You might theorize after a mining company had spent two months on Victorio Peak without results, most people would realize gold bars don´t grow out of the ground there. On the contrary, more dreamers rushed into the breach and came forward seeking quick riches from the uncooperative Army.
In 1964 and 1965 the Museum of New Mexico and Gaddis Mining were both back seeking permission to reenter the range. In the same period D. Richardson and R. Tyler visited White Sands requesting permission to locate "lost treasure."
Also, Violet Yancy, Doc Noss´ second wife, showed up asking to get onto the range. Violet popped up again in 1969 making headlines in Texas and New Mexico. She hired two Fort Worth lawyers and was trying to establish her right to the treasure. She indicated there was documentation showing Doc left her 76 percent of the treasure and Ova the other 24 percent.
One person conspicuously missing from the recorded requests during the sixties is Ova Noss. More than likely she was operating through various backers at this time. A hot rumor during the Gaddis search was that Harold Beckwith, Ova´s son, was financing the Gaddis operation. Reporters pressed the question at the time but could not confirm it. It may be the family was operating through some other group.
In 1968 E. F. Atkins and party started a series of requests and petitions which carried on for years. This was a persistent group which pulled out all the stops in trying to get in.
Senator Barry Goldwater wrote requesting permission for the Birdcage Museum of Arizona to explore for treasure. It was determined the museum and Atkins were one in the same. They supposedly also sought entrance through the cooperation of a man named Gill with ABC-TV.
Then the range received a letter from the Great Plains Historical Association of Lawton, Oklahoma which stated they had accepted scientific sponsorship of a treasure project at WSMR as outlined by an E.F. Atkins.
When all this was denied, Atkins asked for reconsideration and stated several Washington Army Authorities and senators and representatives had recommended approval. On checking with the Department of Army, WSMR learned the Secretary of Army had made no commitment and would back WSMR´s decision 100 percent.
This cat and mouse game went on for years. In August 1971, The Department of Army indicated it had already received 55 Congressional inquiries that year on the behalf of Atkins and his request to search for gold. In a 1972 memo for record one range official noted he had received another request from Atkins to explore for gold. He indicated Atkins wanted to get together on a friendly basis and maybe something could be worked out so Atkins did not have to exert Congressional pressure on the Department of Army to gain access to WSMR. He did not get on White Sands.
This brings us to the point where Victorio Peak gained national exposure through the Watergate hearings and the likes of Jack Anderson and F. Lee Bailey.
On June 2, 1973, Jack Anderson reported in his syndicated column the story of noted attorney F. Lee Bailey´s involvement with gold bars in New Mexico and specifically, White Sands Missile Range. According to Anderson, Bailey was authorized by a consortium to gain legal possession of the golden treasure at WSMR. The group promised to pay taxes and then sell the rest of the gold at a profit to themselves.
Bailey was supposedly skeptical at first so he asked for proof. The group came up with a gold bar about four inches long and promised hundreds more to prove their claim. Bailey sent it to the Treasury Department and had it assayed. It proved to be 60 percent gold and 40 percent copper. Anderson´s article quickly pointed out ancient gold ingots often were not pure and this percentage shouldn´t be viewed as significant.
A Bailey spokesman later stated the consortium knew the location of 292 gold bars, each weighing about 80 pounds. However, Treasury and Army expressed disinterest in Bailey´s proposals.
Just a few numbers at this point. The bar given to Bailey was obviously not one of the alleged 80 pounders. An 80-pound bar with the stated proportion of gold and copper would be about 12 inches long, five inches wide and three inches thick. Interestingly, modern 14-karat gold jewelry is 58 percent gold and 42 percent other metals such as copper. In 1974 the same bar was examined by Los Alamos which came to the same conclusion. The press dutifully reported experts saying the bar was basically the same as jewelers gold. Hmmmm, maybe some old rings melted down?
I suppose because he is well connected, Bailey took his problems to U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell. Mitchell then repeated much of it at a lunch with H.R. Haldeman and John Dean. Finally, Dean, during his Senate Watergate Investigation testimony, mentioned something about Bailey, gold bars in New Mexico and making a deal for his client to avoid prosecution for holding gold.
As with any story repeated several times, by the time Dean told it there was some distortion---according to Bailey´s people. After a storm of Watergate headlines linking treasure to the investigation, Bailey´s people said there were actually two groups of people. One was a small group which had stumbled onto the gold and the other was a group of businessmen supporting them.
Bailey never would reveal who his clients were but it later came out one was a Fred Drolte wanted by authorities on an arms smuggling charge. Bailey later was quoted as saying that given a helicopter and access to White Sands he could have gold bars in 30 minutes.
At this point things really started to get interesting. In late 1973 several people stole into the Hembrillo Basin and set off a dynamite charge in a side canyon east of Victorio Peak. They supposedly blasted the Indian pictographs off of a rock wall. Some people claimed if you knew how to read the drawings they would guide you to the treasure.
After the trespass, security was beefed up and a house trailer was put in at HEL site just west of Victorio Peak. It was to house range riders and military police. In July 1974 the range announced it was making more improvements to the site with the addition of a helicopter pad, a 30-foot antenna and portable generators. The additional work was done in anticipation of approval for another gold search.
At this point Victorio Peak was in the news all the time. There was lots of maneuvering by various groups trying to gain entrance. The Bailey group signed a deal with the state(New Mexico would get 25 percent) to allow them first crack at the peak. The Army didn´t buy it and New Mexico battled the Army in the press for quite a while. At the time it must have been very serious for the two sides. But looking back on it and seeing how it was played out in the press, it looks pretty humorous---especially when you consider no one ever came up with anything approaching a whole gold bar and the basis for the whole argument anyway was the story of a man arrested for practicing medicine without a license.
As the story grew in the mid 70s a kind of gold fever or hysteria developed with it. The Bailey group starting claiming thousands of bars of gold, not just 292. Maybe it was the oil crisis, but somehow inflation kicked in and the treasure´s worth grew to 225 billion dollars. The Washington Post came to the rescue and rationally pointed out Fort Knox only stored 6.2 billion dollars in gold reserves.
As the story spread the missile range started receiving letters from people all over the world asking for information or permission to explore. Perfect strangers came forward to offer their ESP capabilities, their divining rods, their great grandfather´s knowledge and their old maps.
Some supposedly legitimate claimants emerged from this. In August 1973 White Sands received a letter from a lawyer named W. Doyle Elliott. It turns out he was retained by Roscoe Parr to get himself a piece of the action. Elliott stated in his letter that Parr, "alone possesses all of the necessary information and instructions from Dr. Noss to," settle the issue. The letter goes on to say Noss had an insight he might die before gaining access into the peak again and gave Parr all the necessary instructions to access the gold. Also he supposedly told Parr how to divide the treasure and generously offered Parr the balance after it was divided. Elliott solemnly pointed out Parr, "accepted and agreed to fulfill the requests made of him by Dr. Noss." None of this was apparently in writing.
By the end of 1974 you needed a program to keep all the claimants straight.
Someone reported Fiege had gone into partnership with Violet Noss Yancy. There also was the mysterious Bailey group, Ova Noss, Parr, the Shriver group, the "Goldfinder" group and Expeditions Unlimited headed by Norm Scott. Ova Noss took the bull by the horns and sued the Army for one billion dollars. The case was dismissed.
The Army was reluctant to deal with any one group for fear of showing favoritism. A number of solutions were proposed which included a lottery drawing to determine order of entry and a free-for-all gold rush which probably would have ended in a blood bath. None of these approaches was acceptable. Then Scott was able to organize the various claimants and he proposed Expeditions Unlimited represent the various groups and deal with exploring their claims.
The Army accepted and the search was set for mid 1976. This was postponed twice and, finally, "Operation Goldfinder" got underway in March 1977. It was put up or shut up time for most of the claimants.
Before it even started the range had to battle the rumors. Just a few days before the start word got around that the search was open to the public. Public Affairs scrambled to get the word out that only authorized searchers and press would be allowed in.
A press conference was held on March 18 and the actual search began the next day. Each day, press and searchers were registered at the peak and searched. At one point there was a report one of the claimant groups was going to try to salt the site. They were asked to leave by Scott. The searchers went site to site seeking the elusive gold bars. Eventually, an extension was granted to run the operation until April 1.
To say there was some press interest in the event would be an understatement. The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, London Daily Mail, Newsweek, Time Magazine, Rolling Stone and the National Enquirer were all there along with the local and regional print media. Of course, the television and radio stations showed up in force too. Probably the most notable, or, at least, most famous reporter attending was Dan Rather then with "60 Minutes." He attracted almost as much attention as the peak itself.
In the end most of the claimants had their time on Victorio and failed to turn up any gold bars---or anything of value. Immediately following the 1977 search there was a flurry of requests to reenter the range but the Department of Army emphatically stated, "That no exploration for lost treasure on WSMR will be permitted for the foreseeable future."
With the "foreseeable future" now behind us it is going to be interesting watching what happens during the next year at Victorio Peak. Recently, several people have said Doc Noss must be laughing in his grave. Henry James, in his book The Curse of the San Andres, said Victorio Peak was a haunting place with unusual sounds. Maybe he was only hearing a distant chuckle.
To view black and white photo of Ova Noss on Victorio Peak
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Three books have been published on Victorio Peak and it is easy to tell one from another. They all refer to the peak by a different name. The first is The Curse of the San Andres by Henry James. This book was published in 1953 and may still be available. He calls the peak Soledad.
The second book is 100 Tons of Gold by David Chandler. This was written right after Operation Goldfinder and is noted for Chandler´s gullibility. He seems to swallow whatever claimants tell him, hook, line and sinker. And he shows some paranoia by having the Army steal the gold about four different times. Just can´t get it right, I guess. He calls the peak Victorio and his book is probably out of print.
The third book is Treasure of Victoria Peak by Phil Koury. Koury was once Ova Noss´ lawyer and his book went on sale in 1986. It is still available and was being sold by the Ova Noss Family Partnership in January. The title tells you what Koury calls the peak.
---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---