In 1979 Ova Noss stood on the side of Victorio Peak posing for photos when she told the group, “Like they say, ´there´s gold inthem thar hills´.” Ova Noss died later in 1979 but The Ova Noss Family Partnership is back on White Sands Missile Range seeking access to the legendary treasure.
One of the people accompanying Ova Noss in 1979 was Terry Delonas, her grandson. Delonas is the head of the family partnership and has been leading the effort to gain entry into Victorio Peak.
early 1989 the partnership approached the Dept. of Army seeking permission to talk to White Sands about possible entry into Victorio Peak. Taking on much of the effort has been Norman Scott´s Expeditions Unlimited out of Florida. Scott has been in the treasure hunting business for years and organized the hunt which took place at Victorio Peak in 1977.
For those of you unfamiliar with this story Victorio Peak is a small hill, about 400 feet high, in the Hembrillo Basin in the San Andres Mountains. The peak is about five miles east of the missile range´s western boundary and is almost directly west of the White Sands Space Harbor.
A man named Milton Noss, in 1937, supposedly found a treasure trove of Spanish gold and artifacts in a tunnel within the peak. He then claimed he accidentally sealed the tunnel in 1939 while trying to enlarge it—and another fabulous treasure was lost. But more about the history of this legend in next week´s paper. It gets pretty good as it involves skeletons, jewels and gold bars the seekers say are now worth three billion dollars.
The Dept. of Army granted Terry Delonas and Norman Scott permission to talk to Maj. Gen. Thomas Jones, missile range commander. After listening to the presentation, the general told the group he would allow the exploration of Victorio Peak on two conditions. The first was that all the work be done on a noninterference basis. The second was that White Sands be directly reimbursed for any support it would provide.
The first condition was readily agreed to. While Victorio Peak sits in the mountains very near the range´s boundary it is part of the Yonder Area, an Air Force gunnery range. When Air Force training missions as well as some missile firings are scheduled the searchers will have to evacuate the area.
The second condition was a little trickier. Suffice it to say the system did not allow the partnership to pay White Sands directly. The check would be made out to the U.S. Treasury and the money would disappear back East. The partnership approached Congressman Joe Skeen and he attached a rider to the Defense Authorization Act for 1990 which would allow direct reimbursement to the Army and WSMR.
With the signing of the money bill, Norman Scott, acting as Project Director for the partnership, arranged to conduct an environmental and engineering survey of Victorio Peak. He arrived on Jan. 8 to present the missile range with a check for $54,000 and to start the survey. The check was actually presented by Aaron Kin, a financial backer.
The money is to cover costs incurred by the range during the survey period. Some of this support includes security at the peak by the military police, scheduling by National Range, blading the old road by the Directorate for Engineering, Housing and Logistics and Public Affairs support for a press day at the peak.
During the two-week survey period the group was trying to figure out the best place to dig and, also, to conduct the required environmental work. To determine where the supposed treasure room might be Lambert Dolphin was back taking ground radar readings of the peak. Dolphin had a similar function during the gold search of 1977 and is under contract to Expeditions Unlimited. They also made infrared images of the peak and brought in a number of witnesses to try to determine where to dig.
Les Smith, another man with a great deal of experience with Victorio Peak was also present to help. Smith accompanied Ova Noss to the peak in 1979 and was with the Gaddis Mining Company when it searched for the gold for 60 days in 1963.
The environmental work was contracted out by the partnership and is a key point yet. Contrary to what the press has said, the family partnership does not have final permission to dig at the peak. A license has been negotiated with the partnership but it has not been signed. It will not be signed until the required environmental documentation is satisfactorily completed.
Once the environmental work is completed and the license signed, the partnership will be allowed to work at the peak as long as they keep enough money in a White Sands fund to pay for range support. Jones has made it very clear he does not want the taxpayer to foot the bill for this search. The group claims it will have the environmental work complete in April.
During the two-week study period, Scott and Delonas brought in a number of potential contractors to bid on work which will have to be done at the peak.
On the 18th the missile range cooperated with the family partnership to give the press an opportunity to see and photograph Victorio Peak. The press representatives were mostly local except for the Denver Post and the Houston Chronicle.
The day started with a press conference at the Hilton Hotel in Las Cruces where Delonas and Scott introduced their key employees and supporters. In questioning by the press Delonas said the project will probably cost the partnership and its supporters from one to two million dollars.
At the peak, Ova Noss´ two daughters, Letha Guthrie and Dorothy Delonas, and two grandsons, Terry and Jim Delonas, were continuously interviewed by members of the press. Letha and Dorothy told them about handling gold bars and Letha also told them how their stepfather once partially filled a glass jar with uncut rubies from the peak. No one asked where the rubies might have come from since there are no major deposits of rubies in North or South America.
Stories of lost and buried treasure abound in the West. In New Mexico alone there are dozens of legends and stories dealing with gold and silver hidden away in the recesses of one mountain chain or another.
One of the newer and most popular stories (it comes close to rivaling the Lost Dutchman in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona) deals with Victorio Peak, right here on White Sands Missile Range. It is typical of all lost treasure stories in that there is little or no hard evidence, there are a few facts mixed in with an avalanche of rumor and for some reason the location is lost or it is somehow now inaccessible.
The Victorio Peak story begins in November 1937 when Milton E. Noss went hunting in the Hembrillo Basin of the San Andres Mountains. By the way, Noss is also called “Doc” because he often passed himself off as a doctor. He was not and was reportedly arrested in Texas for practicing medicine without a license.
While hunting Noss supposedly climbed Victorio Peak to take a look around. On his way up it began to rain and he took shelter in a natural opening on top. In a small room there he moved a large boulder and discovered a shaft leading down into the mountain.
He came back later with his wife Ova and climbed down into the shaft. He supposedly followed the faults in the peak down several hundred feet until he found a large room. After exploring the large room and several other small ones he returned to the surface.
By most of the accounts, he reported to Ova he had found a room large enough to drive a train into. Through it, a stream of cold water ran. There were chests filled with Spanish coins, jewelry and religious artifacts. Also, there were Spanish documents, Wells Fargo chests and thousands of gold bars stacked like wood. Finally, there were 27 skeletons tethered to the floor.
Understandably, the value of this treasure has grown over the years with inflation and the increased value of gold. Years ago some estimated its value at 26 million dollars. Now the Noss family says it may be worth three billion dollars. Funny thing about inflation though. All those original reports say there were 27 skeletons. Now, in one report, the family is saying there are 79 bony guardians down there.
From 1937 to 1939 Noss and his wife supposedly worked to bring the treasure to the surface. During this time Noss worked diligently hauling up bars and hiding them all around the region. He never let Ova go down into the treasure chamber and he always hid the bars himself. Some say he didn´t trust anyone. She claimed he was worried about her getting hurt or kidnapped.
Apparently there was some sort of choke point in the fissure which made it difficult getting out with the loot. So Noss hired a mining engineer to dynamite that point and enlarge it. Too much explosive was used and the “squeeze” was blasted shut. Efforts to open the shaft or bypass it proved futile.
Before we continue this story we have to consider where this alleged treasure may have come from. The most written about and talked about source has to be the legendary Padre La Rue mine.
This legend is usually associated with the Organ Mountains, but what the heck, Victorio Peak is only 40 miles to the north. Around 1800 there was a young priest named La Rue working with a small Indian tribe in Mexico. He befriended an old Spanish soldier who, on his deathbed, told La Rue about a fabulous vein of gold just two days north of Paso del Norte (El Paso).
Because the crops were failing and the Indians starving, the padre led the group to this area and found the rich vein. What they found to eat I don´t know, but the story says they did mine the gold for several years.
The Spanish sent soldiers to find out what had happened to the padre. When La Rue heard they were coming he had the Indians hide the gold and all evidence of the mine. They were then captured by the Spanish who killed the padre and all his followers in a vain attempt to find the location to the mine.
Many people will have you believe that Noss found the original mine, while others say it is just the secret hiding place. Ova did produce a photograph of some gold bars which Doc brought up and one is clearly stamped with the name “La Rue.” Could Victorio be the site of the original mine or the hiding place with the mine located somewhere in the vicinity? I like numbers—let me throw some at you.
Expeditions Unlimited had an assay done of the sandstone in Victorio Peak and it came back showing one tenth of an ounce of gold in each ton of rock. To get 100 tons of gold (a number usually cited by supporters based on the number of bars reported) from a site with this concentration of gold would require crushing and processing 32 million tons of rock. In South Dakota, the Homestake Mine is the most profitable and longest lived gold mine in the Western Hemisphere. There the gold assay is two and a half times richer than the sample from Victorio Peak and it has taken them a century to extract 1,000 tons of gold—using modern explosives and equipment, I might add.
According to my Time-Life book on rare metals, a ton of ore in the South Dakota mine is equal to about 19 cubic feet. If rocks are similar in the Victorio Peak area we are talking about removing and processing over six hundred million cubic feet of rock or a pile of rock the size of a football field and over two miles high. Where do you suppose the padre hid it?
OK, OK, maybe ore that poor isn´t a fair test. Let´s say the ore the padre mined was 100 times richer. No, let´s say it was 1,000 times richer or had an assay of 100 ounces of gold per ton of rock. Doing the same calculations we end up with a pile of mine tailings the size of a football field and 12.5 feet high. If it was in the San Andres Mountains, I bet we could find it.
Another story which avoids these unpleasant numbers deals with Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. According to this story, he was trying to flee Mexico with all of his riches. The mules made it and the stash was hidden with the porters being left to die in the cave. Unfortunately for Maximilian, he didn´t make it out of Mexico.
A third story has the German government sending a shipment of gold over to Pancho Villa and the gold being waylaid in New Mexico. The gold was supposed to be used by Villa to pay for his attacks against the United States and draw the U.S. into war with Mexico so the Americans would not go to Europe and fight in World War I.
The fourth explanation for gold in Victorio Peak is the one about it being a repository for Apache raiders. This would explain the Wells Fargo chests found down there by Noss.
Then there are the combo explanations which marry a couple of these into one story. One of the most persistent is that La Rue´s gold is down there and the Apaches also used it to store their loot. This explains the Mescalero Apache interest in the gold hunts at Victorio Peak. They claim any gold found in the peak rightly belongs to them since they stole it and then hid it in the peak during the 19th Century for safekeeping.
Once Noss blew up the entrance to the treasure room the story of the peak gets more complicated with a variety of helpers, witnesses and financial backers. Noss is reported to have already removed hundreds of gold bars from the mountain as well as a great deal of jewelry and other artifacts. Sure, it was illegal to own gold in those days but no one has really explained why Noss needed financial backers to dig out the debris in the tunnel. The jewelry, including those uncut rubies Letha mentioned, surely could have been turned into lots of instant cash.
Anyway, Noss had a number allies working at the peak. In 1941 a group of about 20 people, who had furnished money and labor, formed a company to raise money to straighten up and timber the shaft.
During the war Noss disappeared and divorced Ova while he was living in Arkansas. He came back in 1945 and the small group wanted to incorporate but Noss refused.
Noss turned up again in 1949 working for Charley Ryan in Alice, Texas. Noss supposedly talked Ryan into traveling with him to New Mexico to check on “the mine.” When they got to Victorio Peak they found Ova controlling the site with a state permit which allowed her to prospect there. Noss allegedly told Ryan not to worry and they filed claims on sites north of Victorio Peak which contain some lead bearing ore.
According to court testimony, Ryan finally realized he was being duped by Noss into providing money for nothing. Ryan testified he stopped his lead mining operations on March 4 and 5, 1949 and told Noss he was leaving New Mexico after he called the sheriff to come and arrest Noss for fraud.
Noss struck Ryan and ran out of the Ryan house in Hatch and shouted he would kill them all. Ryan stepped out on the porch and fired two shots from his own pistol. The second shot hit Noss in the head and killed him instantly.
Ryan´s murder trial was held on May 25 and 26 in Las Cruces. The jury brought in a verdict of not guilty based on self defense.
There wasn´t much testimony about buried treasure during the trial. Ova supposedly claimed there was a conspiracy of silence and Doc was killed over gold bars he didn´t deliver. One source says Ryan later went to Ova and proposed a partnership in Victorio Peak. She refused.
The press reports all say Ryan killed Noss because he wouldn´t turn over gold he promised to sell to Ryan. The trial testimony doesn´t raise this issue. I suppose there could have been a cover up but it seems just as plausible that Ryan told the truth during the trial. There is probably a little bit of truth in both sides.
We do know Ryan later received lease payments from White Sands for the lead mining claims. He had 13 claims when the missile range took over the land around Victorio Peak and he was paid $300 per year.
After Doc´s death Ova Noss inherited the story of treasure at Victorio Peak and its inherent benefits and curses. She continued to work at the peak with the help of supporters and family members and to sell shares.
In 1952 she visited the Denver Mint and inquired if Milton Noss had made any deposits of gold at the Mint from November 1937 to March 1949. Mint records showed none was made. Interestingly she wrote the Mint in 1939 asking officials what they should do if they found gold. She indicated they had an old map showing the location of gold bars and they were searching for them. She was told to notify the Mint immediately if they found anything.
Another interesting fact from 1939 involving the Mint is a “gold brick” which was submitted to the U.S. Treasury for assay by Charles Ussher of Santa Monica, Calif. He supposedly paid $200 for the brick which he obtained from a man named Grogan. The assay revealed the bar contained 97 cents of gold. In an investigation conducted by the Secret Service, Grogan revealed he obtained the “gold brick” from Doc Noss in New Mexico.
On July 13, 1950 the Army entered a lease agreement with Roy Henderson for the land where Victorio Peak is located. Many people don´t realize there was a goat ranch right at the foot of Victorio Peak. The Henderson family lived there and before that it was grazed periodically by the Gilmore family. In fact, in 1973, Mart Gilmore said he took Noss to Hembrillo Basin in 1936 to show him a cave—at the request of Noss.
This was originally state land and the U.S. Government was granted the use of the land “for any military purpose whatsoever.”
A search of records by officials in December 1950 revealed there were no existing legal mining claims in the area. On November 14, 1951 Public Land Order No. 703 was issued which withdrew all WSMR lands from prospecting, entry, location and purchase under mining laws and reserved their use for military purposes.
Interestingly, on January 5, 1953 Ova Noss assigned four percent of her Victorio Peak interests to J.L. Fowler of Enid, Oklahoma, who, in turn, sold parts to at least 10 persons in Oklahoma and Kansas. In February 1955, a Mrs. Miller of Caldwell, Texas wrote to the Mint concerning the purchase of gold mining stock from Ova Noss. This is intriguing since public records showed Ova had no legal claims at the peak. There is some correspondence showing the Treasury Department was concerned about the possibility of fraud and an investigation was made.
The next highlight in the story of Victorio Peak is the Fiege episode. Leonard Fiege was an Air Force captain assigned to Holloman AFB in 1958. He later claimed in 1961 that he and three men–Berclett, Prather and Wessel–went hunting in the Hembrillo Basin in 1958 and stumbled upon a tunnel in Victorio Peak. Fiege and Berclett claimed they crawled through it into a small room which contained a stack of gold bars. Berclett recently admitted in a press interview they were hunting gold to begin with, not wildlife.
Not to jeopardize their positions with the military, these two bright guys claimed they did not remove any of the gold. NOTE: Lost treasure stories always have a lot in common with horror movies. The participants never seem to be too bright and they never learn from past stories which clearly tell us not to open the closet door when creepy things are happening and to take some of the gold with you when you find it.
Berclett still claims he scratched his initials on one of the bars. They then spent several hours caving in the entrance to the little room so no one would find it.
In May 1961 the WSMR commander received a letter from the Holloman commanding general requesting Fiege and partners under a Col. Garman´s supervision be allowed to enter Victorio Peak to “get evidence which they will then provide to U.S. Treasury activities.” On May 29 Fiege and group met with Maj. Gen. Shinkle, the WSMR CG, and Fiege stated it would be a simple matter to recover a few bars of gold. The request was denied.
At the end of June a group which included Fiege, Berclett and Colonels Garman and Gasiewicz from Holloman visited the director of the Mint and pleaded their case. As a result of that meeting the director sent a letter to the Secretary of the Army stating the Mint had been bothered a great deal by the gold story at Victorio Peak. He told the secretary they might be able to put an end to the rumors if the group was allowed to dig in the supposed tunnel.
The Secret Service had indicated earlier that there might be a cache of non-gold bars on the site which they said may have been placed there by Doc Noss to further his bunco game.
An old timer from El Paso calls me periodically to talk about Victorio Peak. He claims he knew Noss and that Noss used to buy copper bars in Orogrande and have them electroplated with gold in El Paso. When asked why he doesn´t tell his story to the press, he says he doesn´t think they would care. It would spoil the story.
Another old timer who ranched near Victorio Peak claims Noss used to salt the sand at the springs around the base of the peak. When prospective investors showed up, Doc would be panning flakes of gold out of the sand at the spring.
When the Department of Army received the letter from the Mint, officials asked for the WSMR CG´s comments. He said, “My stand has been that I shall deny entry…unless I obtain such permission. I desire this permission…and would like these rumors laid to rest.” On July 30, 1961 Shinkle received permission to allow the investigation.
As we go through this scenario, you might want to keep in mind that this is the same operation which television´s “Unsolved Mysteries” claimed only four people knew about.
So, on August 5 a group including Shinkle, Garman, Fiege, Berclett, Prather, Wessel, Major Robert Kelly, a number of WSMR military police and Special Agent L.E. Boggs of Treasury went to Victorio Peak. For five days Fiege and his three partners worked to enter the tunnel but failed. At that point Shinkle told them to go away.
The Fiege group came back to Shinkle in August and September stating they would like to continue and was willing to work on weekends only. On September 20 Shinkle notified the Secret Service he was going to give Fiege more time but they would be restricted to the same tunnel. No new excavations would be allowed.
Work then continued on an intermittent basis for about five weeks under the surveillance of Capt. Swanner. In late October WSMR records indicate two men named Bradley and Gray entered Hembrillo Basin and approached the workers. Swanner supposedly ordered them to leave the missile range since they were trespassing. They demanded a piece of the action or they said they would tell Mrs. Noss. Swanner told them to leave.
On November 1 the state land commissioner notified the Army that Mrs. Noss was accusing them of mining her treasure. Things came quickly to a head and Shinkle ordered all work to stop on November 3.
Shinkle communicated with the Secretary of the Army and local officials that work was stopped and that the Fiege group had found nothing. The Secret Service already knew it since they had a man on site. The Noss lawyers pushed for access for Mrs. Noss. On December 6, with advice from a long list of other agencies, Shinkle excluded all persons from the range not directly engaged in conducting missile tests.
By the way, the fact that Capt. Swanner´s name is on the walls of one of the fissures in Victorio Peak is not the big deal that “Unsolved Mysteries” made it to be on Sunday night. According to Don Swann of Las Cruces, who was stationed at WSMR in 1956, soldiers were always spending weekends and free time in places like Victorio Peak. He says he put his name in one of the peak´s tunnels as did the soldiers with him. It is sometimes called “soldiers hole.”
At this point we need to make a clarification or fine distinction involving the Army´s activity during the Fiege episode. The press pounces on this and often says the Army admits it did work at the site. This is not the case. The Army allowed a claimant to do work at the site. The Army does not admit that it conducted any kind of official or unofficial search at the peak for its own benefit.
After this the Noss group continued to seek permission to enter. The range´s position was that the group had no legal claim, therefore there was no reason to grant such an entry.
In late 1962 the Gaddis Mining Company and the New Mexico Museum approached the missile range seeking permission to enter and dig at Victorio Peak. The state of New Mexico sponsored the request and the Army recognized the state´s interest in a possible historical find. Rumors flew during the dig saying Harold Beckwith, son of Ova Noss, was financing Gaddis. On June 20, 1963 a license was granted by the Army for a 30-day exploration.
The work began with simultaneous archaeological, seismic and gravity surveys. According to Chester Johnson, a museum rep on site, nothing was found. He added that “a D7 caterpillar was used to cut and build roads where ever they were needed, even on top of the peak.” Most of the scars on the peak are a result of this activity, not any Army work at the site.
The roads and platforms were necessary for placing a drilling rig. According to Johnson, the rig, “using a 4.5 inch rock bit and drilling with air, was used to test the anomalies (those places indicated by survey that might be caverns). Drill holes varied from 18 to 175 feet in depth, depending on location….There were about 80 holes drilled during the project.”
In addition to this work the company drove their own tunnel 218 feet into the side of Victorio Peak in an attempt to gain access to the lower regions. This failed.
To accomplish all this the state had to request an extension which was granted. The 30-day extension made the exploration period July 19 through September 17.
In the end the company found nothing and reportedly spent $250,000. As part of it White Sands filed a claim with the state for reimbursement for support during the quest. The claim for $7,640.54 was filed in October 1963 and finally paid in November 1964.
You might theorize after a mining company had spent two months on Victorio Peak without results, most people would realize gold bars don´t grow out of the ground there. On the contrary, more dreamers rushed into the breach and came forward seeking quick riches from the uncooperative Army.
In 1964 and 1965 the Museum of New Mexico and Gaddis Mining were both back seeking permission to reenter the range. In the same period D. Richardson and R. Tyler visited White Sands requesting permission to locate “lost treasure.”
Also, Violet Yancy, Doc Noss´ second wife, showed up asking to get onto the range. Violet popped up again in 1969 making headlines in Texas and New Mexico. She hired two Fort Worth lawyers and was trying to establish her right to the treasure. She indicated there was documentation showing Doc left her 76 percent of the treasure and Ova the other 24 percent.
One person conspicuously missing from the recorded requests during the sixties is Ova Noss. More than likely she was operating through various backers at this time. A hot rumor during the Gaddis search was that Harold Beckwith, Ova´s son, was financing the Gaddis operation. Reporters pressed the question at the time but could not confirm it. It may be the family was operating through some other group.
In 1968 E. F. Atkins and party started a series of requests and petitions which carried on for years. This was a persistent group which pulled out all the stops in trying to get in.
Senator Barry Goldwater wrote requesting permission for the Birdcage Museum of Arizona to explore for treasure. It was determined the museum and Atkins were one in the same. They supposedly also sought entrance through the cooperation of a man named Gill with ABC-TV.
Then the range received a letter from the Great Plains Historical Association of Lawton, Oklahoma which stated they had accepted scientific sponsorship of a treasure project at WSMR as outlined by an E.F. Atkins.
When all this was denied, Atkins asked for reconsideration and stated several Washington Army Authorities and senators and representatives had recommended approval. On checking with the Department of Army, WSMR learned the Secretary of Army had made no commitment and would back WSMR´s decision 100 percent.
This cat and mouse game went on for years. In August 1971, The Department of Army indicated it had already received 55 Congressional inquiries that year on the behalf of Atkins and his request to search for gold. In a 1972 memo for record one range official noted he had received another request from Atkins to explore for gold. He indicated Atkins wanted to get together on a friendly basis and maybe something could be worked out so Atkins did not have to exert Congressional pressure on the Department of Army to gain access to WSMR. He did not get on White Sands.
This brings us to the point where Victorio Peak gained national exposure through the Watergate hearings and the likes of Jack Anderson and F. Lee Bailey.
On June 2, 1973, Jack Anderson reported in his syndicated column the story of noted attorney F. Lee Bailey´s involvement with gold bars in New Mexico and specifically, White Sands Missile Range. According to Anderson, Bailey was authorized by a consortium to gain legal possession of the golden treasure at WSMR. The group promised to pay taxes and then sell the rest of the gold at a profit to themselves.
Bailey was supposedly skeptical at first so he asked for proof. The group came up with a gold bar about four inches long and promised hundreds more to prove their claim. Bailey sent it to the Treasury Department and had it assayed. It proved to be 60 percent gold and 40 percent copper. Anderson´s article quickly pointed out ancient gold ingots often were not pure and this percentage shouldn´t be viewed as significant.
A Bailey spokesman later stated the consortium knew the location of 292 gold bars, each weighing about 80 pounds. However, Treasury and Army expressed disinterest in Bailey´s proposals.
Just a few numbers at this point. The bar given to Bailey was obviously not one of the alleged 80 pounders. An 80-pound bar with the stated proportion of gold and copper would be about 12 inches long, five inches wide and three inches thick. Interestingly, modern 14-karat gold jewelry is 58 percent gold and 42 percent other metals such as copper. In 1974 the same bar was examined by Los Alamos which came to the same conclusion. The press dutifully reported experts saying the bar was basically the same as jewelers gold. Hmmmm, maybe some old rings melted down?
I suppose because he is well connected, Bailey took his problems to U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell. Mitchell then repeated much of it at a lunch with H.R. Haldeman and John Dean. Finally, Dean, during his Senate Watergate Investigation testimony, mentioned something about Bailey, gold bars in New Mexico and making a deal for his client to avoid prosecution for holding gold.
As with any story repeated several times, by the time Dean told it there was some distortion—according to Bailey´s people. After a storm of Watergate headlines linking treasure to the investigation, Bailey´s people said there were actually two groups of people. One was a small group which had stumbled onto the gold and the other was a group of businessmen supporting them.
Bailey never would reveal who his clients were but it later came out one was a Fred Drolte wanted by authorities on an arms smuggling charge. Bailey later was quoted as saying that given a helicopter and access to White Sands he could have gold bars in 30 minutes.
At this point things really started to get interesting. In late 1973 several people stole into the Hembrillo Basin and set off a dynamite charge in a side canyon east of Victorio Peak. They supposedly blasted the Indian pictographs off of a rock wall. Some people claimed if you knew how to read the drawings they would guide you to the treasure.
After the trespass, security was beefed up and a house trailer was put in at HEL site just west of Victorio Peak. It was to house range riders and military police. In July 1974 the range announced it was making more improvements to the site with the addition of a helicopter pad, a 30-foot antenna and portable generators. The additional work was done in anticipation of approval for another gold search.
At this point Victorio Peak was in the news all the time. There was lots of maneuvering by various groups trying to gain entrance. The Bailey group signed a deal with the state(New Mexico would get 25 percent) to allow them first crack at the peak. The Army didn´t buy it and New Mexico battled the Army in the press for quite a while. At the time it must have been very serious for the two sides. But looking back on it and seeing how it was played out in the press, it looks pretty humorous—especially when you consider no one ever came up with anything approaching a whole gold bar and the basis for the whole argument anyway was the story of a man arrested for practicing medicine without a license.
As the story grew in the mid 70s a kind of gold fever or hysteria developed with it. The Bailey group starting claiming thousands of bars of gold, not just 292. Maybe it was the oil crisis, but somehow inflation kicked in and the treasure´s worth grew to 225 billion dollars. The Washington Post came to the rescue and rationally pointed out Fort Knox only stored 6.2 billion dollars in gold reserves.
As the story spread the missile range started receiving letters from people all over the world asking for information or permission to explore. Perfect strangers came forward to offer their ESP capabilities, their divining rods, their great grandfather´s knowledge and their old maps.
Some supposedly legitimate claimants emerged from this. In August 1973 White Sands received a letter from a lawyer named W. Doyle Elliott. It turns out he was retained by Roscoe Parr to get himself a piece of the action. Elliott stated in his letter that Parr, “alone possesses all of the necessary information and instructions from Dr. Noss to,” settle the issue. The letter goes on to say Noss had an insight he might die before gaining access into the peak again and gave Parr all the necessary instructions to access the gold. Also he supposedly told Parr how to divide the treasure and generously offered Parr the balance after it was divided. Elliott solemnly pointed out Parr, “accepted and agreed to fulfill the requests made of him by Dr. Noss.” None of this was apparently in writing.
By the end of 1974 you needed a program to keep all the claimants straight.
Someone reported Fiege had gone into partnership with Violet Noss Yancy. There also was the mysterious Bailey group, Ova Noss, Parr, the Shriver group, the “Goldfinder” group and Expeditions Unlimited headed by Norm Scott. Ova Noss took the bull by the horns and sued the Army for one billion dollars. The case was dismissed.
The Army was reluctant to deal with any one group for fear of showing favoritism. A number of solutions were proposed which included a lottery drawing to determine order of entry and a free-for-all gold rush which probably would have ended in a blood bath. None of these approaches was acceptable. Then Scott was able to organize the various claimants and he proposed Expeditions Unlimited represent the various groups and deal with exploring their claims.
The Army accepted and the search was set for mid 1976. This was postponed twice and, finally, “Operation Goldfinder” got underway in March 1977. It was put up or shut up time for most of the claimants.
Before it even started the range had to battle the rumors. Just a few days before the start word got around that the search was open to the public. Public Affairs scrambled to get the word out that only authorized searchers and press would be allowed in.
A press conference was held on March 18 and the actual search began the next day. Each day, press and searchers were registered at the peak and searched. At one point there was a report one of the claimant groups was going to try to salt the site. They were asked to leave by Scott. The searchers went site to site seeking the elusive gold bars. Eventually, an extension was granted to run the operation until April 1.
To say there was some press interest in the event would be an understatement. The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, London Daily Mail, Newsweek, Time Magazine, Rolling Stone and the National Enquirer were all there along with the local and regional print media. Of course, the television and radio stations showed up in force too. Probably the most notable, or, at least, most famous reporter attending was Dan Rather then with “60 Minutes.” He attracted almost as much attention as the peak itself.
In the end most of the claimants had their time on Victorio and failed to turn up any gold bars—or anything of value. Immediately following the 1977 search there was a flurry of requests to reenter the range but the Department of Army emphatically stated, “That no exploration for lost treasure on WSMR will be permitted for the foreseeable future.”
With the “foreseeable future” now behind us it is going to be interesting watching what happens during the next year at Victorio Peak. Recently, several people have said Doc Noss must be laughing in his grave. Henry James, in his book The Curse of the San Andres, said Victorio Peak was a haunting place with unusual sounds. Maybe he was only hearing a distant chuckle.