Grave-site Mystery

The brass plaque inscription on the Maiden’s Grave marker is wordy: “Broken dreams and hope, carried 2,000 miles through scorching deserts and over Loft Mountains. At last, the sight of the Promised Land. Those of you who visit this grave carry a torch of love and hope (which this young girl lost), and pass it on, to generations unborn. Rechall Melton was laid to rest here, on a cold and frosty morning, Oct. 4, 1850. Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.”  This grave marker, erected by a private party on State Highway 88 in Kirkwood, Amador County, is witness to a pioneer family’s tragedy, yet it only adds to the mystery of who is really buried there. Around 1900, an elderly woman looking for the gravesite of her daughter Rachel (or Rechall), who had died in 1850 during the family’s westward journey by wagon train, set in motion a series of events that identified the wrong grave when some people from nearby Kirkwood Inn thought they knew the grave’s location and remembered that the original wooden marker said “Melton.” They donated a small headstone inscribed with “Rechall Melton Died Oct. 4, 1850, native of Iowa, Erected by Guests at Kirkwood, 1903.” For decades this site was known as “Maiden’s Grave,” eventually becoming California’s 28th official historical landmark. In 1986, while a landowner was clearing brush in a meadow two miles away, he discovered the rock outline of a grave that turned out to be the girl’s actual burial site. Further research in 1989 found a pioneer’s trail diary noting that a young man from Iowa named Allen Melton, who died on October 4, 1850, was actually the one buried beneath the Kirkwood guests’ monument.

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