With its rocky crags and cavern-riddled mountains, it’s no wonder that New Mexico is home to some of the most incredible stories of hidden treasure in North America. The “Wild West” was famous for the reckless bravery and lawlessness of criminals who would hold up stagecoaches, chase down trains, and gather up loads of treasure that were never found after their untimely demise. Other tales tell of prospectors who found immense caches of gold through the mountains, only to die before revealing the exact locations of their hoards. It is believed that many of these treasures remain hidden throughout the state, awaiting discovery by lucky adventurers.
One story from 1836 is of an old prospector named Adams. After suffering an attack by Indians, Adams stumbled into the town of Pinos Altos. Before dying of his injuries, Adams told tales of a wondrous red hill just north of the town where gold was scattered everywhere, ripe for the taking. In his knapsack was $7000 worth of gold nuggets which he claimed came from this hill. Prospectors raced to the site, trying to find the gold-rich hill, but none succeeded. Pinos Altos currently maintains many buildings and historic sites from the gold rush including the Buckhorn Saloon and Opera House and the Pinos Altos Historic Museum.
The Hembrillo Basin, just below Victorio Peak, is the site of one of the more baffling treasure mysteries in New Mexico. In 1937 Milton Earnest “Doc” Noss was traveling through Hembrillo Basin when he stumbled upon a large rock that turned out to be the cover-stone of an unbelievable treasure trove. There are numerous theories as to the source of this cavern filled with treasures beyond imagining, but none has been proven. By 1938 Doc Noss managed to gain legal claim to the treasure, and worked to remove as much of it as he could. In the fall of 1939, Doc decided that he needed to enlarge the opening to the hidden treasure, and arranged to blast the narrow tunnel with eight sticks of dynamite. This was a mistake, causing a cave-in that permanently blocked further entry to the cavern.
In 1955 the White Sands Missile Range decided to expand its territory into Hembrillo Basin. Doc’s wife, Ova “Babe” Noss, fought to retain her rights to the sealed treasure trove, but the ownership of both the land and the treasure beneath it was highly disputed. Eventually military personnel apparently found another entrance to the hidden cavern, and the dispute became even more rabid. Finally in 1963 the state put together a mining expedition to uncover what treasure remained on the site. The venture was unsuccessful, for any remaining gold had either been removed, or the location of the cavern had again been lost. To this day, the mystery of the treasure of Hembrillo Basin has not been solved. Doc and Babe’s descendants still fight to find out what happened to the treasure, and whether any remains beneath Victorio Peak.
The mountains are home to many other hidden treasure troves. A deep canyon in Caballo Mountain, near Las Cruces, is said to hide goods stolen by Indians from the Spanish. The Capitan Mountain supposedly hides a horde of Aztec gold and silver worth $25 million. Steins Peak is home to Doubtful Canyon, where the takings from a stagecoach robbery are reputedly hidden. More illicit treasure is said to be hidden at Devoy’s Peak near Mount Dora. Other places with legends of lost treasure troves include Cimarron, Cooney, and Tijeras Canyon.
There are many fascinating tales to be told and places to see in New Mexico! Enjoy your own “hunt” as you search out the interesting stories and places you can see around the state.