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All Over The Map: Unearthing the secrets behind a mysterious Pierce County headstone

A mysterious headstone from the 1880s which was found recently in Pierce County is the focus of a special reunion ceremony on Saturday in Buckley.

There are a lot of twists and turns to this story, which was first reported in May 2021 by the Enumclaw Courier-Herald.

Last fall, in Bonney Lake, a guy named Dustin Baccetti found a simple but ornate marble headstone laying on the ground in the woods near his home and not far from Highway 410. Stood upright, it’s about two feet tall, and has a carved lamb at the top.

The name on the headstone is Daisey Kirtley, who was born in 1878 and died in 1886, when she was, tragically, not quite eight years old. The headstone also includes the initials and last names of Daisey’s parents, whose full names are James L. Kirtley and Mary D. Kirtley, along with the words:

REST, LITTLE DAISEY, IN HAPPINESS REST

MINGLING WITH ANGELS, WE KNOW THOU ART BLEST

Word of the strange discovery spread on social media, and – despite some misunderstandings and pandemic-related stumbles – several individuals and organizations in the area began trying to figure out the origins and backstory of the headstone and its whereabouts.

One of the history sleuths is Shane Riley, who works as a ranger at the Army Corps of Engineers’ Mud Mountain Dam Park. Reached by phone earlier this week, Riley credited the many people involved in tracking down the facts, and told KIRO Radio about the knowns and unknowns surrounding the mystery of the headstone.

Riley says that members of the Kirtley family were in the Pacific Northwest as early as 1853. In 1854, Daisey’s parents were part of one of the earliest wagon trains to cross the Cascades via the treacherous Naches Trail, which Daisey’s future uncle Whitford Kirtley had actually helped build. The family also spent time back in Missouri, which is where Daisey was born in 1878. In 1885, her parents homesteaded right in the middle of what’s now Lake Tapps.

Lake Tapps is an artificial lake, created as a reservoir for a hydroelectric project by what’s now Puget Sound Energy beginning in 1909, and which was shut down in 2009. But, the current Lake Tapps actually comprises four smaller lakes that were subsumed when the reservoir was originally flooded. The four lakes were Lake Tapps, Crawford Lake, Church Lake and Kirtley Lake – which is named for Daisey’s family. Incidentally, as for the origins of the name “Tapps,” no one is sure, exactly, but it’s believed to have been the name of an early settler.

It’s not known why Daisey died as young as she did – it was, of course, a more dangerous era – but the theory is that she was buried on the family homestead near Kirtley Lake and her grave there was marked 135 years ago with the recently found headstone. However, the Kirtley family left Kirtley Lake around 1900 and moved closer to Buckley, and the homestead – the place where Daisey is likely still buried – was flooded by the creation of the larger Lake Tapps.

Did the Kirtley family take the headstone with them when they moved? If so, did they also relocate Daisey’s remains? Or, were both the headstone and remains left in place and ultimately covered with water? Shane Riley says nobody can really say.

It’s also not known when the headstone was moved to the place where Dustin Baccetti found it, but Shane Riley believes it hadn’t been there for very long. And, why was it found many miles from its original location on the bottom of Lake Tapps – and also many miles from where the Kirtleys had in 1900 moved to Buckley? Again, nobody knows.

But, as it turns out, much of Daisey’s family – including her parents James and Mary, and her brothers Bluford and Fleming – are buried in Buckley Cemetery. And thanks to Weeks Funeral Home in Buckley, the Greater Bonney Lake Historical Society, and the Foothills Historical Museum, Daisey’s headstone will be formally reunited with her family, and permanently installed next to a marker honoring other family members.

The special reunion ceremony will take place Saturday, June 26, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. at Buckley Cemetery. It’s open to the public, and Shane Riley told KIRO Radio that he was able to track down three of Daisey Kirtley’s great-grandnieces, two of whom are planning to attend.

In spite of the unanswered questions, the tragic story of young Daisey Kirtley does have something of an almost-happy, almost-ending.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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