Like the treasure stories from Oak Island, the exact location of this treasure is well known. According to the legend, it is hidden deep in a cave in the San Andres Mountains north of Las Cruces, New Mexico, on what it now part of the Army’s White Sand Missile range. The exact location is in a mountain known as Victorio Peak.
|Victorio Peak. Photo copyright by Kevin Randle|
There had been rumors of a large cache of gold bullion hidden in the San Andres Mountains for decades. A Jesuit priest, Father La Rue, who was working in the area around 1800, learned from a sick Spanish soldier that there was a huge vein of gold some two days from what was then Paso del Norte and now known as El Paso, Texas. Apparently, La Rue, working with the local indigenous population, set up a mining operation in the Organ Mountains, which border White Sands and are just south of Alamogordo, New Mexico, which is north of El Paso. For two years La Rue mined the gold, stockpiling it nearby.
As with most such stories there are slight variations to the myth. La Rue discovered that the Spanish were about to send soldiers to learn what happened to him. Or the story of the massive wealth that La Rue had acquired found its way back to the Spanish in Northern Mexico. Nothing stirs the fires of the Spanish conquistadors in the New World like tales of massive wealth and stacks of treasure. An armed expedition was sent north to find La Rue and what he considered his gold.
To prevent the Spanish from taking the treasure, La Rue hid all traces of his mining activity, hid the gold he had refined into crude bars in a cave and then sealed the cave’s entrance so that others would not find it. Although there was talk of his mining the Organ Mountains, it seems more likely that the mine was in the San Andres Mountains. It was here that the treasure was concealed.
Before La Rue could escape, the Spanish expedition arrived and attacked. La Rue and those with him were captured. He was tortured but refused to reveal the location of the gold. Sometime during the process, La Rue died, and with him, the exact location of the treasure was lost. All those with him were also killed without revealing the location of the gold. With La Rue dead, and without a map to the treasure, the Spanish soldiers returned to Mexico empty-handed. Although there were those who thought that a proper expedition, with the resources for a long search would produce results, no one ever returned to make that search.
Doc Noss and the Cave of Treasure
Milton Ernest “Doc” Noss, who claimed he was two-thirds Cheyenne, was born in Oklahoma and worked throughout the southwest during his life was the man who originally found La Rue’s lost treasure. Although called “Doc,” he had no medical degree and was reported to have been arrested in Texas for practicing medicine without a license. That wasn’t his only trouble with the law or the truth.
Jim Eckles, who began working for the Public Affairs office at the White Sands Missile Range, told reporter Carl Knauf, a staff writer for the Albuquerque Journal, that he had he’d dug into Noss’ background and learned “quite a bit about Doc Noss.” He had traced Noss from Oklahoma to New Mexico and said that Noss had been arrested for various crimes. Noss was not exactly the most reliable of sources.
|White Sands Missile Range located near Victorio Peak. Photo|
copyright by Kevin Randle
It was in 1937, Noss, and his wife, Ova (sometimes called Babe) were living in the vicinity of Hatch, New Mexico. He spent his time hunting and prospecting in the area around Victorio Peak, which was not yet part of a government reservation. During one of those hunting and prospecting trips, Noss was caught in a cold Spring shower and sought shelter under an outcropping of rock near the summit of Victorio Peak.
This was a place that had been used for centuries by other indigenous hunters, not to mention the Spanish, Mexicans and Americans. Noss saw the evidence of those earlier hunters but didn’t know if they had lived there long or were just camped there for the temporary shelter. Sitting there, waiting for the rain to stop, he noticed a stone that looked as if it had been worked in some fashion. Noss reached down but at first, couldn’t budge it. He tried digging around the edges. Given he had nothing better to do, he kept at it until he could work his fingers under it and lift it.
What he found was a shaft that descended deep into the darkness of the mountain. Now he was curious about the shaft, but it was too late in the day to do anything about it. He was not equipped for a reconnaissance. The next day, he returned with a flashlight, rope, and a canvas bag. He was unable to probe very deep into shaft, but he found enough of interest that he wanted to come back.
In a slightly different version of the story, R.L. Coker told Los Angeles Times columnist, Robin Abcarian, that he had been with Noss when he made the initial discovery. He said that he and Noss were at the top of the Victorio Peak hunting deer. Coker said that Noss knew where there was a spring that the deer would approach looking for water. Noss said that he felt a breeze that he first thought might have been a snake, but realized it was coming up from under a rock. Moving the rock aside, Noss found the entrance into the cave. Apparently, they didn’t explore it then and I must mention that Coker’s name didn’t come up in the original tale told by Noss.
In the days and weeks that followed, Noss returned to the shaft whenever possible. He did reach the bottom, but his flashlight was inadequate for the task of lighting the way once he was deep inside the mountain. Eventually, he found an underground stream but couldn’t see the other side and was initially afraid to cross it without proper preparation.
On another trip into the mountain not long after that, he did cross the stream while Ova waited for him above him. She kept herself busy making coffee and sandwiches as he searched the cave far below her. Hours later, when he emerged from the shaft, he had his canvas bag with something heavy in it. He tossed a black bar on the ground near her, but like Noss, she thought it was nothing more than lead brick.
Years later there would be another minor controversy about that bar. Ova, giving a deposition about the first entry into the cave, said that she was the one who scraped at it, discovering it was gold. Noss said that he discovered it was gold while sitting around the fire after having brought it to the surface. Although it makes no difference today who first found that it was gold, you have to wonder why he would have carried a lead brick out with him given the descriptions of the various types of treasure he had found in the cave.
Noss told Ova there were stacks of the bars in the cave eventually suggesting there might be as many as 16,000. He said that he had also found uncut gems including rubies, Spanish coins, and religious artifacts such as a gold Virgin Mary. There were other manufactured artifacts including swords. He found chests that held clothes and Wells Fargo strong boxes. He was telling Ova that he had found a huge treasure, much of it, though not all of it, gold bullion, which is an interesting point that has often been overlooked.
Noss was smart enough to know that any news about the find would fill the area with other treasure hunters, prospectors, con artists and government officials who would claim the treasure for the United States. There would also be trouble with the law. In 1937, it was illegal for a private citizen to own gold bullion. If the word got out about the gold bars, Noss might find himself in jail on federal charges. He cautioned Ova that they could tell no one about the treasure because of the real consequences.
But he didn’t bother to heed how own advice. He showed a gold bar to a friend in what is now known as Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. When asked if he had found it in the Caballos Mountains, Noss said, “That’s right.” It wasn’t long before those mountains were filled with the people Noss had feared would arrive, but he didn’t care. The Caballos were far from the true site in Victorio Peak.
Noss was convinced that he had found a huge treasure that would make him one of the richest men in America. It was difficult to get at the gold and even harder to drag it out. Some of the bars weighed eighty pounds according to the legend. Still, he, according to the tale, hauled dozens of smaller gold bars out. He hid them around the area, telling no one where these bars were stashed. He was trying to think of a way to convert the treasure into money without violating the law or alerting others to the location of the gold.
Here was the real dilemma to the Noss story. He found immense wealth that it would eclipse the fortunes of the richest men in America, according to what Noss told Ova at the time. There were coins and jewels that would be of great value to collectors, which could have been sold to those collectors without violating any federal law. There was silver bullion hidden in there as well. There were legal means of disposing of the wealth without mentioning the gold, but Noss avoided all those. He apparently never consulted with anyone who could have helped him legally, preferring to enlist the aid of outside investors. He was willing to spread the wealth around, if he could get his hands on it with their help.
He complained that one passage into the treasure cave was so narrow that he had to crawl forward carefully, his shoulders scraping on the rough stone walls. In 1939, he hired an explosives expert named Montgomery to widen the passage. Montgomery, of course, used too much explosive and collapsed the tunnel, filling it with debris. Access to the treasure room was now impossible by the original route, but who cared? Noss had already removed enough of the gold to make him wealthy, if he could just figure out a legal way to convert the gold into cash.
More coming in the next installment… “Gold Bars and Tales of Treasure.”