Lost in the Sierras

A sad story of a climber lost in the mountains of California resonated with folks in Middletown more than a century ago.

Kenneth Archibald, the son of Rev. Andrew Archibald, a native of New Kingston and a clergyman, disappeared while on a tramping excursion June 20, 1908. His remains were found two years later.

On August 5, 1910, the Catskill Mountain News (CMN) reported that Kenneth’s remains and personal effects had been located in Kings River Canyon, Fresno County, CA. The story said young Kenneth had been out with a hunting party of about 15 people when he strayed and became lost. “Every effort was made to find him,” to no avail. An article in the July 27, 1910 issue of the San Francisco Call clarified that Kenneth, 27, was a resident of Berkeley, and a wealthy real estate dealer there. It said he and three companions had gone to the mountains to meet up with a group from the Sierra Club. For some reason, Kenneth wanted to undertake a 41-mile tramp while waiting for the larger group, but the others declined to accompany him, staying behind at a cabin. They never saw their friend again.

A follow-up story in the CMN on August 26, 1910 gave further details of the discovery of Kenneth’s remains, provided by his father, writing from Southwest Harbor, Maine: A Sierra Club group of about 100 people had encamped at Rae Lake in the Kings River region in mid-July. A leader of the group had cautioned about the treacherous terrain of Mt. Rixford at one end of the lake, noting the tragedy that had occurred two years earlier. Some in the party knew Kenneth and had hiked and camped with him.

One of the hikers who had been on the mountain and hadn’t heard the story, “came upon the remains and possessions of someone who had evidently perished there. When he brought back to camp what he had discovered, the others knew the significance of it all.”

A search party was organized to examine the site. They found bones, clothing and other items against a giant boulder 600 feet up the slope from the lake. Kenneth had apparently been caught in a rock slide. Searchers found a notebook, a tin cup and other effects, including a watch with his name on it, given to him by his parents when he was ten years old.

Sierra Club hikers erected a “rude monument of stones in memory of Kenneth.” His brother Cecil traveled to San Francisco to identify the ‘meagre remains,’ which were ultimately interred in New Haven CT. The personal items were sent east to his parents.

Rev. Archibald, born in 1851, was the tenth of 11 children of Robert and Elisabeth Hamilton Archibald. He married Julia Agnes Warren in 1876 in New Haven, CT where their first son, Warren, was born in 1877. Two more sons, Kenneth and Cecil, were born in 1880 and 1881 in Ottumwa, Iowa, where their father was serving as a Congregational minister. Andrew Archibald died in 1926 in Los Angeles.