By Don McAlavy
One of the more exciting unsolved mysteries of all time is about hidden treasure found in New Mexico. Milton E. “Doc” Noss made the discovery in 1937 at Victorio Peak, in the San Andres mountain range of central New Mexico.
Noss discovered the treasure site before it was taken in as part of the White Sands Missile Range in the 1940s. This discovery had a Clovis connection: Doc Noss’ wife, Ova, lived and died here.
(Terry Delonas is a grandson of Doc and Ova Noss and son of Gus Delonas of the old Busy Bee Cafe in Clovis. Terry Delonas, 55 and last known to be living in California, is still battling with the government over what he considers to be his family’s treasure.)
Doc Noss came to Hatch in 1935, fresh out of the New Mexico state penitentiary. (For carrying a gun, he did four months of hard time in the pen.)
Noss was 30 years old and professed to be a foot doctor, but with no license to practice he was fined several times for this infraction. Noss was a half-blood Cheyenne Indian from Oklahoma.
He married Ova in 1931. She was 10 years his senior.
Noss was a tall, dark-haired, handsome man. He usually wore a fancy, all-black, western outfit and usually carried a pistol.
Noss’ discovery was an accident. (But some say he knew of the gold beforehand.)
On a November day in 1937, Noss and Ova and a few friends went deer hunting in the Hembrillo Basin of the San Andres mountains. Noss became separated from the rest of the party, but at sundown walked into camp and took Ova aside and said “I have something to tell you!”
He had found a shaft on Victorio Peak. Several days later he and Ova went back to the shaft. Noss descended on a rope for 60 feet and found himself in a large room. He found another shaft that descended at an angle and came into a large cave, “big enough,” he said, “for a freight train.” The cave led to a series of caves stretching for more than half a mile.
In one of the smaller caves he found old Wells Fargo chests, swords, guns, saddles, jewels, boxes full of old letters and enough gold and silver coins to load 60 to 80 mules.
Back near the shaft, in a corner, covered by old buffalo hides, he found thousands upon thousands of bars of what he thought was pig iron. When he came out with one of the bars, Ova cleaned it up and shouted “Why, Doc! It’s gold!”
(One historian of the Apaches, Eva Ball, believed the treasure was the loot of the Apaches. Victorio Peak was named for the Mescalero Apache Chief Victorio in 1880. In 1956, a 109-year-old man who had seen Victorio claimed the Apache Chief and his warriors had buried on top of a mountain all the loot they had captured from soldiers and settlers over a period of years.)
Between 1937 and 1939, Noss pulled out 88 large gold bars and hid them in the basin around the peak. In 1939, the treasure inside the peak was lost when Noss and an engineer, S. E. Montgomery, attempted to enlarge the entrance with dynamite and caused a large slide that sealed the cave.
In 1949, Doc Noss was shot and killed by another gold hunter.
In 1961, Ova caught the U. S. Army mining the mountain in a top-secret operation.
In 1977, at age 80, Ova was atop Victorio Peak. She stood on a ledge that overlooked the entire basin. Broad and stout, leaning on a strong walking staff, her white hair flowing in the wind, she looked like a desert prophet — and, prophet-like, she discharged her contempt for the U. S. Army in words that stuck like thunderbolts: “The (expletive deleted) army has stole the gold!” she shouted. “They have dug it out and hauled it off, the sonofabitches!”
Ova Noss died in Clovis in 1979. She had moved here in the early 1950s.
The U.S. government made it illegal on June 5, 1937, for American citizens to own gold. It was made legal again in 1975. The book “100 Tons of Gold — The Incredible Story Behind the Biggest Buried Treasure in the U. S.,” by David Leon Chandler, was published in 1978, by Doubleday & Co., Inc.
Don McAlavy is a history buff who lives in Clovis.