OKANOGAN COUNTY – The story of Old Diek Smith’s lost source of “jeweler’s quality gold” is well known in this part of the country.
How many treasure hunting expeditions have entered the wilderness of Washington’s Sawtooth Mountains searching for the old man’s gold source is unknown, but searches continue to this very day, though not a single clue has ever been found.
The man who most thoroughly investigated this case was U.S. Forest Service surveyor and part-time treasure hunter, Terry Wright. Wright once theorized that Smith’s secret gold mine was nothing more than a hoax.
One evening, Wright interviewed Diek Smith at the Twisp Tavern when Smith was in his mid-seventies and claimed to still be working his mine.
Wright was interviewed by research-writer Elizabeth Marie deMorest, in 2001, sometime after Smith’s death. She wrote of Wright’s investigation and his attempts to locate Smith’s secret mine with Cliff Libby, another associate of the late Smith. Based on deMorest’s account, Wright directly confronted Smith that evening at the tavern.
“I don’t believe there is any gold, Diek,” said Wright. “There’s gold, Terry, plenty of it,” said Smith.
“I know you have your nephew, half this town, and a lot of out-of-towners [who] have tried to trail you [convinced], but I think you’re just leading people around for the fun of it,” replied Wright.
Over drinks, the two men talked and by the time Smith left for home, Wright was more convinced then ever that old Diek Smith was full of it.
Wright thought Smith was in no physical condition to mine or haul sacks of gold out of the mountains.
Wright must’ve felt the ol’ timer’s tall tales of glory were harmless, however, because after that night he and Smith developed a genuine and lasting friendship, which included their mutual friend, Cliff Libby. None-the-less, Wright continued investigating Smith’s claims.
Eventually Wright became convinced of Smith’s veracity, though the man appeared as a pauper without two cents to his name.
Wright concluded Smith to be a wealthy man who’d been working his secret mine for over 50 years.
He spent winters at an upscale home in Arizona, which he’d purchased over 50 years prior, when he was in his twenties, with gold from his mine.
Wright interviewed the bank manager in Twisp, who verified Smith hauled in 60 to 70 pounds of gold every year, which the banker acted as a broker to sell to potential buyers, adding, “I sometimes sell it to jewelers for higher prices than the regular market brings.”
Enter Cliff Libby, a local wilderness-hunting guide. Weeks after speaking with the Twisp banker, Wright drove out to visit Libby to ask him what he’d heard of Smith’s secret gold mine.
When he arrived, he found Libby had a visitor, Diek Smith. The three men spent the afternoon drinking and laughing at “tall tales” as told by Smith. Wright later said of the experience, “[I] couldn’t separate truth from fiction.”
But he did push Libby to tell him if Smith’s mine was real or not.
Libby replied, “All I know is that every year Diek has me take some mules to prearranged locations out in the woods. He takes off with the mules and comes back when he’s ready. I don’t follow him any more; doesn’t do me any good.”
Sometime later, Wright ran into Smith at the Twisp Tavern. Wright spoke to him about telling someone, a family member or trusted friend, about where his mine was located, considering his advanced age.
Smith looked at Wright and held up his glass of booze and said, “This is why I don’t tell.”
Smith claimed he hadn’t bought a drink for himself in years, adding that people were always eager to buy him something to get on his good side hoping to loosen his lips with booze into revealing the location of his mine.
The bartender had seen the same scenario played out for many years.
It had become a game of sorts. People who’d heard of Smith’s mine would come from “distant places” with the thought they could outsmart the old man into revealing some clue as to the whereabouts of his rich mine; but it never worked.
The game always involved some stranger arriving at the Twisp Tavern and plying Smith with plenty of liquor the night before Smith was to leave for his mine; then they’d try to follow him.
Smith then would lead his followers into the mountains, get them lost, and return to the tavern and wait for them to return to town. They were always stunned to find Smith drinking in the tavern on their return.
So the game was re-played again with the strangers buying him more drinks hoping for a second shot to get to his mine.
Smith died without ever telling anyone where he’d obtained his gold for over 50 years. After his death, Wright and Libby kept up their search for Smith’s mine, but it has yet to be found.
In 2001, Wright said, “I haven’t given up yet. The gold is there – somewhere.” Wright and Libby concluded Smith’s mine was located in the Pasayten area, a rugged terrain where you can’t walk more than a few miles a day.
Some believe Smith found the Lost Soldier’s Mine, also in the Pasayten area near the Washington/Canadian border. Smith’s Buttermilk Cabin was located along the Twisp River about 10 miles west of Twisp in the vicinity of Buttermilk Bend.
From the bend, its 33-1/2 miles as the crow flies NNW to Pasayten Peak. It is in this area where Smith’s rich mine is believed to have.