How do you properly tell a story that mixes lore, legend and conspiracy? That is what I asked myself when I set out to write this piece. In order to best tell the tale, I will try and separate the known from the speculative and allow you, the reader, to determine where the truth lies. I have pulled this information from four different books written on the case, each written in a different decade and with new hypothesis, details and twists added.
In the rugged desert of New Mexico lies Victorio Peak, named after the great Apache Chief. In 1937, Milton “Doc” Noss and his wife Ova “Babe” Noss were part of a deer hunting party when Doc accidentally stumbled upon a shaft near the top of the mountain. He said nothing about it at first, waiting to have the rest of his hunting party leave before returning to the shaft with ropes and a flashlight. When Doc ventured down it, he went almost 190 feet into the mountain before coming across a series of connected chambers. In one chamber 27 human skeletons lay bound to wooden stakes. He next discovered a stash of old swords, guns, papers and letters that dated back to the 19th century. Soon after he came across a large amount of jewels and coins and finally he noticed thousands of bars covered in grime. Doc figured they were metal and ignored them.
Once he came back to the opening he told his wife what he’d found and she implored him to return inside and get one of the bars to inspect. He begrudgingly did so and once the dirt was wiped off, it was obvious the bars were made of gold. Doc was both thrilled and paranoid at his discovery and over the next few years he had only his most trusted inner circle help him work his treasure trove. He felt that if the government or others learned of the find that the gold would be taken from his family. He burned any paperwork he found in the cave, lest something prove ownership to someone else. The trek inside the mountain was rough and it took much effort to remove the cache, thus the gold came out in a slow process. At least six men were eventually hired to assist Doc in his efforts.
By 1939 it was estimated that around 350 bars of gold had been brought up by the family. It was then that Doc decided to hire a demolition expert to try a dynamite blast to enlarge the narrow entry way and expedite the treasure acquisition. Doc and the man argued over the amount to use and ultimately the expert won out. The blast was too immense and the passageway to the gold was sealed off.
Doc spent the next 10 years attempting to sell off his gold in the black market (private gold ownership had been outlawed by U.S. lawmakers in 1934.). He also looked for investors to help fund his attempt to dig out his buried treasure. The relationship between Babe and Doc grew strained and Noss actually ran off with another woman. When Doc disappeared, Babe first worried that he had found another path into the treasure caves and became trapped. On March 4th, 1949 Doc hired cowboy Tony Jolley to come with him to the desert surrounding the peak and move 110 bars of gold to a new hiding spot. The following day Doc and his most recent business partner, Charlie Ryan got into an altercation and Noss was shot dead as he raced to his car to retrieve his gun. Noss had recently lost $60,000 on a different gold deal and when he felt Ryan may be up to something similar, he began to demand money up front. This sparked what would prove to be his fatal encounter.
(Doc lays dead after being shot)
With Doc’s death came new complications, as the family’s leader was gone and with him went the knowledge of where the gold that had been taken from Victorio Peak was now hidden. In addition, the Peak was now officially part of the Army’s White Sands Missile Base and the Noss’ were not welcome on the land. Babe battled the government in court over the rights to her family’s find but was mostly denied and stonewalled.
With the story of the treasure now seeping to the public and the military by the later 50’s, Babe Noss started to receive reports that men from the military could be seen milling about the Peak and it was evident that an excavation was afoot. Babe now had to battle the government and the military over what appeared to be an intentional claim jumping. The powers that be were working towards getting to her family’s treasure. Even after official orders came down that nothing was to be done with the peak, the reports continued to come to Babe that her mine was being looted. The family was essentially powerless.
Many years passed and finally in the spring of 1977, the then 81-year-old Babe Noss and her family were allowed to return to the Peak and attempt to retrieve any proof of a treasure. This was called “Operation Goldfinder”. Originally scheduled for a two month operating window, the Army cut the days down to 30 and finally a mere ten. Given the immense workload required, the limited time would all but ensure failure.
Dan Rather and tons of other media attended the gold hunt. The Army had made sure to bulldoze shut any known entrances and put up steel gates in other parts. This was done in order to make the treasure hunt as unsuccessful as possible. When permission to use bulldozers and other heavy equipment was requested, the Army forbade their use in any area where a known shaft or entrance was located. This forced the treasure hunters to rely on picks, shovels and man power.
The Army also made sure to make the hunt into a circus and invited six other groups of claimants, including treasure hunters representing the Apache nation, a group led by the relation of Jesse James who claimed that the gold was from their outlaw relative’s cache of stolen loot, Doc Noss’ mistress led another group and a group was led by Air Force Captain Leonard Fiege.
Fiege’s claim to the treasure began when he was stationed at White Sands in the late 50’s. Fiege had heard of the rumored treasure he began to research the Peak in record books and even traveled to Mexico to check on the legends of Padre La Rue, who some believed was the true source of the treasure hoard.
Then in 1961 Fiege and three other men from the base headed to the Peak for an unauthorized exploration. They found and followed a fault line into the peak about 150 feet, then dug underneath a boulder to access a passage which led to a room with piles of dust covered gold bars inside of it. It is believed that this was a different chamber than the one Doc Noss discovered. The men marked their find and headed back to the base to make an official report. The Army proceeded to have the men sign affidavits covering their story and administered lie detector tests.
Once the men’s report became official, the military took them back to the peak for an exploration. Once they were shown the general location of the gold Fiege became expendable and the Army shipped him out of New Mexico and began to attempt to trump up charges that he was mentally ill. The Army harassed him with threats of death on his family and himself for the next 15 years, all the way up until “Operation Goldfinder” could be started.
During that expedition, Fiege discovered his pathway to the gold had been ruined and his group found mining timbers, batteries and other evidence that the military had jumped his claim. He left the peak before Goldfinder was even scheduled to be wrapped up, claiming to have been threatened yet again while on the Peak. He would die two years later at the age of 49.
Fiege would not be the first or last person to face threats over the treasure. Ova Noss, who openly told the media during Goldfinder that the Army had taken the gold over the past 15 years, was subjected to at least one possible attempt at her life. Shortly after returning home from the 1977 exhibition, someone broke into Ova’s home and turned her gas line on inside the house. Only an alert grandchild saved Ova from a tragic end. Ova would die of complications from surgery in 1979, the same year as Fiege.
More untimely deaths come to those who explore for the treasure, the full story of who authorized the military’s plundering of the gold, the story of the Noss family’s return to the Peak in the 1990’s for one last ditch effort at finding riches and some alternative versions of how Doc came to find the treasure in the first place.