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The Treasure of Victorio Peak, Part 3

Donate The hunt for the greatest treasure of gold ever imagined.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under History & Pseudohistory, Urban Legends

Skeptoid Podcast #882
May 2, 2023
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The Treasure of Victorio Peak, Part 3

Today we wrap up our three-part series giving a skeptical analysis of the treasure of Victorio Peak, as detailed in the Discovery Channel's 2023 miniseries Gold, Lies, & Videotape. I don't want to shock anyone, but shows on the Discovery Channel often tend to favor the wow factor over the facts, and this case was no different. If you haven't heard Parts 1 and 2 of this series, please stop now, and go back two episodes in the feed and listen to them, or else this one will make no sense at all. Unless that's your jam, in which case, go all in. But we left off the story with the Noss Family Partnership having a seismic survey done of Victorio Peak, hoping and expecting the results to prove that a treasure cavern did in fact exist, and to give its exact location. But this is what happened instead.

Here is where the geophysicists' paper is weird. In a cross section diagram of the knob, Victorio Peak's top layers are shown and labeled — but only down to a certain point. Not all the way to the bottom of the fissure, and not even down to the depth of the borehole. This my consulting geologist Andrew Dunning characterized as a deliberate omission. They intentionally did not describe the rock around the base of the fissure — even though they definitely knew it because they drilled through it. Identifying that rock in the diagram is a scientific imperative, because characterizing the rock through which they drilled is essential to calibrating everything about the survey and being able to make any sense of its results. The cynical mind might guess that they didn't identify it because it proves that it's impossible for Doc's treasure chambers to exist; the conspiracy minded might claim the opposite, saying they didn't want to show that the treasure chambers do in fact exist.

The paper does state that the base of the region in the knob where voids might exist is only 300 m2. Three hundred square meters, above which Doc alleges was a fantastic treasure cavern nearly a kilometer long. Below that small base is the shale and other structures inside of which voids are implausible. And if voids did exist below that 300 m2 base, the presence of a spring on the northwest side of the knob tells us they would be flooded, making them inaccessible to Doc in any event.

Geologically speaking, we know from other sources that what underlies that limestone is shale. We know that it's a virtual impossibility for chambers like what Doc described to exist below the shale floor and north of the intrusion — never say never, but it would be absolutely inconsistent with all that we know.

Nevertheless, the paper's conclusion states:

An extensive seismic experiment at Victorio Peak has indicated the presence of at least one large cavern under the mountain.

Yet neither their diagram nor anything else in the paper supports this! This sentence is a glaring red herring in the paper, which also states:

…Wave propagation through a cavity produces a decrease in the amplitude and a delay in the traveltime of the direct arrival. The scattering off a complex cavity surface was also shown to produce an imposingly complex secondary arrival wavetrain that all but precludes the use of diffraction techniques for cave detection.

They're saying the technique they used is not appropriate for detecting caverns.

These geophysicists' normal gig is the detection of illegal smuggling tunnels at the US-Mexico border. In 2017, one of them co-authored a paper in the journal Geophysics discussing the validity of their Victorio Peak technique for detecting underground voids, which they tested at the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in northern California, where the location of underground tunnels was known. They were able to detect tunnels very near the surface, but were unable to detect tunnels right below them. What their equations show is that very shallow voids are probably detectable, but the deeper you go, the size of the void has to go up very rapidly for it to be detectable. If Doc's treasure cavern was deeper than about 15 meters, it would have had to take up nearly the entirety of the space above that 300 m2 base. In short, there just isn't anywhere that alleged cavern could hide.

All of this meshes perfectly with everything we see in the 2023 Discovery Channel miniseries; and it's also consistent with the very first part of Doc's story. He could easily have found a hole at the top of the knob. That access point could have easily been blocked by blowing up the rock. The Family Partnership could have easily entered the fissure from the entrance called the Lower Noss Entrance, and everything you see in the documentary is people working in a wide, extensive fissure with solid flat walls on both sides and a hard shale floor. We even see the shaft cut down into the shale made by the 1940 Cheyenne Mining Company, called the Lower Noss Shaft, where they were cutting through solid rock hoping to find these magnificent chambers that (geology tells us) almost certainly never existed.

Recall Doc's original story. He needed to do no blasting, tunneling, or digging; only crawling and squirming through passages that were open and accessible. These were the same passages that would have been used by the hypothetical Apache hiding away the captured Spanish and all their treasures — thousands and thousands of trips over many years; it would have been quite the expressway. Yet 75 years of people swarming over every inch of the fissure and every other nook and cranny of Victorio Peak never found a single bit of evidence that any such open passages to treasure caverns had ever existed.

Given all the problems with Doc's story, it seems that even the staunchest defenders of the treasure cavern must acknowledge that it would at least be fair and reasonable to consider that his story was false. I do want to be very clear that I am not here to be critical of anyone in the Noss extended family or of any of their friends who have been with them on this quest for so long. That's not a constructive goal. I'm here to encourage skepticism of the factual claim — regardless of who makes it — that a treasure cavern exists beneath Victorio Peak.

Geologically, it seems a virtual slam-dunk that no treasure cavern exists. But of course that's not the only line of evidence leading to the treasure. It's an important one, to be sure; and taken by itself, is probably enough to reach a verdict and declare Doc's story a hoax — with Babe herself potentially being in on it, or having been fooled by Doc, or somewhere in between, insisting on believing only the best about her husband but aware that no gold bars existed, at least none that had passed an assay.

That gold is an important point. No knowledgeable adults were ever permitted to touch the objects that Doc claimed were gold — gold sufficiently grimy and blackened that Doc had himself taken them for pig iron. No record exists of Doc ever having an assay done and proving to anyone that he had so much as a single bar.

Doc did present many items that he represented as having come from the treasure cavern, such as the coin and the sword. None have any particular value, and all could have been acquired by him from shops. This doesn't prove anything at all, but it does mean that we have no unambiguous evidence that Doc had anything in his possession that could only have an extraordinary origin.

And, unfortunately, Doc had a reputation that did not bode well for the veracity of the legend. More than one article about Victorio Peak simply calls him a "con man". And it's true that his main income was illegal — he had no medical training of any kind, and yet hung out a shingle and did business as a doctor. Babe, who also had no medical training, worked as his nurse. Doc always presented himself as three-quarters Cheyenne, but any Native American blood he may have had was certainly a lot less than that; his father William Noss was born in Missouri in 1844 to German immigrants. On his journey that eventually brought him to New Mexico, Doc was arrested multiple times for a variety of crimes, including theft and practicing medicine without a license in Texas in 1934; Doc had even had a radio show on KAAS Elk City, Oklahoma in which he donned a turban and read people's fortunes with astrology.

With Doc being such a dubious character to begin with, and with such an improbable tale, I found myself wondering where were the rest of Doc and Babe's descendants? We met a very few in the Discovery miniseries, Delonas chief among them; but what do the rest of the family think of their illustrious ancestor's treasure hunt? Are they all in, or do they think Delonas is just as loony as old Grandpa Doc was? We have no information on this, and would it be useful to get alternate perspectives from family members who have the same information Delonas does.

It's interesting to note that throughout the Discovery Channel miniseries, Alonso and Delonas often speak of the need to prove that Doc's story is true. That's a very telling choice of words. They're not there to find out if it's true; they're there to prove that it is true. They had their conclusion before they ever even saw the mountain. And that is not a healthy attitude for an objective explorer. It makes me, for one, suspicious of anything they say; I worry that their conclusions and interpretations might be colored through the lens of their preconceived notion. The only information I have is from watching the show, and they both came off to me as genuine and honest in their belief. I smelled no whiff of deception or hoaxing from them; nothing more than a determined prejudice toward their preferred version of events.

Finally, there is another significant problem with the basic claim of this whole story, which is that such an immense amount of gold even existed by the days of Maximilian I. Depending on whose estimate you like, that original 16,000 bars constituted anywhere between 100 and 450 tons of gold. We do have very good data on historical world gold production. Nearly all of the gold from Mesoamerica came from Oaxaca and Guerrero, all of it without the benefit of blasting or mechanization; though later the Spanish began extracting gold from South America as well. Prior to 1700, total gold production in Mesoamerica was well under 1 ton per year, most of that by the Spanish. Even by the reign of Maximilian, when more modern mining techniques were in wide use, it was averaging only a bit over 1 ton per year. No matter how you calculate it, the alleged Victorio Peak treasure would have constituted at least the majority of all gold ever mined in the Americas, and at the high end of its estimates, far more gold than was ever mined. However, there is no record of most or all of Mesoamerica's gold suddenly going missing — an event which surely would not have escaped notice. That the miniseries made no mention of this suggests one of two things; either they knew about it and kept it quiet to keep the TV show tantalizing to viewers, or they have a blind spot that results in this glaring moment of incompetence as researchers. Which is it? We have no way to know.

As someone who deals with historical mysteries for a living, I can't help but empathize and root for Delonas and Alonso and the rest of the Family Partnership. I would love to see Babe receive her just due for the shabby treatment she got from Doc, who not only ditched her but probably hoaxed her, the way he did so many other people in his life. From where I sit, it's not the apocryphal treasure that should be the focus, but Babe, a solid woman, a woman of endless strength. She may have stood by a man who didn't quite deserve it, but once he was out of the picture she stood by her family and worked harder for them than just about anyone else I've heard of — all thanks to a legend, a phantom of promised riches. If she was indeed a victim of Doc's hoax like everyone else, it was because she was a trusting person. So as we put the story of Victorio Peak to rest, I do it by raising my glass to Ova "Babe" Noss (1895-1979) who loved, and worked, and trusted.

Special thanks to consulting geologist Andrew Dunning, M.S.


By Brian Dunning

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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "The Treasure of Victorio Peak, Part 3." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 2 May 2023. Web. 24 Apr 2024. <https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4882>

 

References & Further Reading

Abcarian, R. "Treasure or Treachery? : Did ‘Doc’ Noss Really Find Caverns of Gold or Did He Pull Off a Hoax That Has Plagued His Kin for Years?" Los Angeles Times. California Times, 16 Jun. 1991. Web. 11 Apr. 2023. <https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1991-06-16-vw-1352-story.html>

Crewdson, J. "Search to Begin for Legendary New Mexico Treasure." The New York Times. 18 Mar. 1977, Newspaper: 12.

Editors. "Dr. Milton Noss Arrested; Released On Bond Of $750." The Wellington Leader. 7 Jun. 1934, Volume 25, Number 49: 1.

Editors. "Gold prodcution, 1681 to 2015." Our World in Data. Global Change Data Lab, 11 Apr. 2023. Web. 11 Apr. 2023. <https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/gold-production?country=~MEX>

Johnson, D. "Following 1937 Story of Buried Gold, Family Searches New Mexico's Sands." The New York Times. 29 Jul. 1992, Section A: Page 8.

Peerman, L. "Is there gold in Victorio Peak? Historian to talk about local legend." Las Cruces Sun News. USA Today Network, 14 Jul. 2022. Web. 11 Apr. 2023. <https://www.lcsun-news.com/story/entertainment/events/2022/07/14/is-there-gold-in-victorio-peak-historian-to-talk-about-local-legend/65374080007>

Rector, J., Washboume, J., Alonso, A., Cherrington, M., Delonas, T., Huggins, R. "3-D seismic exploration for the Victorio Peak treasure." UC Berkeley. 1 Jan. 2018, Previously Published Works.

Sherman, C., Rector, J., Dreger, D., Glaser, S. "A numerical study of surface-wave-based tunnel detection at the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, California." Geophysics. 1 Oct. 2018, Volume 83, Number 4.

USGS. "Reconnaissance geologic map of the Kaylor Mountain 15-minute quadrangle, Dona Ana and Sierra Counties, New Mexico." National Geologic Map Database. US Geological Survey, 1 Jan. 1986. Web. 11 Apr. 2023. <https://ngmdb.usgs.gov/Prodesc/proddesc_73365.htm>

 

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