"He told me he'd pay me a quarter if I agreed to pour a bucket of water on the tree every day for seven days," Barnhill said. "That was a lot of money back then, especially to a kid."
Barnhill walked the half mile from his home to the cemetery every day for a week and fulfilled his agreement by drawing water from a nearby pond.
He never watered it again.
While the cedar survived 80-or-so years worth of windstorms and droughts, Barnhill endured his own battles during that time.
After joining the military, German troops shot Barnhill's bomber plane out of the air while he was flying his eighth mission in World War II, killing his co-pilot. Enemies stormed the downed plane, grabbed Barnhill and detained him in Stalag Luft III, a German prison camp, for 18 months. Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army charged into the camp with blazing firepower in 1945 and released the prisoners.
He returned home, married in 1947 and raised a large family in the gospel. And later, he served as stake president and patriarch in the Hampstead area.
But no matter what he did or where he served, that once small and vulnerable grave marker, which eventually grew into one of the largest, most majestic trees in the cemetery, was ever present, always reminding him of the nameless darling at its roots.
Years later, Barnhill briefly mentioned the experience in his book, "History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hampstead, N.C."
Over the years, the story of the little girl has become a sort of local legend, one that sparked fresh interest in 2008 among Hampstead Latter-day Saints.
"I had a burning desire to have the child's grave marked, as it broke my heart to think of how her parents, so far from their home in Utah, must have felt leaving their little daughter behind," said Laura McLeod, the Hampstead Ward activity days leader.
McLeod's passion stirred others to help, like Michael Cole, owner of nearby Hanover Monument Works, who stepped up and donated a stone monument engraved with a six-sentence synopsis of the story.
A trace of evidence
It was during that same time, when the ward was buzzing about the girl, when Ruth Shingleton, a longtime ward member, raised her hand during Relief Society. She spoke up and corrected a sister who expressed regret that the little girl's family "just forgot about her," Shingleton remembered.
"I said, 'No, they didn't forget her. Her family came looking for her a few years ago,' " she said. "Twelve to 15 years ago," a couple from back West traveled through Hampstead looking for local Latter-day Saints who might be able to help them find "the unmarked grave of a little girl buried in a Mormon cemetery," Shingleton said.
Locals directed the couple to Shingleton and her late husband, both prominent Mormons in the community who lived in a distinguished home along a main highway.
Shingleton answered the door and briefly spoke to the couple. She regrets not asking more questions. Today, she can't recall their names but described them as white and between 30 and 40 years old.
"They said (the story) was in their family records," she said. "They seemed to be close to her, at least close enough they wanted to place a (grave) marker."
She sent the searching couple to Henry Maples, president of the volunteer-run Hampstead LDS Cemetery Association and also longtime ward member.
And that's where the story, or rather its clues, dead-ends. Completely. The couple never placed a marker and, to anyone's knowledge, never returned.
Henry Maples died not too long after the couple visited, taking the family's identity with him. Henry Maples didn't appear to have left any notes on the grave plat or other records about the visit behind, according to his son Duane Maples, the new association president who lives in his late father's home next to the cemetery.
- Idea for Burt's Bees land to become park...
- 5 places your money might be hiding
- Top 7 money-saving tips for summer travel
- Teen who spends his nights taking care of his...
- Herbert says Sec. Jewell offered assurances...
- Police: Body of man missing since March found
- Oldest giraffe in North America dies at Hogle...
- Zion's Hidden Canyon Trail to close for...
- Are Utahns tiring of Mitt Romney... 97
- Utah and 10 states sue Obama... 39
- Teacher on leave after telling students... 32
- Herbert says Sec. Jewell offered... 18
- National conservative group backs... 18
- Hatch steadfast in holding up Supreme... 17
- South Jordan's FrontRunner-oriented... 10
- Utah lawsuit challenges porn filter fees 9