored that it went by ship and lies in
deep waters off the coast of New Orleans, the victim of a particularly bad Gulf
storm, the easiest route for the Maxmilian treasure train would have been
through the New Mexico corridor into Texas. Strangely, there is an old rumor
that it has been lost along the dunes of shifting lake bed in West Texas, the
victim of banditry where all the bandits were killed by pursuing posse members.
The truth is that no one knows anything for certain. Could the jewels and coins
Doc saw have been part of Maxmilian’s missing fortune?
And how does Chief Victorio enter
into the story? Well, the most colorful legend associated with the Victorio Peak
treasure does concern the great Warm Springs Apache war chief. Victorio used the
entire Hembrillo Basin as his stronghold. He absolutely refused to live on the
San Carlos Reservation in Arizona where his people died from hunger and insect
bites. Victorio’s land had always been in the mountains of New Mexico, and a
treaty between the Federal government in Washington and his band had promised
they could stay on those lands as long as the "mountains stand and the
rivers flowed." With the discovery of gold in the mountains, such did not
happen, and in 1878, the treaty was broken. Victorio went on the war path.
Knowing how much the white man valued gold and having little use for it himself,
he amassed huge amounts of the yellow mineral any way he could get it. He and
his warriors raided throughout the Jornada and the Rio Grande Valley, attacking
wagon trains, churches, immigrants, mail coaches, and anything else that
promised riches. He raided the stage lines all over southern New Mexico and
Texas in an all-out war against the U. S. Army and the Texas Rangers. He also
took prisoners back to the Basin and subjected them to elaborate torture as a
test of their bravery before killing them. Were the skeletons found inside
Victorio Peak victims of Victorio’s raids?
On 7 April 1880, Victorio engaged
in a fierce battle with a troop of the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers
at the mountain. After a bloody standoff that resulted in the deaths of many of
the soldiers, the Army retreated. The peak was thereafter known as Victorio Peak
in honor of the great chief. Many researchers believe that Victorio and his
Apaches had an entrance into the mountain and that they used the cave to conceal
the booty they looted from the surrounding areas. It would also explain the
presence of the Wells Fargo bags, the pack saddles, the letters and other
artifacts dating to Victorio’s time. Did the Apaches fight hard to protect
their cache of treasures within the mountain?
It is doubtful Doc Noss cared
anything about the historical value of the fortune inside the hollow peak. The
pouches and packs, artifacts and leather goods were mostly ignored, while he
concentrated on the gold coins and bars. Ever since he found the treasure, he
worked stealthily to remove what he could of it. He never told any of friends
what he was doing.
Finally, in the spring of 1938,
Doc Noss and Babe went to Santa Fe to establish legal ownership of his find. He
filed a lease with the State of New Mexico for the entire section of land
surrounding Victorio Peak. Subsequent to that, he filed mining claims on and
around Victorio Peak. He had it surveyed for an exact location, and then filed a
treasure trove claim, which has become the historic Noss family claim to the
treasure in Victorio Peak. With legal ownership established, he worked his claim
openly, but he became super cautious. He took the gold bars out of the cavern
and then hid them from everyone, including his own family, in a variety of
locations all over the desert. Some were right by the county roads by certain
marked telephone poles. Some were dropped in horse tanks at the nearby ranches.
Some were just buried in the sand, and Doc would put a different colored rock
over the top than was natural to that surrounding.
There was a lot of fear and
probably some increasing paranoia in both Doc and Babe. As they solicited more
and more help from friends, neighbors, and supporters, they became afraid that
some of these people might try to steal some of the bullion that they had hidden
around the Peak.
It was the Fall of 1939 when Doc
made his great mistake. He decided to enlarge the passageway into Victorio Peak,
reasoning that if he could rid the narrow quarters of the confining huge boulder
hanging at the lower portion of the shaft, he could removed the gold much easier
and, more importantly, much faster. He hired a mining engineer named S.E.
Montgomery to go with him and help him blast out the shaft. Although Doc claimed
the mountain was rotten, and the two men argued viciously about the charge to
used, Montgomery won the argument. The choice was eight sticks of dynamite.
The blast was disastrous. Instead
of widening the passage as Doc wanted, it caused a cave-in, collapsing the
fragile shaft and effectively shutting Doc out of his own mine. Doc tried
several times to regain entry into his mine, but the shaft was sealed with tons
of debris. All attempts failed, leaving him embittered and angry. He took to
taking his frustrations out on his wife, and it was not long before Babe and Doc
divorced. Now, instead of having thousands of gold bars to draw from, he only
had those few hundred that he had brought to the surface. He became very
protective of those gold bars. Two years after his divorce from Babe, he married
Violet Lena Boles, which would further complicate ownership of the treasure
rights in the years to come.
When Doc became desperate for
cash, he took into his confidence a man named Joseph Andregg. The two of them
transported gold bars, coins, jewels, and artifacts into Arizona, selling them
on the black market. For nine years, Doc attempted illegally to sell his gold,
but it was difficult finding buyers. He was afraid of getting caught and ending
up in prison. His paranoia increased daily.
In 1949, Doc met a miner named
Charley Ryan from Alice, Texas. He became convinced that Ryan could reopen the
shaft, and he arranged to exchange some of the gold bars for $25,000 to fund the
venture. Meanwhile, Babe Noss had filed a counter-claim on the entire area.
Denied entry by the courts until legalities could determine the legal owner of
the mine, Doc feared Ryan would back out of the deal. Sensing a double-cross and
that Ryan would abscond with fifty-one bars of re-hidden gold, Doc asked an
acquaintance, Tony Jolly, to help him rebury the gold in a new hiding place. The
trip made a believer out of Jolly.
"We got in the pickup, and we
went out across the desert a long ways," said Jolly, "and we started
digging. We dug twenty bars of gold out of the ground right there. I said,
‘Doc, what’s going on?’ and he said, ‘Well, there’s a fella coming
tomorrow who’s gonna fly in here, and he’s supposed to take this gold and
sell it, and he’s supposed to split with me. I got word that he’s gonna sell
it and keep right on going with the money.’ We reburied those bars of gold.
There turned out to be ninety more. I handled, and I saw one hundred and ten
bars of gold."
The next day Doc and Ryan got into
an argument, and Ryan pulled a gun on Doc. Ryan insisted that they discuss the
problem of what happened to the gold that Doc had re-hidden, hinting that if Doc
did not reveal its new hiding place, Doc would not live to enjoy the gold. A
fight ensued. As Doc Noss headed toward his car, Ryan, fearing Doc was getting a
gun, shot in Doc’s direction. The bullet struck Doc in the head, killing him
instantly. The date was 5 March 1949. Just twelve years after discovering the
treasure, Doc Noss died kneeling in the dust with only $2.16 in his pocket. Ryan
was charged with murder, but was later acquitted.
As the years passed, Babe Noss
held onto her claim at Victorio Peak, occasionally hiring men to help her clear
the shaft. Things were plodding along until 1955, when White Sands Missile Range
unexpectedly expanded their operations to encompass the Hembrillo Basin. The
military locked Babe out. Although Babe corresponded regularly with the military
requesting permission to enter the range and work her claim, she was always
denied. The military was afraid that allowing her permission would set a
precedent that would allow others to petition and make similar claims. It would
hinder the Army’s mission, which was missile testing. From that moment onward,
every attempt of Babe’s to clear the rubble from the plugged shaft met with a
military escort out of the area.
The real problem with the military
claim on the land stemmed from a statement made by state officials in New
Mexico. On 14 November 1951, Public Land Order No. 703 was issued, which
withdrew all the White Sands Proving Ground (later to be called the White Sands
Missile Range) from prospecting, entry, location, and purchase under the mining
laws and reserved their use for the military. But the state officials claimed
that they leased only the surface of the land to the military. The underground
wealth, in whatever form it took, still belonged to the state, or to the holders
of the various types of licenses. If there was treasure on the land, it did not
belong to the Army, but it might not have belonged to Doc Noss, either. A search
of mining records in December 1950 failed to turn up any existing mining claims,
which Doc claimed he had filed. Further, Roy Henderson owned the land where
Victorio Peak is located, and he had leased it to the Army. Before him, the
Gilmore family had lived there. In other words, much of the disputed land
belonged not to the Noss family, but to someone else.
Babe Noss then contacted the two
senators from New Mexico, hoping to enlist their help in mining her claim. In
December 1952, Senator Dennis Chavez wrote to Brigadier General G. G. Eddy about
the problem on the White Sands Proving Grounds. Senator Clinton P. Anderson also
wrote to General Eddy, but the general ruled that no further operations would be
allowed on the peak because the paperwork was already being prepared to transfer
all mineral rights to the government. The dispute was finally worked out in
federal court which settled on a compromise of sorts. The Army would continue to
use the surface of the land, but no one would be allowed on the Proving Grounds
without the Army’s consent. In effect, no one could mine the treasure, and
that included the Army and Babe Noss, but that did not deter Babe. She refused
to leave, claiming that all she wanted, according to all the letters and
documents she sent, was to recover what her late husband had discovered.
By 1958, few people believed in
Babe’s claim of hidden gold. Doc was dead, and with his death went the
location of all the buried bars of bullion he had removed from the peak before
sealing himself out of the mountain. With the passage of years, few people could
claim to have seen any of the treasure. Even though the military always refused
any of Babe’s efforts to work her claim, it apparently did not refuse other
military personnel from exploring portions of the White Sands. The fat hit the
fire when two airmen from nearby Holloman Air Force Base said they had
penetrated the gold cavern from another natural opening in the side of Victorio
The soldiers, Airman First Class
Thomas Berlett and Captain Leonard V. Fiege, said they had penetrated a fissure
which led to a small cavern filled with approximately one hundred gold bars
weighing between forty and eighty pounds each. The bars were shaped like house
bricks. Neither man was familiar with laws governing the discovery of treasure
on a military reservations, nor were they aware that the Whites Sands command
did not hold the mineral rights to anything found on the Range. Fiege told
several people that he had caved in the roof and walls to make it look as if the
tunnel came to a dead end, and then both men covered the entrance with rocks and
dirt to disguise the location. Fiege then went to the Judge Advocate’s Office
at Holloman Air Force Base and conferred with Colonel Sigmund I. Gasiewicz.
There was now two separate
military commands involved. Gasiewicz called the Land Office in Santa Fe and
spoke to a Land Office attorney named Oscar Jordan, saying that an officer
assigned to the command at Holloman Air Force Base had found a gold bar on White
Sands Proving Grounds, an Army post. Jordan suggested the gold bar be sent to
the Department of the Treasury or to the Secret Service, since Jordan was under
the impression that Fiege had carried a gold bar to the JAG office at Holloman.
Both Fiege and Gasiewicz denied that this happened, but they did form a
corporation to protect what Fiege had found. They planned to contact the various
governmental agencies to make sure they violated no laws, and they planned to
make a formal application to enter White Sands for a search and retrieval of the
gold. Although the military issued an edict forbidding them to go back and
remove any gold, gold fever still struck. This time the gold seekers were the U.
In the summer of 1961, Captain
Fiege, Captain Orby Swanner, Major Kelly, and Colonel Gorman were instructed by
Major General John Shinkle of White Sands to work the Noss claim on advice from
the director of the Mint, who had been bothered by many requests for additional
information on the treasure. General Shinkle did not want anyone on the
installation not authorized to be there, but he was interested in solving the
mystery once and for all. However, he was unwilling to set a precedent that
would haunt all of them in the future, so he requested the permission from the
Department of the Army to allow a search. On 5 August, Fiege and his party
returned to Victorio Peak, accompanied by the commander of the Missile Range, a
secret service agent, and fourteen military police. Try as he would, Captain
Fiege was unable to penetrate the opening he had used just three years earlier.
General Shinkle finally had enough of it and ordered everyone out. Fiege took a
lie detector test, and the results of that test prompted General Shinkle to
allow Fiege back on the missile range. This time, the military to began a
full-scale mining operation at the Peak.
In October of that year, fueled by
increasing suspicions that the military was working her claim, Babe Noss hired
four men to surreptitiously enter the range. These men were caught trespassing,
and after being escorted from the area, they reported to Babe that they observed
several men in Army fatigues on the peak. In an affidavit dated 28 October 1961,
one of the men, Judge H.L. Moreland of Loveland, Texas, claimed they saw a
military jeep, a weapons carrier, a number of poles about the width of telephone
poles, and other timbers which were cut and notched.
In his affidavit, Judge Moreland
testified that his group talked to Captain Orby Swanner, who ordered them to
leave the missile range. As soon as he could, Moreland reported the Army
activity on Victorio Peak to Babe Noss. She told Oscar Jordan with the New
Mexico State Land Office, and Jordan contacted the Judge Advocate’s Office at
White Sands Missile Range. In December 1961, General Shinkle shut down the
operation and excluded all from the range who were not engaged in missile
Thirty days later, under cover of
darkness, Moreland and his friends returned to the Peak. It was totally
deserted. Moreland saw the remains of extensive excavations, apparently carried
out by the government. There were roads and scaffolds and tunnels, but as for
Babe Noss’ gold treasure, there was no sign of it.
The Gaddis Mining Company of
Denver, Colorado, under a $100,000 contract to the Denver Mint, and working with
the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, obtained permission from the military to
dig the site in 1963. Since it was a state sponsored research trip, designed to
uncover artifacts of archaeological significance, the Army readily agreed. For
three months, beginning on 20 June 1963, using a variety of techniques, they
mapped the peak, searching for large void area that would indicate caverns. They
removed tons of earth, dug their own tunnel into the side of the peak, but no
entrance to any treasure cache occurred. They also dug a number of small test
holes ranging in depth from 18 to 175 feet. When they ceased operations, they
were a quarter of a million dollars poorer for their searching which failed to
turn up anything.
It was during this same period
that the Department of the Army asked Babe Noss to sign a consent document
allowing the Army to search. What it said was that she waived all rights to sue
the Army or the government "for alleged unlawful taking and withholding of
her personal property." Under advise from her attorney, she was advised not
to sign, but she had already signed the document when her attorney learned of
it. What he wanted to know was why the Army would insist on such a waiver? Was
it an indirect admission that there had been unauthorized intrusion into the
cavern by military personnel?
It turns out that there are two
theories to this document. First, only Doc Noss had ever been inside the peak,
and it is only his word that gold bars were stacked there. Although Leonard
Fiege had been inside a cavern, he had been feeling sick the day he was there,
and all he saw were bricks covered in dust. They may or may not have been gold
bars. There are some who think that Doc salted the cave in an attempt to defraud
others. So, for the Army to have Babe sign such a waiver document, might not
they be guarding against a real possibility that once the cavern was opened,
nothing would be found in it? If Babe then believed that the Army or the
government had beaten her into the cave and "stolen" the treasure that
belonged to her, she would not be able to file suit. It would make no difference
if the gold had been there or not, or even if the treasure cave was a myth or
not. What mattered was that the Army would be protected from lawsuits.
In 1972, F. Lee Bailey, a
nationally known attorney, became involved. He claimed to represent fifty
unidentified clients "who knew the location of the cave with one hundred
tons of gold stacked within." These claimants had retained Bailey to help
them find a legal means to work the claim on the federal reservation. Bailey was
skeptical, but was provided with one of the bars for analysis. He sent it to the
Treasury for testing. It was sixty percent gold and forty percent copper. The
problem is that fourteen-karat gold is about fifty-eight percent gold and
forty-two percent copper. It was noted that old gold ingots were often far from
pure. No real conclusion could be drawn from the tests. Also, the Senate
Watergate hearings were in progress, and the matter was not pursued through
Federal channels. Again, Babe Noss was not one of the claimants.
Meanwhile, there were now all
sorts of claimants in the issue. Along with Babe Noss, there was the group
formed around Fiege, Violet Noss Yancy, something called the Shriver group, the
Bailey claimants, and Expeditions Unlimited (a Florida based treasure hunting
group). The Army, suffering a guilty conscience perhaps, finally allowed
Expeditions Unlimited, representing all of the groups, including Babe Noss and
Airman Thomas Berlett, to excavate the peak in 1977. Berlett reported that ‘if
the mountain has not been penetrated and no materials removed from the mountain,
this will be the biggest thing that this country has ever seen.’ However, the
Army placed a two week time limit on the group, and they had hardly started
before they had to quit. What was most valuable, from the Army’s point of
view, was that those claiming something was hidden in Victorio Peak had had
their chance to search. They had found nothing. The Army then shut down all
operations and said no additional searches would be allowed.
It was not the end of Babe’s
quest for her mine. Her story spread like tentacles across the land, becoming
profiled in several magazines and newspaper articles. Although Babe died in
1979, he grandson, Terry Delonas, fully intended to continue the family
tradition. He formed the Ova Noss Family Partnership. By 1989, the story of the
Noss family treasure claim had reached millions of Americans. Incredibly,
another piece of the Victorio Peak puzzle then surfaced.
It came from a retired couple
living in Baytown near Houston, Texas. Captain Swanner was stationed at White
Sands Missile Range in the early 1960’s, and he apparently told member of his
family about the Victorio Peak mystery. He said that he had gone to inspect and
confirm that the treasure as reported by Airman Berlett and Captain Fiege did
exist. He was Chief of Security at the time. When he determined the accuracy of
the two men’s reports, he put the entire area off-limits until an official
investigation could be conducted. His superiors notified the Pentagon.
Supposedly, the military was able
to penetrate at least one of the secret caves and inventory the contents,
although the gold bars were supposedly removed to Fort Knox. The Pentagon
confirmed that Captain Swanner had served as an officer assigned to security at
White Sands Missile Range in 1961. However, Gordon Hobbs, from the Office of the
Assistant Secretary of the Army, responded to the allegations reported of
Captain Swanner by his relatives by saying that he really did not know anything.
He had never seen any such claim in any of the records he had examined, and he
had heard nothing of any such claim in the inquiries he had conducted. It did
not mean it had never happened, it just meant that Gordon Hobbs could find no
record of it.
For Gordon Hobbs to be telling the
truth, and there is no reason for him to lie, the official records may have been
altered or destroyed or there was never anything in the peak in the first place.
On the other hand, what was all the covert military operation on the peak that
Judge Moreland and his friends witnessed in 1961? Furthermore, the Army
certainly knew of the Noss claim. Babe Noss had been in contact with them for
years to gain access to it. If it could ever be proved that the Army stole
Babe’s treasure, would not the Army then be liable for restitution? Under that
assumption, would not it be better for the Army to conveniently lose, misplace,
or destroy any records that might have existed to support that accusation?
The Army’s official position on
the whereabouts of the gold is still a cautious one. According to Jim Eckles,
civilian public affairs officer at White Sands Missile Range, the burden of
proof rests with the accusers. There is just no way of satisfying everyone
involved in this mystery.
Some researchers believe the Army
really did retrieve much of the gold and then perpetrated a cover-up. They point
out that the army spent hundreds of thousands of dollars digging and excavating
Victorio Peak. They also point out that the Army built roads and even placed a
locked steel door over the original shaft discovered by Doc Noss. Why...if not
Was Captain Orby Swanner telling
the truth? Did the Army removed the gold from Victorio Peak? Is there any
physical evidence that Captain Swanner, or anyone for that matter, was ever, in
fact, inside Victorio Peak in 1961? There are some who claim that Swanner left
evidence of his presence in the cave, and that during the 1977 excavation,
military debris---battery packs and such---was found. There is also the claim
that they photographed a name and a date and an Army serial number on the wall
of one of the tunnels. The name was Capt. Orby Swanner. The date was 7 OCT 1961.
Understandably, members of the
Noss family and their friends believe that the military may have exploited
Babe’s claim and that the treasure is now gone. They think soldiers may have
moved it out by October 1961. But it is also entirely possible that the treasure
still remains. The codices mentioned a total of seven entrances into the
peak---presumably doorways to seven different treasure locations. Doc Noss’
was the summit; Captain Fiege’s was along one side. Suppose there are others?
Terry Delonas just doesn't know.
"We're not accusing the military of stealing the gold, but I do feel that
the Department of the Army in the 1960’s treated my grandmother unfairly. They
really tried to make a fool out of her, and all the time she was telling the
truth. They had sent my grandmother on a wild goose chase for decades. If that
is the fact, I think a great injustice has been done. However, we’ve worked
very hard over the years to establish a working relationship with the military,
and we're certainly not going to jeopardize that by accusing them of
It is doubtful anyone will know
the truth about Victorio Peak until it is thoroughly excavated. There is no
doubt a treasure existed; it has been photographed, affidavits are on file from
those who have seen it, and Babe Noss had relics from it. Researchers also
believe that the mine of Father La Rue was the hiding place of Chief
Victorio’s plunder...and Doc Noss’ discovery.
Babe Noss died in 1979 and since
then, her heirs have continued to push the Army for permission to excavate the
peak. A special act of Congress, House Bill 2461 passed in 1989, has unlocked
the Hembrillo Basin for Terry Delonas and the other heirs of Babe Noss to
investigate, but even though the Partnership has been allowed back on the range,
they have still found nothing as of 1995. The search is on-going.
Is the treasure still there? No
one knows for sure. With all the blasting and digging that has occurred on the
peak over the past sixty years, it may be impossible to economically excavate.
But if it does still exist, the entire treasure today is estimated to be worth
more than $1.7 billion dollars.