“Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land.” (Alma 48:8)
“And behold, the city had been rebuilt, and Moroni had stationed an army by the borders of the city, and they had cast up dirt round about to shield them from the arrows and the stones of the Lamanites; for behold, they fought with stones and with arrows.” (Alma 49:2)
Although we don’t know for sure where Captain Moroni erected these fortifications, the ruins of such cities have been found all along the Great Lakes area of western New York. In his 1850 book, Orasmus Turner describes ancient fortresses found scattered between Rochester and Buffalo, NY. What he describes has many similarities to the forts spoken of in Alma.
“These forts were, generally speaking, erected on the most commanding ground. The walls or breastworks were earthen. The ditches were on the exterior of works. On some of the parapets, oak trees were to be seen, which, from the number of concentric circles, must have been standing 150, 260, and 300 years; and there were evident indications, not only that they had sprung up since the creation of those works, but that they were at the least a second growth. The trenches were in some cases deep and wide, and in others shallow and narrow; and the breastworks varied in altitude from three to eight feet. They sometimes had one, and sometimes two entrances, as was to be inferred from there being no ditch at those places. When the works were protected by a deep ravine or a large stream of water no ditch was to be seen. The areas of these forts varied from two to six acres; and the form was generally an irregular ellipsis; and in some of them fragments of earthenware and pulverized substances, supposed to have been originally human bones, were to be found.” (O. Turner, Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of Western New York. 1850, pages 20-21)
Such fortresses have been discovered throughout the heartland of North America, but the greatest concentration is found in western New York, in the area around Cumorah.
“Although not peculiar to this region, there is perhaps no portion of the United States where ancient relics are more numerous. Commencing principally near the Oswego River, they extend westwardly over all the western counties of our State, Canada West, the western Lake Region, the vallies of the Ohio and the Mississippi.” (O. Turner, Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of Western New York. 1850, page 19)
Turner described the land Cumorah as an area favorable for living, because of an abundance of wildlife and because of its agricultural opportunities and access to rivers and lakes.
“The Forest invited to the chase; the Lakes and Rivers to local commerce, —to the use of the net and the angling rod; the soil, to agriculture.” (O. Turner, Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of Western New York. 1850, page 19)
But the area was not only a desirable place to live, it was also a place well positioned for defense against the enemy.
“Here and there upon the brows of our hills, at the head of our ravines, are their fortifications; their locations selected with skill, adapted to refuge, subsistence and defense. (O. Turner, Pioneer History of the Holland Purchase of Western New York. 1850, page 18)
In an 1843 book, Alexander W. Bradford came to several conclusions about the early inhabitants of western New York.
“The best military judges have observed the skill with which the sites of many of the fortifications have been selected, and the artful combination of natural advantages with artificial means of defense exhibited in their construction. The care taken in their erection must have been necessary for the protection against a powerful external enemy, or from internal wars.
“Upon the whole, we may with justice say of these nations, from a review of their relics and monuments thus far,
- That they were all of the same origin, branches of the same race, and possessed of similar customs and institutions.
- That they were populous, and occupied a great extent of territory.
- That they had arrived at a considerable degree of civilization, were associated in large communities, and lived in extensive cities.
- That they possessed the use of many of the metals, such as lead, copper, gold, silver, and probably the art working in them.
- That they sculptured in stone, and sometimes used that material in the construction of their edifices.
- That they had the knowledge of the arch of receding steps; of the art of pottery, — producing utensils and urns formed with taste, and constructed upon the principles of composition: and of the art of brick-making.
- That they worked in salt springs, and manufactured that substance.
- That they were an agricultural people, living under the influence and protection of regular forms of government.
- That they possessed a decided system of religion, and a mythological connection with astronomy, which with its sister science geometry, was in the hands of the priesthood.
- That they were skilled in the art of fortification.
- That the epoch of their original settlement, in the United States, is of great antiquity.” (Alexander W. Bradford, American Antiquities and Research into the Origin and History of the Red Race, 1843, pages 69-71)
In his book, Aboriginal Monuments of the State of New York, 1849, E. G. Squire documented more than 1,000 such sites in Ontario, Livingston, Genesee and Monroe Counties. Squire researched ancient cities throughout America’s heartland and concluded, “There is not an area of like size in the United States east of the Ohio and south of the Mason and Dixon Line where evidence of aboriginal occupation are so abundant.”
1 And now it came to pass that Moroni did not stop making preparations for war, or to defend his people against the Lamanites; for he caused that his armies should commence in the commencement of the twentieth year of the reign of the judges, * that they should commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities, throughout all the land which was possessed by the Nephites.
2 And upon the top of these ridges of earth he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up to the height of a man, round about the cities.
3 And he caused that upon those works of timbers there should be a frame of pickets built upon the timbers round about; and they were strong and high. (Alma 50:1-3) * 72 B.C.
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Fortress drawing from the book, Aboriginal Monuments of the State of New York by E.G. Squire, 1849