Tony Jolley, 55, a thin, red-headed rancher from Bruneau, Idaho, was explaining to a group of rapt reporters gathered on an isolated hillside today how he helped hide several million dollars in buried treasure back in 1949.
The gold bars, Jolley explained, were from a treasure horde discovered deep in Victoria Peak in 1937 by Milton Ernest (Doc) Noss. Jolly said he got involved when Noss approached him at a filling station in Hatch, N. M.; and during a conversation casually mentioned he had something to hide and needed help.
Jolley, an itinerant rodeo rider at the time, said he helped Noss bury 110 bars of gold in 10 hiding places around this 1,500-foot mountain that night. The next day Doc Noss was shot dead by a angry business partner. Jolley said he heard about the shooting at breakfast in a diner 35 miles from here.
"Did you come back for the gold?" a reporter asked.
"Nope," said Jolley. "I had a mount to ride in Phoenix."
So grows the bizarre legend of the treasure in Victorio Peak.
The legend has expanded by leaps and bounds in the last few days as a group of professional treasure hunters from Florida, accompanied by U. S. Army officials, claimants to the treasure and a smaller army of more than 80 reporters gathered here. They arrived to see if a 10-day treasure hunt beinning today with sophiscated electronic equipment will bear fruit.
Seventy to 80 per cent of the stories about the legendary treasure are idle rumors, said Norman Scott, who has checked them all out. Scott is the enthusiastic 47-year-old president of Expeditions Unlimited, a Pompano Beach, Fla., treasure-hunting firm which is conducting the Victorio Peak search. The rest of the stories, Scott said somewhat mysteriously, have not been refuted and make the hunt a worthwhile undertaking.
That has been enough to bring reporters from all over the country to this rattlesnake-infested mountain to watch.The opening of the hunt here today was marked by 32 carloads of reporters following Scott's team and a-pickup truck with a pair of portable toilets bobbing in the back across 26 miles of desert and rugged, hilly terrain to the alleged treasure site.
Even the Army, which has officially scoffed at the buried treasure stories, indicated its priorities by sending a single medic but two attorneys.
"If they find anything," said Col. Anthony Movsesian, the head of the legal staff for White Sands Missile Range, which includes Victorio Peak, "my instructions are to call "the general counsel of the Army in Washington."
Jolley is not the only one here with a gold story. Joe Newman, an El Paso, Tex., treasure hunter, said he crept into a tunnel in the mountain and saw 1,800 bars of gold during a nighttime foray here in 1972.
Ova Noss, Doc Noss' 81-year-old widow and one of six claimants to the treasure, arrived here from Clovis, N. M., where she lives in a trailer. Mrs. Noss claimed to have a trunk full of treasure from the mountain in her trailer that Doc Noss gave her after his discovery. She refuses to show anyone the treasure, however.
"They're going to have some shovelling problems," she said with a chuckle when she showed up at the treasure site today in a bright purple pantsuit and was asked about the chances of success by the Scott expedition. "At one time I could have taken a teaspoon and dug the treasure out in a few days," she said.
The tunnel Doc Noss said he discovered was allegedly demolished when he tried to widen it with dynamite in 1939.
The most credible treasure tale so far has been told by Leonard Fiege, a 47-year-old salesman from Bayfield, Wis.
Fiege, who is under contract to Scott to locate the treasure, said he found the gold in 1958 while he was an Air Force captain and flight safety director at Holloman Air Force Base near here. Fiege said he entered the mountain with a rope and a light and crawled about 300 to 400 feet down a shaft.
"I saw three piles of stuff," he said as he pointed out the entrance - now blocked by fallen rock - to reporters today. "There were bars piled in a pyramid shape five feet wide at the base, three or four feet high and seven to nine feet long."
He said he still doesn't know if the bars were gold because he said he never removed any of them from the tunnel.
Instead Fiege said he hid the tunnel entrance and went to his base commander at Holloman to ask for permission to remove the bars. He said the request was taken to Washington, D. C., where he met with top Treasury Department officials and received permission to get the bars.
But the Air Force and Treasury Department mysteriously cut short his search time and then barred him from the mountain, Fiege said. He returned only one time, he said, and saw military vehicles near the tunnel site and the tunnel filled with rock.
The Army, in an account distributed this week, said the former Air Force captain reported the find and was given five days to go back and find the tunnel. The Army said Fiege failed to locate the tunnel. Three more months were granted to Fiege in 1961, the Army said, but that search was halted when Ova Noss protested to the military that her gold was being stolen.
Fiege said he took and passed a lie detector test about his find. The test was given by military and Treasury Department officials about three months after the discovery, and Scott said he had copies of the test results showing Fiege's truthfullness.
Scott said he will begin an electronic probe of the mountain Sunday with a team hired at $640 a day from the Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif. On Monday Scott uncover the tunnel into the mountain and find the gold.