The Treasure of Victorio Peak
New Mexico is a complex mural with mountains and desert that dominant the landscape. There are approximately seventy-three ranges, from Animas to Zuni. They include seven peaks rising above 13,000 feet, eighty-five more than two miles high, and more than three hundred notable enough to warrant names. They're all part of the Southern Rockies, and abound with strange legends and myths. Aside from UFO's, the treasure of Victorio Peak is probably the most notorious. The peak's a craggy outcropping of rock barely five hundred feet tall located in the center of a dry desert lake known as the Hembrillo Basin. Beyond the Basin is a hundred mile area of desert known as the Jornada del Muerto, that means Journey of Death, because during the early Spanish explorations, travelers took this shortcut through hostile Apache Indian territory. Many died from Indian attacks, and others from the terrible desert. Victorio Peak lies within the White Sands Missile Range in south central New Mexico. Many years ago I saw the intriguing story about the Peak's hidden treasure on the television series "Unsolved Mysteries." I'd forgotten about it until our recent trip visiting friends in Texas. Floyd and his friend Pat were getting ready to look for treasure in an area where Pat found found three old metal bars in a cave on the old Spanish trail in New Mexico. They bore the Spanish stamp. He was overcome with joy that they might be gold. He gave them to an expert to examine and was told that they were Spanish brass used for the bells in the missions. Pat was disappointed. Later he tried to find the bars, but couldn't locate them. Then he got a call from some explorers who wanted him to go treasure hunting with them, because they heard he'd found three gold bars. Later I did some research and discovered that the Spanish gold bars contained a large percentage of copper. It reminded me of the intrigue surrounding the Victoria Peak mystery.
Long before Victoria Peak was taken over and surrounded by the government, a man named Milton Ernest (Doc) Noss took time exploring Victorio Peak while he was deer hunting. Noss was born in Oklahoma, but traveled all over the Southwest seeking adventure. In 1933, he married Ova (Babe) Beckworth. They made their home in Hot Springs, New Mexico, which was later became known as Truth or Consequences, after the popular television game show of the 1950's.
November 1937, Doc, Babe, and four others left on a deer hunt into the Hembrillo Basin. Setting up camp on the desert floor at the base of Victorio Peak, the men headed into the wilderness, while their wives stayed at camp. Hunting by himself, Doc scouted the base of the mountain. When it began to rain, Doc sought shelter under a rocky overhang near the summit of the mountain. While waiting for the rain to subside he noticed a stone that looked as if it had been â€œworkedâ€ in some fashion. Reaching down, he was unable to budge it, but after digging around the rock, he got his hands under it. Lifting the rock, he found a hole that lead straight down into the mountain.
Peering into the darkness, Doc saw an old man-made shaft with a thick, wooden pole attached at one side. Doc thought that he had discovered an old abandoned mineshaft. When the rain finally stopped, Doc returned to camp, telling Babe of the discovery. The two decided to keep the discovery between themselves and return to the inspect the shaft later.
Within just a few days, Doc and Babe were back at the site with ropes and flashlights. Testing the old wooden pole attached to one side of the passage, Doc rejected the idea of using it dropped into the shaft with a rope instead. While Babe looked on from above, Doc inched his way down the narrow passageway into the mountain nearly sixty feet. Near the bottom, he encountered a huge boulder hanging from the ceiling, almost blocking his way.
Finally reaching the bottom, Doc stepped into a chamber the size of a small room. On the walls were drawings , some painted and others chiseled, that appeared to have been made by Indians. At one end of the chamber, the shaft continued downward. Once again, Doc began to descend, this time about 125 feet before the shaft again leveled off into a large natural cavern. Several smaller rooms had been chiseled from the rock along one wall. Stepping into the eerie darkness, Doc was alarmed when he saw a human skeleton, kneeling and securely tied to a stake driven into the ground. The skeletonâ€™s hands were bound behind its back -- apparently, the person had been deliberately left there to die. Within moments he found more skeletons, most of them bound and secured to stakes like the first. Exploring further he found yet even more skeletons stacked in a small enclosure, much like a burial chamber. All told, he reportedly found twenty-seven human skeletons in the caverns of the mountain.
As Doc continued to explore the side caverns, he found a hoard of treasure including coins, jewels, saddles and priceless artifacts including a gold statue of the Virgin Mary. He also found some old letters, the most recent of which was dated 1880. This treasure was only the beginning. In a deeper cavern, Doc found what he thought was a stack of worthless iron bars. He estimated there were thousands of these bars, each weighing over forty pounds stacked against a wall. He was barely able to lift one, mush less think of carrying it back to the surface. Later, the wealth in the cave would be calculated to be worth more than two billion dollars. Doc filled his pockets with gold coins, grabbed a couple of jeweled swords, and laboriously returned to Babe waiting anxiously at the surface. After telling her about what he'd seen and showing her the loot, she insisted he go back into the mine for one of the iron bars. After much searching, he found a small iron bar that he could carry back through the narrow passageway. When he reached the surface, he told Babe, "This is the last one of them babies I'm gonna bring out." Babe rolled the bar over and noticed a yellow gleam where the gravel of the hillside had scratched off centuries of black grime. What looked like a piece of iron was actually a solid gold bar.
After the discovery of the treasure, Doc and Babe spent every free moment exploring the tunnels inside the peak, living in a tent at the base of it. On each trip, Doc would retrieve two gold bars and as many artifacts as he could carry. At one time, he brought out a crown, which contained two hundred forty-three diamonds and one pigeon-blood ruby. Yet, Doc trusted no one, not even Babe, disappearing into the desert, hiding pieces of the treasure in places that he never revealed.
Among the artifacts, Doc is reported to have retrieved were documents dated 1797, which he buried in the desert in a Wells Fargo chest along with various other treasures. Although the originals have never been recovered, a copy of one of the documents was a translation from Pope Pius III:
"Seven is the holy number," the passage begins. It then continues for several lines before ending with a cryptic message: "In seven languages, seven signs, and languages in seven foreign nations, look for the Seven Cities of Gold. Seventy miles north of El Paso del Norte in the seventh peak, Soledad, these cities have seven sealed doors, three sealed toward the rising of the Sol sun, three sealed toward the setting of the Sol sun, one deep within Casa del Cueva de Oro, at high noon. Receive health, wealth, and honor.
Believers think that Doc Noss found the Casa del Cueva de Oro, Spanish for the House of the Golden Cave. "Soledad" was the former name of Victorio Peak, and Doc apparently found the seventh door located at high noon, but the promised health, wealth, and honor would evade him. Four years before his discovery, Congress had passed the Gold Act, which outlawed the private ownership of gold, so Doc would be unable to profit from his treasure on the open market. He didn't care about the historical value of the treasure's inside Victorio Peak, so he mostly ignored the pouches, packs and artifacts, while he concentrated on the gold coins and bars. Although he was unable to sell the gold bars on the open market, Noss continued to work steadily to remove the treasure.
In the spring of 1938, Doc Noss and Babe went to Santa Fe to establish legal ownership of the find, filing a lease with the State of New Mexico for the entire section of land surrounding Victorio Peak. Subsequently, he also filed several mining claims on and around Victorio Peak, as well as a treasure trove claim. With legal ownership established, Noss began to openly work the claim, but he also became increasingly paranoid, hiding the gold bars all over the desert.
When Docâ€™s story eventually hit the headlines, scholars began speculating on how the enormous treasure could have come to be stashed inside Victorio Peak. Some believe that Doc Noss found the Casa del Cueva de Oro. Others believe that Noss found the treasure of Don Juan de Onate, who, in 1598,
founded New Mexico as a Spanish colony. Seeking out the Seven Cities of Gold, Onate was said to have been a cruel man, brutally subjugating the Indians to do his bidding by beating and torturing them. Reportedly, he amassed a fortune of gold, silver treasure and jewels before being ordered back to Mexico City in 1607.
Others speculate that the treasure could be the missing wealth of Emperor Maxmillian, who served as Mexicoâ€™s emperor in the 1860â€™s. When Maxmillian heard of plot to assassinate him, he began to move his gold and treasures out of Mexico. Legend says he sent a palace full of valuables to the United States to be hidden. Maxmillian was assassinated in 1867.
And then Chief Victorio enters into the story? The most colorful legend associated with the Victorio Peak treasure concerns the great Warm Springs Apache war chief, who used the entire Hembrillo Basin as his stronghold. He absolutely refused to live on the San Carlos Reservation in Arizona where his people died from hunger and insect bites. Victorioâ€™s land had always been in the mountains of New Mexico, and a treaty between the Federal government in Washington and his band had promised they could stay on those lands as long as the "mountains stand and the rivers flowed." With the discovery of gold in the mountains, such did not happen, and in 1878, the treaty was broken. Victorio went on the war path.
Knowing how much the white man valued gold and having little use for it himself, he amassed huge amounts of the yellow mineral any way he could get it. He and his warriors raided throughout the Jornada and the Rio Grande Valley, attacking wagon trains, churches, immigrants, mail coaches, and anything else that promised riches. He raided the stage lines all over southern New Mexico and Texas in an all-out war against the U. S. Army and the Texas Rangers. He also took prisoners back to the Basin and subjected them to elaborate torture as a test of their bravery before killing them. This could possibly explain the skeletons in the cavern. It would also explain the presence of the Wells Fargo bags, packsaddles, letters and other artifacts dating to Victorioâ€™s time.
This part really caught my eye as I researched the mark of Padre La Rue
Another theory is that the treasure belonged to a Catholic missionary named Felipe La Rue, or La Ruz, as church documents are said to give his name. He was a native of France and was among the small group of priests who volunteered for service in Mexico. His party sailed to Florida, crossed the Gulf of Mexico to Vera Cruz, and from there, it went to Mexico City by ox cart. After a short rest, Padre La Rue left for the north, where he took up his work among the Indians and peons at a large hacienda near what is now the city of Chihuahua, reaching there in 1798. From the people at his new station, he heard stories about a fabulous source of rich minerals in the mountains to the north. If he was interested in these stories, he did not reveal it. Instead, he continued with his teachings and ministering to the sick and spiritual needs of his small parish. Among his parishioners was an old man, who had been an explorer and soldier of fortune during his youth. This man had traveled widely over the country to the north, and as Padre La Rue personally cared for this ailing old man, the two became good friends.
One day, Padre La Rue asked about the riches which lay to the north. The old man said that if the good priest wanted gold, there was a rich deposit of it located high in the mountains about two daysâ€™ travel north of El Paso del Norte, which is the present-day site of El Paso, Texas. According to the legend, the man said, "After one dayâ€™s travel from El Paso del Norte, you will come to three small peaks yet further to the north. Upon first sight of these peaks, turn to the east and cross the desert toward the mountains. In the mountains, you will find a basin where there is a spring at the foot of a solitary peak. On this peak, you will find gold." A few days later, the old man died. It was not until the crops failed that Padre La Rue thought of the solitary peak filled with gold. His little parish needed water and a better climate, and he called everyone together, asking if they would follow him north. They all agreed, and the little party set out for their new country. After crossing El Paso del Norte, they followed the course of the Rio Grande to the small village of La Mesilla near Las Cruces. North of there, they sighted the three peaks and turned east across the dreaded Jornada del Muerto, finally arriving in the San Andreas Mountains. After a couple of days of exploration, they located a basin in which there was a spring at the base of a solitary peak, just as the old man had said. Scholars all believe this basin was the Hembrillo Basin, and the solitary peak was Soledad Peak. After a fierce battle between the Army and Chief Victorio of the Apaches in 1880, the peak assumed a new name of Victorio Peak. It is not to be confused with Victoria Peak in the Black Range Mountains near Kingston, New Mexico.
Padre La Rue established a crude camp and sent the men out to search for the gold the old man had promised was there. On one side of the peak, they located a rich vein, ultimately working the mine for years. They tunneled into the mountain and followed the vein downward. The deeper they went, the richer the ore became. The little priest assigned dozens of monks and Indians to mine the gold, form it into ingots and, except for whatever was needed for supplies, stack it along one wall of a natural cavern inside the mountain. Word eventually reached church officials in Mexico City that the hacienda had been abandoned, and Padre La Rueâ€™s tiny colony was missing. A search party went to investigate. When they returned and reported that the entire population had left for the mountains to the north, soldiers were dispatched with orders to locate the priest and demand an explanation. It was when a small group was in La Mesilla purchasing supplies that they learned the Mexican Army was on the horizon. Hurrying to camp, they spread the alarm. It was one thing for Padre La Rue to leave his post without permission of church officials in Mexico City, but it was quite another not to deliver the Royal Fifth (or Quinta) of the gold for shipment to Spain. Padre La Rue was in a lot of trouble. Padre La Rue immediately set about concealing all traces of the mine. Working day and night, knowing the soldiers were drawing ever closer, he had his little group labor to conceal the entrance. When the soldiers finally arrived and demanded to know where the gold came from which was used to purchase the supplies in La Mesilla, Padre La Rue refused to answer. He died under torture, as did many of his followers, and although the soldiers looked all over for evidence of a mine, they were forced to return to Mexico City with nothing to show for their long journey. The Lost Padre Mine, as it has been called ever since, went into the history pages as a beloved legend.
A truly fascinating story that you can continue reading at The Treasure of Victorio Peak
The story continues up until the claim was given up dubiously by the military. In a special act of Congress passed in 1989, the Hembrillo Basin was â€œunlockedâ€ for Terry Delonas and the Noss heirs; however nothing has been found.
Worth a read of the whole story, just didn't want to post it all here. Because it was dug up my the military and moved to Fort knox.