A Romantic Adventure-Tale of Treasure and Archaeology

You know how you start googling for information on one thing but end up going down a completely different rabbit hole from the one you started on? This happened to me over the weekend and I found myself looking for more information on a story I came across while looking for something else entirely.

It all started this past weekend when I was watching Hondo, starring John Wayne and Ward Bond on cable. This is the story of the Army scout (Wayne) who comes across a soon-to-be-widowed woman (John Wayne shoots her husband) in West Texas who is under the protection of Victorio, the Apache chief.

Victorio was a real person, even if the widow and her new-found lover and his pissed off dog weren’t. So I got to wondering how much of the Hondo story was based on fact, etc….

Long story short: I started googling for Victorio and his battles and then started looking for Victorio Peak, which was supposed to be in the Diablo Mountains region near Van Horn, Texas. I used to live out that way, so when Google Earth pointed me to a place in White Sands, NM near Almagordo, I was initially confused. Turns out there are two Victorio Peaks. One in Texas and another about a hundred or so miles away in New Mexico.

And its the one in New Mexico, far from the place Victorio staged his last battle, that is possibly the more interesting!

In the links at the conclusion of this post[1][2], you can read a couple of articles posted on the web that go into more detail, and I encourage you to read them. I’m not saying the stories are true, mind you. But they were both captivating reads!

Doc and Babe in the 1930s

The story could begin in the mid-1800s with the battles of Victorio, an Apache chief (and, arguably, in charge of Homeland Security at the time). But that’s a story for another time (I’ve been pondering what an archaeological survey of these battles might consist of).

Instead, I give you Milton Ernest “Doc” Noss and his eventually estranged wife Ova “Babe” Beckworth.

Doc and Babe

They were a handsome couple. Doc was a “foot doctor” (no record of sort of medical degree, however) and he and Babe lived in Hot Springs, now known as Truth or Consequences, NM.  One November day in 1937, Doc and Babe were part of a hunting party that camped near Victorio Peak. While ducking under a rock overhang to escape a light drizzle of rain, Doc discovered an entrance to a cave that had been covered by a stone. Thinking at first that he’d stumbled on an abandoned mine shaft, Doc and Babe kept the discovery under their collective hats, returning several days later with ropes and flashlights. What they allegedly discovered is straight out of an Indiana Jones story!

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 one wall.

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.

And gold bars. Lots of them.

Noss Treasure?
The Noss Treasure?

Keep in mind, this was the 1930s. Franklin D. Roosevelt had just signed Executive Order 6102 in 1933, which forbade U.S. citizens from “Hoarding of Gold Coin, Gold Bullion, and Gold Certificates.” So, assuming the story of his find is true, what was old Doc supposed to do? From the stories I’ve read of Doc Noss, he was a bit of a shady character -a wheeler and a dealer. He allegedly brought up a bar or two at a time, smuggled them to Mexico and sold them on the black market at a price far below their worth.

What’s the Theory?

There are a lot of “theories” to explain Doc Noss’ treasure. Some think it was the Casa del Cueva de Oro, Spanish for the House of the Golden Cave, and was a cache of wealth established by Don Juan de Onate in the 16th century. Others think Noss may have chanced upon the treasure of Felipe La Rue, a 18th century French priest that was in search of riches he’d heard in stories and that he established a wealthy gold mine there in the Hembrillo Basin where Victorio Peak, once known as Soledad Peak, is. The peak was renamed in honor of Victorio, who used the site for a stronghold and stood off U.S. Army soldiers in the 19th century.

Victorio Peak
Victorio Peak

But did Doc and Babe Noss really find a cache of wealth in the 20th century?

This is where the story has a twist. Doc had filed a claim on the site for prospecting by the end of the 30s but ended up collapsing the entrance in a attempt to blast a wider entrance. He had a few hundred bars brought to the surface by now, but Executive Oder 6102 was still in effect, so his desperation for cash put him in a dilemma.  In 1949, 12 years after his alleged discovery, Doc Noss was shot in the head by a “business associate,” apparently wanting his gold.

But it doesn’t end there. In 1951, the U.S. Army, somewhat evolved from the days when it chased Victorio, annexed the land that Victorio Peak sits on as part of the White Sands Missile Range. This is the period following World War II where we were now in a nuclear arms race and White Sands was where much of the nuclear weapons were being tested. Babe fought for decades to work her inherited claim, but the Army had full control of the surface of the land.

What follows are a few tales of conspiracy and intrigue. Even an airman first class and a captain who apparently found an open fissure and reported seeing gold bars in a cavern. The Army excavated the site using Gaddis Mining Company in 1963 with no results. A member of the Noss family was finally given permission to excavate for two weeks in 1972, but also came up dry.

Victorio Peak
Victorio Peak: Courtesy Google Earth

To this day, the heirs to Babe Noss are still trying to access the site, which is still part of White Sands Missile Range.

My thoughts are that the site was part of an elaborate scam that involved seeding a mine to scam people out of their cash. Still, there’s always that romantic hope that a buried treasure sits there waiting for the right person to discover it. There may or may not have really been a treasure, but the story is ripe for a movie!

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References and Notes:
  1. McGuire, Bonnie (2010). The Treasure of Victorio Peak. http://www.mcguiresplace.net/The%20Treasure%20of%20Victorio%20Peak/ []
  2. Paul, Lee (date unk). The Strange Mystery of Victorio Peak. http://www.theoutlaws.com/gold7.htm []
About Carl Feagans 313 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

7 Comments

  1. FYI I have this citation in my bibliography file. I am sure I have the original article somewhere, but not to hand, so I don’t know the work it is based on.
    Wakeman James, Laumbach Karl. Victorio’s Escape: GPS and Archaeology Recount the Tale of an Apache Battle. GPS World 22-31 (1997).

  2. Thanks! I’m putting this article near the top of my list to find! If you discover a PDF copy somewhere, let me know. I’m not sure my Uni Library has GPS World in their archives (they’re currently down for an upgrade or something).

  3. Several comments—–Victorio Pk treasure a TRUE story—NOT a scam ! Karl Laumbach only knows what the hard-working ONFP volunteers showed him in in 1991 while detecting for bars buried by Noss and Tony Jolley in 1949—we found numerous 45-70 shell casings which helped him delineate the battleground sites—we also found a Spanish anvil—and everytime we found something, an arky would rebury it and put a red flag there so Laumbach could “discover ” it later—Neither he nor Bob Burton were ever up there using detectors ! we did it all ! and they used OUR money to publish their report !! ( giving us NO credit )

  4. I know Tony Jolley, and I found the place where he and Doc buried the final 30 bars they hid the night before Doc’s murder—–and I know that Tony came back a few years later and recovered some of the bars he helped Doc hide that night—-( from a different spot ) The story is NOT a scam—that opinion stems from an incident when Doc presented fake bars to a couple of guys who were trying to scam HIM ! Doc was cagey and suspicious of EVERYBODY ! ( BECAUSE EVERYONE WAS TRYING TO SEPARATE HIM FROM HIS GOLD )

  5. Whether or not Doc was working a con or whether he had a real stash of gold, I love the story! Thanks for sharing! I get the feeling that there are a lot of versions of the story that depend upon who’s telling it.

  6. If anyone wants the FINAL truth ( and proof ) about the gold of Victorio Peak, read the book I paid a guy $25,000 to write—He found so much evidence he got carried away and the book grew to 1000 paqes in 3 volumes !( against my wishes ) “THE GOLD HOUSE” is the title–look for it on google—volume 3 may not be ready yet, but I have vols. 1 & 2 and they are GREAT ! He documents how it was stolen, and by whom, with proof !

  7. The Victorio Peak books (The Gold House trilogy) are finally available!!
    After 8 years of research and writing by John Clarence and Tom Whittle, the Victorio Peak saga is finally available in hardcover and Ebook formats in a three-book sequel entitled the Gold House trilogy, which has been touted as the ‘Victorio Peak bible.’ I have read the reviews by prominent authors and scholars who support the charges leveled against the government and others made by Clarence and Whittle. I am also told the writers are planning to release a document book that proves the allegations made in the books. The books are packed with photos, endnotes, and an index and they are available on Nook, Kobo, Amazon-Kindle, iBookstore, and in a limited hardback first edition, which are available at http://www.victoriopeak.com. Here is the subject matter of the new books that are being released by the authors:

    “Book 1, The Discovery, covers the years when Doc and Ova Noss lived at their campsite in the Hembrillo Basin, before and after they discovered the treasure inside Victorio Peak. The Discovery details the events that took place during that time period and include: the discovery itself, the turbulent lives of Doc and Ova, the sequence of events that led to Doc’s murder, and Ova’s removal from the Peak by the military in 1955.

    “Book 2, The Lies, The Thefts, is a highly-documented account covering the years 1958 to 1978 when the treasure was being plundered by military and civilian personnel who were empowered by people at the highest levels of our government. Intrigue, documented thefts, lies, cover-ups, and murder are the underpinnings of this astonishing exposé. Names, dates, places, photos, and documents prove the case against the government and others.

    “Book 3, Executive Order, spans the years from 1979 to 2000 when Terry Delonas, Ova Noss’s grandson, mounted an expedition to recover what remained of the treasure. This book separates the facts from the lies and meticulously details the corruption and the crimes committed by the military at White Sands Missile Range to cripple the expedition, including, but not limited to: lies and deceit, false and deliberate overbillings, and illegal changes to the expedition’s agreed-upon license contract are cited.”

    -alex

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