After Doc´s death Ova Noss inherited the story of treasure at Victorio Peak and its inherent benefits and curses. She continued to work at the peak with the help of supporters and family members and to sell shares.
In 1952 she visited the Denver Mint and inquired if Milton Noss had made any deposits of gold at the Mint from November 1937 to March 1949. Mint records showed none was made. Interestingly she wrote the Mint in 1939 asking officials what they should do if they found gold. She indicated they had an old map showing the location of gold bars and they were searching for them. She was told to notify the Mint immediately if they found anything.
Another interesting fact from 1939 involving the Mint is a "gold brick" which was submitted to the U.S. Treasury for assay by Charles Ussher of Santa Monica, Calif. He supposedly paid $200 for the brick which he obtained from a man named Grogan. The assay revealed the bar contained 97 cents of gold. In an investigation conducted by the Secret Service, Grogan revealed he obtained the "gold brick" from Doc Noss in New Mexico.
On July 13, 1950 the Army entered a lease agreement with Roy Henderson for the land where Victorio Peak is located. Many people don´t realize there was a goat ranch right at the foot of Victorio Peak. The Henderson family lived there and before that it was grazed periodically by the Gilmore family. In fact, in 1973, Mart Gilmore said he took Noss to Hembrillo Basin in 1936 to show him a cave---at the request of Noss.
This was originally state land and the U.S. Government was granted the use of the land "for any military purpose whatsoever."
A search of records by officials in December 1950 revealed there were no existing legal mining claims in the area. On November 14, 1951 Public Land Order No. 703 was issued which withdrew all WSMR lands from prospecting, entry, location and purchase under mining laws and reserved their use for military purposes.
Interestingly, on January 5, 1953 Ova Noss assigned four percent of her Victorio Peak interests to J.L. Fowler of Enid, Oklahoma, who, in turn, sold parts to at least 10 persons in Oklahoma and Kansas. In February 1955, a Mrs. Miller of Caldwell, Texas wrote to the Mint concerning the purchase of gold mining stock from Ova Noss. This is intriguing since public records showed Ova had no legal claims at the peak. There is some correspondence showing the Treasury Department was concerned about the possibility of fraud and an investigation was made.
The next highlight in the story of Victorio Peak is the Fiege episode. Leonard Fiege was an Air Force captain assigned to Holloman AFB in 1958. He later claimed in 1961 that he and three men--Berclett, Prather and Wessel--went hunting in the Hembrillo Basin in 1958 and stumbled upon a tunnel in Victorio Peak. Fiege and Berclett claimed they crawled through it into a small room which contained a stack of gold bars. Berclett recently admitted in a press interview they were hunting gold to begin with, not wildlife.
Not to jeopardize their positions with the military, these two bright guys claimed they did not remove any of the gold. NOTE: Lost treasure stories always have a lot in common with horror movies. The participants never seem to be too bright and they never learn from past stories which clearly tell us not to open the closet door when creepy things are happening and to take some of the gold with you when you find it.
Berclett still claims he scratched his initials on one of the bars. They then spent several hours caving in the entrance to the little room so no one would find it.
In May 1961 the WSMR commander received a letter from the Holloman commanding general requesting Fiege and partners under a Col. Garman´s supervision be allowed to enter Victorio Peak to "get evidence which they will then provide to U.S. Treasury activities." On May 29 Fiege and group met with Maj. Gen. Shinkle, the WSMR CG, and Fiege stated it would be a simple matter to recover a few bars of gold. The request was denied.
At the end of June a group which included Fiege, Berclett and Colonels Garman and Gasiewicz from Holloman visited the director of the Mint and pleaded their case. As a result of that meeting the director sent a letter to the Secretary of the Army stating the Mint had been bothered a great deal by the gold story at Victorio Peak. He told the secretary they might be able to put an end to the rumors if the group was allowed to dig in the supposed tunnel.
The Secret Service had indicated earlier that there might be a cache of non-gold bars on the site which they said may have been placed there by Doc Noss to further his bunco game.
An old timer from El Paso calls me periodically to talk about Victorio Peak. He claims he knew Noss and that Noss used to buy copper bars in Orogrande and have them electroplated with gold in El Paso. When asked why he doesn´t tell his story to the press, he says he doesn´t think they would care. It would spoil the story.
Another old timer who ranched near Victorio Peak claims Noss used to salt the sand at the springs around the base of the peak. When prospective investors showed up, Doc would be panning flakes of gold out of the sand at the spring.
When the Department of Army received the letter from the Mint, officials asked for the WSMR CG´s comments. He said, "My stand has been that I shall deny entry...unless I obtain such permission. I desire this permission...and would like these rumors laid to rest." On July 30, 1961 Shinkle received permission to allow the investigation.
As we go through this scenario, you might want to keep in mind that this is the same operation which television´s "Unsolved Mysteries" claimed only four people knew about.
So, on August 5 a group including Shinkle, Garman, Fiege, Berclett, Prather, Wessel, Major Robert Kelly, a number of WSMR military police and Special Agent L.E. Boggs of Treasury went to Victorio Peak. For five days Fiege and his three partners worked to enter the tunnel but failed. At that point Shinkle told them to go away.
The Fiege group came back to Shinkle in August and September stating they would like to continue and was willing to work on weekends only. On September 20 Shinkle notified the Secret Service he was going to give Fiege more time but they would be restricted to the same tunnel. No new excavations would be allowed.
Work then continued on an intermittent basis for about five weeks under the surveillance of Capt. Swanner. In late October WSMR records indicate two men named Bradley and Gray entered Hembrillo Basin and approached the workers. Swanner supposedly ordered them to leave the missile range since they were trespassing. They demanded a piece of the action or they said they would tell Mrs. Noss. Swanner told them to leave.
On November 1 the state land commissioner notified the Army that Mrs. Noss was accusing them of mining her treasure. Things came quickly to a head and Shinkle ordered all work to stop on November 3.
Shinkle communicated with the Secretary of the Army and local officials that work was stopped and that the Fiege group had found nothing. The Secret Service already knew it since they had a man on site. The Noss lawyers pushed for access for Mrs. Noss. On December 6, with advice from a long list of other agencies, Shinkle excluded all persons from the range not directly engaged in conducting missile tests.
By the way, the fact that Capt. Swanner´s name is on the walls of one of the fissures in Victorio Peak is not the big deal that "Unsolved Mysteries" made it to be on Sunday night. According to Don Swann of Las Cruces, who was stationed at WSMR in 1956, soldiers were always spending weekends and free time in places like Victorio Peak. He says he put his name in one of the peak´s tunnels as did the soldiers with him. It is sometimes called "soldiers hole."
At this point we need to make a clarification or fine distinction involving the Army´s activity during the Fiege episode. The press pounces on this and often says the Army admits it did work at the site. This is not the case. The Army allowed a claimant to do work at the site. The Army does not admit that it conducted any kind of official or unofficial search at the peak for its own benefit.
After this the Noss group continued to seek permission to enter. The range´s position was that the group had no legal claim, therefore there was no reason to grant such an entry.
In late 1962 the Gaddis Mining Company and the New Mexico Museum approached the missile range seeking permission to enter and dig at Victorio Peak. The state of New Mexico sponsored the request and the Army recognized the state´s interest in a possible historical find. Rumors flew during the dig saying Harold Beckwith, son of Ova Noss, was financing Gaddis. On June 20, 1963 a license was granted by the Army for a 30-day exploration.
The work began with simultaneous archaeological, seismic and gravity surveys. According to Chester Johnson, a museum rep on site, nothing was found. He added that "a D7 caterpillar was used to cut and build roads where ever they were needed, even on top of the peak." Most of the scars on the peak are a result of this activity, not any Army work at the site.
The roads and platforms were necessary for placing a drilling rig. According to Johnson, the rig, "using a 4.5 inch rock bit and drilling with air, was used to test the anomalies (those places indicated by survey that might be caverns). Drill holes varied from 18 to 175 feet in depth, depending on location....There were about 80 holes drilled during the project."
In addition to this work the company drove their own tunnel 218 feet into the side of Victorio Peak in an attempt to gain access to the lower regions. This failed.
To accomplish all this the state had to request an extension which was granted. The 30-day extension made the exploration period July 19 through September 17.
In the end the company found nothing and reportedly spent $250,000. As part of it White Sands filed a claim with the state for reimbursement for support during the quest. The claim for $7,640.54 was filed in October 1963 and finally paid in November 1964.
Next---a look at the 1977 gold search.
---Interlaced with the historical information in these articles are statements of personal opinion by the author, Jim Eckles, which are not necessarily the official position of White Sands Missile Range or the U.S. Army---