Friday Fables: The Treasure of Victorio Peak

In southern New Mexico, just northeast of Las Cruces, there is a 3,200 square mile expanse of desert. Hembrillo Basin, a dry desert lake, lies within the nothingness; and Victorio Peak, a 500-foot tall outcropping of rock, lies in the center. The area has since become the White Sands Missile Range, but many secrets were uncovered there before the military took ownership of the area.

When the area was still open to the public, a couple named Milton Ernest Doc Noss and Ova Babe Noss visited on a deer hunt with friends in 1937. One morning, the men went out to hunt while their wives stayed back at camp. It started to rain and Doc took shelter under a rocky overhang, where he noticed an oddly shaped stone that looked like it had been tooled. So he began digging around it until he was able to lift it. Underneath, he found a narrow shaft leading straight down into the mountain.

Later, he told Babe about what he found and the two decided to keep it a secret from their friends. They returned to the site several days later with ropes and flashlights in order to explore whatever was inside. Doc repelled down 60 feet into a large cavern with paintings and chiseled drawings adorning the walls. There was another downward shaft and Doc repelled down 125 feet into a cavern that held wondrous treasures such as gold coins, jewels, saddles, golden statues, artifacts, old documents, and more. This cavern had several rooms and as Doc explored, he found 27 human skeletons. Some were kneeling with their hands tied to a stake, while others were in a pile like one might find in a burial chamber.

Doc also found what appeared to be large iron bars stacked up in another room and, on a later trip down into the mountain, Babe encouraged him to bring one back up to the surface. They discovered that the bars were in fact made of pure gold, and had been covered in centuries of grime. This discovery came after the Gold Reserve Act, which forbade the private ownership of gold and allowed the government to confiscate any they found. So Doc had no way to sell off his findings, of which he estimated to consist of thousands of bars that each weighed over 40 pounds. He began bringing the bars up to the surface one at a time-along with other bits of treasure that he could carry-and hiding them across the vast desert, never revealing the locations to anyone, not even Babe.

After weeks of recovering treasure bit by bit and carrying it back up to the surface, the couple decided to file for a lease from the government and mining rights for the site in 1938. Once they obtained legal ownership, they began to openly work on recovering as much treasure as possible. But Doc grew more paranoid and continued burying his finds across the desert.

In 1939, Doc hired a mining engineer to enlarge the passageway into Victorio Peak to make it easier to bring up more treasure with each trip. But the engineer’s use of dynamite turned out to be a mistake, leading to a cave-in that collapsed the fragile shafts and effectively shut Doc out of his own mine.

After the shaft was sealed off by the cave-in, Doc was never able to gain access to the treasure he found again. He grew angry and bitter, leading to the end of his marriage in 1945. Doc redirected his attention to the gold bars he had already recovered and buried, joining with Joseph Andregg to sell them on the black market. They struggled to find buyers over the next nine years.

In 1949, Doc was shot and killed by another business partner after an argument over the remaining buried treasure. At his time of death, 12 years after the discovery of the treasure of Victorio Peak, Doc had only $2.16 in his pockets.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Babe fought to hold onto her claim over the area. Her efforts were complicated in 1955, when the White Sands Missile Range unexpectedly expanded their operations into the Hembrillo Basin. Babe regularly corresponded with the military in an effort to continue her work at the mine, but she was continually denied and escorted out of the area. Babe would come to believe that the military had found the gold and transferred it elsewhere. She died in 1979 without ever reaching the remaining treasure.

We may never know what treasure still lies beneath the surface of the New Mexican desert, or learn what happened to the people found buried there. However, the Noss family still has possession of relics, photos, and other evidence that supports the existence of the treasure.

Where did the treasure originally come from? There are several theories that attempt to explain the amount of gold found beneath the surface. Some believe that Doc Noss found the Casa del Cueva de Oro, which is Spanish for the House of the Golden Cave. Others believe Victorio Peak was the site of treasure of Don Juan de Onate, who founded New Mexico as a Spanish colony in 1598 and amassed a cache of treasure there before being ordered back to Mexico City in 1607.

Another theory is that the treasure belonged to Emperor Maxmillian, who served Mexico in the 1860s. He moved his vast wealth out of Mexico and into the US when he caught wind of an assassination plot, which ended up proving successful in 1867. The last theory is that the treasures were hidden by Chief Victorio, for whom the peak is named. Victorio went on a warpath is 1878 after a land treaty with the US was broken when gold was discovered in the area. Gold meant little to Victorio, but he amassed a cache of the metal by attacking white settlers.

What would you do if you stumbled across a huge treasure trove like Doc Noss did years ago?

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