CABALLO MOUNTAINS, N.M.- There is a tunnel in the desert; a dark crevice sequestered by fear of its folklore in a place they call “the middle of nowhere”; a place across a dried riverbed and shaded by the Caballo Mountain range; a place lit by a desert sun that turns yucca bushes into stumpy, abstract black shadows; a place where winds turn grains of sand into a fog of stingy pellets; a place that once radiated with the vibrant spirits of gold diggers; now a deserted mining shaft; a mining shaft known as Rattlesnake Hole.
It is there, William White stood.
The author and historian had visited the location numerous times before, searching for gold, only to leave with nothing. However, White, who had previously climbed 85 feet into the tunnel during a solo expedition, mentioned with a smirk, “the gold is always one foot further.” On this day though, White did not dig for gold. Instead, White, in research for a new book, dug for facts.
White, a resident of New Mexico, has been searching for precious metals and treasures for over 30 years; in fact, since his return from Vietnam. In 1965, White enlisted into the Marines and was deployed to Vietnam as an infantryman the following year. The time abroad, while admittedly tough for White, broadened his scope on life and honed his goal to adventure.
“The time in Vietnam was not easy, and personally even recalling the thoughts can be tough,” said White, crouching at the entrance to Rattlesnake Hole. “But, the Marines were an incredible source of discipline for me, a discipline I have tried to use throughout my entire life.”
In 1967, White returned to the states, married and raised a family. The war veteran, now home, would spend weekends with his wife and children, searching for different adventures. In an effort to “find something to do” when he went hiking, White started to go on treasure hunts.
“Originally, the hunts were never about treasure or gold,” said White, “but something fun I could do with my children.”
However, White, with each hike/hunt, discovered an insatiable desire to not only find treasures but to uncover history’s great secrets. So, White, in an effort to link the past with the present, began to hunt for stories of gold. In his research, White began to notice there was far more than a sliver of history but a treasure chest full of rich stories.
“[Milton Ernest] ‘Doc’ Noss discovered a gold crown in this mountain,” said White, pointing to the Caballo Mountain range. “But after his wife flaunted it in town, Noss took it back, and placed it back in this mountain somewhere.”
To this day, White explained, men and women mine in the mountain, digging anywhere between 25 and 300 feet in search for Noss’ gold bullion. So far, there has been no success. It is stories, such as this, which prompted White’s first novel, “Tales of the Caballos.” The novel is an account of the treasure lore and legends of the mountain’s mysticism.
White enjoyed so much personal and professional success from the novel, he became inspired to write another. For White’s second novel, he expanded his hunt from gold to American Southwest folklore. The result was “True Treasure Stories of the Southwest,” a collection of stories ranging from precious metals to UFOs. For White, the search became no longer about the “find” but the journey.
“The planning and activity itself are as much fun as finding something,” said White, squinting from the sun light. “Whether you search with a simple metal detector or use more sophisticated equipment you will experience the same thrill of the hunt that makes it worthwhile.”
White, who began to gain notoriety within the Southwest, wrote through a personal scope for his third novel, “Reflections.” The book consists of personal accounts of deep sea diving off the California coast to surfing the Pipeline in Hawaii. More than this, it is an account of a young man growing up in the fifties and sixties. These stories range from a winter in Aspen, Colorado, learning how to ski, to leading a squad of Marines through the jungles of Vietnam.
The experience of writing “Reflections” was liberating for White, who continued to humbly praise those who have supported him throughout the years. One such man, Duane Shaw, the president of Ol’ Skool 4x4, has gone as far as bringing White on trips to give members of the off-road community a tour.
“Mr. William White is a legend in this area,” said Shaw, who brought White on an off-road trip to the Caballo Mountains in late 2013. “The man is so knowledgeable about the area, its stories, its history, and most of all, he is one the kindest men I have ever met.”
Following “Reflections,” White felt compelled to return to the lore of the Caballo Mountains and the American Southwest Region for his next two books: “More Treasure Stories and Folklore of the Caballo Mountains” and “Mad Dog and Treasure Hunters.” The former is a book that includes many untold stories of the Caballos, as well as, the local treasure hunters with their successes and failures. The latter is an archive of William's colorful past experiences.
One definitely gets the impression after reading White’s books that he knows a lot more than he is saying. The historian will freely admit such a notion, stressing that no current hunt should be disturbed.
“Any untold stories represent either unfinished business or a need to protect the privacy of individuals still actively engaged in the hunt for treasure,” said White, staring into the darkness of the Rattlesnake Hole.
For his fifth and sixth novel, White shifted his literary efforts to fiction. In “The Treasure of San Miguel Island,” the reader is ensconced in a treasure hunt off the coast of California, a story based upon the Freddie Steele story first published in “Reflections.” In his most recent book, “The Pancho Villa Treasure of the Guadalupe Mountains,” White tells the story of Pancho Villa and his faithful lieutenant Leonardo Regaldo, who took by force of arms a massive treasure stolen from the Mexican people by the despot dictator Porfirio.
Despite all of the literary and treasure hunting success, White claims he is still looking for the “big one.” The “big one” could lie within his future plans, which include a shipwreck salvaging in the Pacific Ocean, as well as, continuing his search on land for treasure not located. Or perhaps, the “big one” lies within the Rattlesnake Hole. And, for White, there would no better place to find than one than in New Mexico.
“This is my home,” White said, smiling, “this is where I want to be.”