Is treasure buried inside Victorio’s Peak?
White Sands, New Mexico, is an inhospitable environment, home only to rattlesnakes and sagebrush, vultures and mule deer. In November of 1937, a man named Doc Noss was deer hunting there. He hiked to the top of a hill known as Victorio Peak. As thirst and fatigue set in, Doc searched for fresh spring water. Instead, he discovered a mysterious hole in the ground—the hidden entrance to a tunnel. There was a ladder in the opening and Doc climbed inside. A maze of tunnels led into a large cavern. In one chamber of the cavern, Doc found an old chest. On the lid were the words “Sealed Silver,” written in Old English inscription script. The chest was only a small part of the treasure that Doc Noss claimed he found. There was gold, silver, jewels, and gold bars that today, would be worth and estimated $1.7 billion dollars. Even now it may still be hidden beneath the craggy slopes of Victorio Peak.
Doc Noss had been a traveling medicine-show man. In 1933, he married Ova Beckwith, whom he nicknamed Babe. They settled down and opened a foot clinic in Hot Springs, New Mexico. Doc’s grandson, Terry Delonas, heard incredible stories of his grandfather his entire life:
After Doc discovered the treasure at Victorio Peak, he and Babe spent every free moment exploring the tunnels that led deep inside the mountain. Doc found that the passageways in the mountain led to several caverns. In one of them he found 79 human skeletons stacked in a small enclosure. In a deeper cavern, Doc found what appeared to be a stack of worthless iron bars. He brought the bars home for his wife Babe to inspect:
Doc told Babe that inside the cavern, there were as many as 16,000 bars of gold. How had this enormous treasure come to be deep inside the caverns of Victorio Peak? There are four theories. The treasure could have belonged to Juan de Onate, the man who founded New Mexico as a Spanish colony. Reportedly, Onate had amassed an Aztec treasure of gold, silver, and jewels. Another theory is that a Catholic missionary named Father LaRue, who operated gold mines in the late 18th century, stored his gold in a cavern there. It could have belonged to Maximillian, the Emperor of Mexico, who tried to remove wealth out of Mexico when he learned of an assassination plot. Finally, it may have belonged to an Apache tribe that raided stagecoaches filled with gold mined in California.
But Doc was unconcerned as to how the gold arrived there. And in the spring of 1938, six months after his discovery, he and Babe went to Santa Fe to establish legal ownership of their claim. According to their grandson Terry, Doc and Babe filed a lease with the state of New Mexico for the entire section of land surrounding Victorio Peak:
Over a period of two years, Doc mined the peak. Witnesses say he took out more than 200 gold bars, and then hid them from everyone, even his family. Back then, it was illegal to own gold that was not in the form of jewelry. According to Terry, Doc hid the gold bars in a variety of locations all across the desert:
Finally, in the fall of 1939, Doc decided to try opening a larger passageway into Victorio Peak. He hired a mining engineer named Montgomery to assist him. Together, the two men used dynamite to blast through a large boulder that was blocking the lower portion of the shaft. The blast caused a massive cave-in, which collapsed the fragile shaft. Doc had permanently shut himself out of his own mine. According to his grandson, Terry, even worse was the fact that now Doc only had a few gold bars to draw from:
For nine years, Doc Noss attempted to sell his gold bars on the black market. Then in 1948, he met a man named Charlie Ryan and struck a deal to sell him 51 of the bars.
“We went out across the desert, a little ways, we started digging and we dug 20 bars of gold out of the ground. It turned out to be 90 more and we buried those bars of gold. I handled and saw 110 bars of gold.
The next day, Doc and Charlie Ryan got into an argument. According to Terry, Ryan pulled out a gun:
Doc tried to escape but it was already too late. He was shot by Charlie Ryan and died instantly. The date was March 5, 1949. But the saga of the treasure at Victorio Peak did not die with Doc Noss. As the legend grew, other treasure hunters tried to cash in on Doc and Babe’s claim.
When Doc Noss was killed in 1949, he allegedly left behind a treasure of 15,000 gold bars, buried inside the caverns of Victorio Peak. For three years, Babe Noss and her children struggled to clear the passageway to the treasure. In 1952, when they were less than 12 yards from the opening to the central cavern, disaster struck again. The State of New Mexico was forced to relinquish Victorio Peak and the land surrounding it, so the United States Army could expand the White Sands Missile Range. Babe and her family were forced off their claim by the Army. Victorio Peak was now off limits to everyone by order of the military. But that didn’t stop former Airman 1st Class Thomas Berlett and a group of off-duty soldiers from clearing the blocked entrance and exploring the caverns. According to Berlett, it wasn’t long before they found what Babe was after:
Eventually, the airmen informed their superiors about the gold they had found at Victorio Peak. They were denied permission to explore further. According to Thomas Berlett, they took steps to insure that no one else could salvage the treasure:
Over a year later, the Secretary of the Army created a “Top Secret” classified military operation at Victorio Peak. In 1961, Babe Noss, along with the State of New Mexico, filed an injunction against the Army to stop excavating at Victorio Peak. In 1963, the Army petitioned the state of New Mexico for mineral rights. But their request was denied. Even so, aerial surveillance photo showed that extensive work had already taken place.
Finally, the Army succumbed to pressure and allowed some private claimants, including Babe Noss and former military personnel, to undertake a highly publicized, 10 day expedition at Victorio Peak. The excavation was an extensive, large-scale operation. But after 10 days, no treasure had been found. Lambert Dolphin, a scientist from the Stanford Research Institute who worked on the dig, thought the treasure may have actually been there, but just out of reach:
Deep in the heart of Victorio Peak there may still be jewels, artifacts, and piles of gold worth a billion dollars. Tony Jolly, the man who helped hide some of the gold, went back years later, and retrieved ten bars. But Doc’s heirs have recovered nothing. For Terry Delonas and the rest of Doc’s family, the fate of the treasure is still, quite literally, a billion-dollar question: