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'What Men Call Treasure' - Victorio Peak beckons

Damn - 11:36, lunchtime. Ova "Babe" Noss just finished telling her grandson Terry Delonas about finding the entrance to Victorio Peak. It's too early for lunch; can't stop now.

Terry felt the sword Babe had given him. "You like the feel of that," Babe asked. "That's pure history you're holding, your family history and world history both." And that is "What Men Call Treasure: The Search for Gold at Victorio Peak" Aug. 2008 -- Cinco Puntos Press ($25.95). An intriguing account of a legend retold and repackaged throughout New Mexico is now told by former El Pasoan David Schweidel and New Mexico State University English Professor Robert Boswell.

Terry Delonas was one of Babe's grandsons who was raised in Clovis, N.M., transfixed by his grandmother's stories of Milton Ernest "Doc" Noss and his mysterious adventures with the legendary gold of Victorio Peak. It is the gold legend that so many claimants lost fortunes or their lives, including Doc. Many then and many now have been lured into its rumors of CIA agents, clandestine excavations and secret flights out of Albuquerque carrying tons of gold bars to unknown destinations. "The army stole it," was Babe's assertion and anger. There was even a story of the late President Lyndon B. Johnson stealing it and taking it to his ranch in Texas and Mexico.

"What Men Call Treasure" takes you back and forth into time and the events surrounding the search for the legendary treasure and into the mind of Terry Delonas as he dreams of unimaginable riches, his battle with bureaucrats, excavators, generals, and the battle with his own sexuality preference and his religion, which has strict, unforgiving punishment if they found out he was gay. His youth is filled with the tales of Victorio Peak, being the favorite grandson of Ova Noss and being the only one to believe the old lady with the crazy stories of gold caches and jewelry hidden in a cavern in the desolate region of the Hembrillo Basin.

Schweidel and Boswell interject themselves into the story having spent much time with Terry and having visited the digging excursion at the peak. They give a skeptic assessment of whether there really was a treasure or whether it was a fabulously concocted story by the likes of Doc Noss, later made more intriguing by Babe Noss who perhaps exaggerated its riches and clouded its reality.

The authors' interjections appear as though a need to believe in the treasure still exists, seeking a happy ending and writing a fabulous novel of mystery and intrigue that would have culminated in a description of the fabulous cache of gold. But instead, doubt or "maybe we were almost there" type of feeling lingers. For most readers, "What Men Call Treasure" will be an interesting, quick read with a few chapters languishing in unnecessary detail. For the gold seekers, Victorio Peak remains, beckoning all to hear its mermaid-like calls toward a rocky doom.

David Schweidel will be at NMSU on Monday, Sept. 29, to give a lecture titled "Where Gold Goes, Blood Follows" in the College of Arts and Sciences colloquium series. The lecture starts at 4 p.m. in Science Hall 107.