The Gold and Treasure of Victorio Peak
"There's too much evidence to discount completely the possibility that there's something still in there," - former New Mexico Attorney General David Norvell. Los Angeles Times, May 03, 1987.
"It's absolute nonsense. How can it be anything else?" - former New Mexico state historian Mary Ellen Jenkins. Los Angeles Times, May 03, 1987.
Above: Photograph of Victorio Peak
In November 1937, Milton "Doc" Noss, his wife Ova "Babe” Noss and a group of friends were hunting for deer in the Hembrillo Basin (sometimes known as Rattlesnake Springs) in the San Andres Mountains of southern New Mexico.
A member of the Noss hunting party that fateful day was a 17-year-old R. L. Coker:
"Doc knew where the spring was and he knew the deer would come down to the water, so he was sitting up at the top of the peak watching and waiting for the deer, He felt a breeze come up and fan his pant leg. […] But he found that there was a breeze coming up from under a rock. Moving the rock, he discovered the entrance to the peak." [Source: R. L. Coker in Treasure or Treachery? : Did 'Doc' Noss Really Find Caverns of Gold or Did He Pull Off a Hoax That Has Plagued His Kin for Years? By Robin Abcarian, June 16th, 1991. http://articles.latimes.com/1991-06-16/news/vw-1352_1_doc-noss]
And so began one of the strangest treasure mysteries in US history.
Inside the entrance to the Peak were the remains of a crudely made wooden ladder, descending the ladder, Doc Noss discovered an extensive network of tunnels and chambers deep within Victorio Peak. Inside a large vaulted cavern Noss found a chest with the words “Sealed Silver” written in old English on the lid. The chest was full of silver coins. In another chamber he found 3 huge oval shaped chests stuffed with gold and jewels, other chests were marked as being the property of Wells & Fargo.
Continuing to search the tunnels and chambers they honeycombed Victorio Peak, Doc Noss found one cavern that contained 79 human skeletons and many other chambers containing large stacks of what Doc Noss believed were ingots of pig iron.
Doc Noss returned to the surface with jewel encrusted swords, knives, coins, jewels and a golden crown. Babe Noss would later describe the crown in a filmed interview as being set with 243 diamonds and one pigeon blood ruby, she had cleaned it up in her kitchen sink.
After seeing the golden objects, Babe Noss asked Doc to go back down into the tunnels and collect a bar of the pig iron for her to look at. When Doc Noss returned with the bar, Babe cleaned a portion of the surface of bar to discover the pig iron like colouration was due to a thick coating of dust and grime, beneath the dirt was pure gold. Doc Noss estimated that as many as 16,000 bars of gold were stacked in the tunnels, chambers and caverns beneath their feet.
In the spring of 1938, Doc and Babe Noss travelled to Santa Fe and filed mining claims and a treasure trove claim for Victorio Peak.
In the autumn of 1939 Doc Noss hired a mining engineer called Montgomery to open a large passage into the peak. Montgomery was paid 8 gold bars for his services. As work to widen the shaft into the peak progressed, Noss and Montgomery soon found their way block by a large boulder and both men agreed that the boulder would have to be cleared from the passage using dynamite. However, Noss and Montgomery argued about the size of explosive charge they would require to clear the boulder from the passage, Montgomery Believed that a large charge would be required, whereas Noss argued that the mountain they were standing on, Victorio Peak, was “rotten” and that a large explosion could cause cave-ins.
Montgomery, the expert mining engineer, won out and a large amount of dynamite was set on the boulder. When detonated, the charge collapsed the shaft, sealing the only known entrance to the tunnels and caverns under the peak. Doc Noss found himself cut off from his treasure find.
Up until the cave-in, Doc Noss had managed to retrieve about 100 bars of gold from the tunnels and caverns beneath Victorio Peak.
On January 30, 1934, the Gold Reserve Act was passed into law in the United States of America, this piece of legislation made it illegal for US citizens to buy, sell or own bullion gold. The only kind of gold a citizen of the United States could own legally was gold jewellery, everything else was illegal. The Gold Reserve act remained in place until 1964 and it wasn't until 1975 that private US citizens could once again buy, trade and own Gold bullion.
So, in late 1939, with the only passageway to the treasure hopelessly blocked, Doc Noss found himself with almost no money and about 100 gold bars that he couldn't legally own let alone sell. But the Gold Reserve Act of 1934 had not only made private ownership of gold illegal, it had also created a thriving black-market for gold bullion.
After almost ten years of trying to sell off the gold bars to raise the money needed to reopen the shaft into the peak unsuccessfully, in 1948 Doc Noss entered into a partnership with a man named Charley Ryan. Doc Noss would give Ryan gold bars, Ryan would take the bars and sell them to his black-market contacts and return to Doc with the cash.
In the days before Ryan was due to visit Doc Noss to pick up the gold bars, Doc Noss became increasingly concerned about Charley Ryan's intentions. On March 4, 1949 after enlisting the help of a friend called Tony Jolley, a young rodeo rider, Doc Noss headed off into the desert to bury the gold that had been intended for Ryan.
Doc Noss told Tony Jolley that he had been tipped off that Ryan intended to take the gold and never return. Doc led Jolley to a spot in the desert and they began digging. It wasn't long before the hole yielded another stash of gold bars – Doc was already using this spot as a hiding place.
All of the gold was reburied at this location, it was now the morning of March 5, 1949. Tony Jolley would later say in a television interview that on that night that he and Doc Noss had headed out into the desert, he had personally seen and handled 110 bars of gold and that many years later, he returned to the spot and recovered 10 gold bars.
Later on in the day of March 5, 1949, Charley Ryan arrived at Doc Noss' house to collect the gold. Upon finding out that Doc didn't have the gold he had promised, a big argument broke out between Noss and Ryan. Noss left the house in a hurry, running towards his parked car. Charley Ryan, believing that Noss was running to his car to get his gun, shot Doc Noss in the back of the head, killing him instantly.
Ryan was arrested and stood trial for the murder of Doc Noss, he was found not guilty, the jury accepting Ryan's claim that he was just defending himself. In court, Ryan would claim to have given Doc Noss $28,000 to build an airstrip at Victorio Peak and to buy equipment and supplies needed to attempt to reopen the shaft leading to the treasure.
Babe Noss, Doc's wife, vowed to continue efforts to reopen the shaft and recover the treasure of Victorio Peak.
In 1952 Victorio Peak became part of the White Sands Missile Range and Babe Noss and her family were forcibly removed from the peak. The Army told Babe that she could return to her claim when her presence at Victorio Peak presented less of a threat to national security, after all, the work being done at white sands was (and still is) classified top secret.
In the months that followed, Babe Noss petitioned the military for access to the peak, but all attempts by Noss and her family to regain access to the site failed.
Did the Army Steal the Treasure of Victorio Peak?
Former Airman First Class Thomas Berlett, then stationed at Holloman Air Force Base, a part of the White Sands Missile Range, had heard stories of the treasure of Victorio Peak. Despite the military declaring the peak off limits, Berlett and a group of friends would venture to the peak regularly pretending they were hunting for deer.
After several visits and many hours of searching the airmen found another small cavern lower down the peak, after tunneling under a huge boulder that blocked their path, they found that the cave lead directly into the tunnels and caverns discovered by Doc Noss.
Thomas Berlett and friends discovered a room at the end of the cavern that contained two large stacks of gold bars. Berlett marked one of the bars with his initials and stood it on end on top of one of the stacks of gold bars. Continuing to explore the cavern, Berlett found another small room that contained a very large stack of gold bars in the shape of a pyramid.
After informing their superior officers of their discovery at Victorio Peak, the young airmen were denied permission to explore the interior of the peak any further. On their next and final visit to Victorio Peak, Berlett and his friends dynamited the cave entrance, sealing and concealing the cavern completely.
In 1961 strange things were reported as happening at the peak. The army were rumoured to be conducting a series of secret excavations within Victorio Peak. Babe Noss and the state of New Mexico immediately filed an injunction against the army to stop them. But a great many people who have studied the Victorio Peak treasure mystery believe that this is where the story ends. The army, using its almost limitless resources of men and machinery, were quickly able to reopen the tunnels to get inside the peak and remove the treasure in its entirety.
In 1963 the army tried to claim exclusive rights to Victorio Peak, the state of New Mexico blocked their attempts, citing Doc and Babe Noss' earlier treasure trove and mining claims to the peak, whatever was inside the peak belonged to the claim holders and not to the army.
Coming Soon: The Great Victorio Peak Treasure Hunt of 1977
Google Earth's view of Victorio Peak
The above image, taken from Google Earth, seems to show a considerable amount of recent activity at Victorio Peak.
Gold and Treasure of Victorio Peak Bibliography
One hundred tons of gold by David Leon Chandler (Sometimes called 100 tons of gold), Hardcover, 200 pages. Published by Doubleday. 1st edition released 1st January 1978. ISBN-10: 0385127383 ISBN-13: 978-0385127387.
The Treasure of Victoria Peak by Phil A. Koury. 7th Jan 1999. Paperback: 200 pages Publisher: Schiffer Publishing Ltd ISBN-10: 0887400604 ISBN-13: 978-0887400605.
What Men Call Treasure: The Search for Gold at Victorio Peak by David Schweidel and Robert Boswell 1st Sep 2008. Hardcover: 341 pages. Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press, U.S. ISBN-10: 1933693215 ISBN-13: 978-1933693217.
The Victorio Peak Treasure in the News:
- Victorio Peak's Gold May Never Pan Out but the Saga's One to Treasure. Part 1 http://articles.latimes.com/1987-05-03/news/mn-8435_1_gold-bars
- Victorio Peak's Gold May Never Pan Out but the Saga's One to Treasure. Part 2 http://articles.latimes.com/1987-05-03/news/mn-8435_1_gold-bars/2
- Treasure or Treachery? : Did 'Doc' Noss Really Find Caverns of Gold or Did He Pull Off a Hoax That Has Plagued His Kin for Years? By Robin Abcarian, June 16th, 1991. Part 1 http://articles.latimes.com/1991-06-16/news/vw-1352_1_doc-noss
- Treasure or Treachery? : Did 'Doc' Noss Really Find Caverns of Gold or Did He Pull Off a Hoax That Has Plagued His Kin for Years? By Robin Abcarian, June 16th, 1991. Part 2 http://articles.latimes.com/1991-06-16/news/vw-1352_1_doc-noss/2
- Treasure or Treachery? : Did 'Doc' Noss Really Find Caverns of Gold or Did He Pull Off a Hoax That Has Plagued His Kin for Years? By Robin Abcarian, June 16th, 1991. Part 3 http://articles.latimes.com/1991-06-16/news/vw-1352_1_doc-noss/3