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Ancient Burial Sites of New York

Joseph-Knew-Mormon-Media-Network-E-G-SquireAntiquities of New York

In earlier articles we have discussed the skillful and precise construction of great cities, large temple mounds and military defenses. The information in these articles has come from a variety of sources, including personal visits to the sites. Some of the best information on the ancient civilizations of North America has been provided by Ephraim George Squier (1821 – 1888). Along with his research and publishing partner Edwin Hamilton Davis (1811 – 1888), he unknowingly provided us with great insight into the lives, religions, cities and social networks of the people of the Book of Mormon.

In his book, Antiquities of the State of New York, Squier chronicles something much different than is found in his previous publications, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley and Aboriginal Monuments of the State of New York. Instead of descriptions of beautifully aligned cities, or carefully laid out military forts, he reports of works “constructed in haste for temporary purposes”. He details evidence of “indiscriminate massacres” and “bone-pits”.

Connections to the Book of Mormon

Joseph Knew Mormon Media Network Final Battle near Buffalo NYIn the Book of Mormon, in the 6th chapter of Mormon, the Nephites gather to the land Cumorah for the final battles with the Lamanites. If, as we have proposed in a previous article, the land Cumorah was in upstate New York near the Hill Cumorah, Rochester, and Buffalo, then the following passage from Squier’s chapter Ancient Work near Buffalo takes on significant meaning.

“Tradition fixes upon this spot as the scene of the final and most bloody conflict between the Iroquois and the ‘Gah-kwas’ or Erie — a tradition which has been supposed to derive some sanction from the number of fragments of decayed human bones which are scattered over the area.” (Antiquities of the State of New York, E. G. Squire, M. A., 1851, page 74)

Tens of Thousands Killed

“And Lamah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Gilgal had fallen with his ten thousand; and Limhah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Jeneum had fallen with his ten thousand; and Cumenihah, and Moronihah, and Antionum, and Shiblom, and Shem, and Josh, had fallen with their ten thousand each.” (Mormon 6:14)

The number of people slaughtered at Cumorah seems incomprehensible. Many non-believers cite these passages as evidence of Joseph Smith’s great imagination. Surely there would be evidence today of such large numbers of dead people. While excavating along the banks of the Erie Canal the following was recorded:

“In excavating the canal through the bank bordering the flats, perhaps thirty rods south of the fort, another burial-place was disclosed, evidently more ancient, for the bones crumbled to pieces almost immediately upon exposure to the air, and the deposits were far more numerous than in that near the river. The number of skeletons are represented to have been countless, and the dead had been buried in a sitting posture.” (Antiquities of the State of New York, E. G. Squier, M. A., 1851, page 144)

“One of these pits discovered some years ago, in the town of Cambria, Niagara County, was estimated to contain the bones of several thousand individuals.” (Ibid, page 99)

Joseph-Knew-Mormon-Media-Network-Arrow-HeadSavage Warfare

Squier uncovered evidence of savage warfare, which left “bone-heaps” and “bone-pits” throughout the Finger Lakes region of New York (Cumorahland).

“Besides the various earth-works [ ], there are a number of other interesting objects of antiquarian interest in this county. Among them may be mentioned the ‘bone-pits’ or deposits of human bones. One is found near the village of Brownsville, on Black River. It is described as a pit, ten or twelve feet square, by perhaps four feet deep, in which are promiscuously heaped together a large number of human skeletons.” (Ibid, page 29 – italics in the original)

“Near the town of Fulton, on the west side of Oswego River, is an eminence called ‘Bone Hill’ in which have been found great numbers of human bones promiscuously heaped together. They are much decayed. Intermixed with them were discovered a number of flint arrow-heads.” (Ibid, page 31 – italics in the original)

In Genesee County the ruins of a large enclosure were discovered.

“It was called the ‘Bone Fort’ from the circumstance that the early settlers found within it a mound, six feet in height by thirty at the base, which was entirely made up of human bones slightly covered with earth. A few fragments of these bones, scattered over the surface, alone mark the site of the aboriginal sepulcher. The popular opinion concerning this accumulation is, that it contained the bones of the slain, thus heaped together after some severe battle.”

“There have also been discovered some heaps of small stones; which have been supposed to be the missiles of the ancient occupants of the hill, thus got together to be used in case of attack.” (Ibid, pages 66 and 69)

Joseph-Knew-Mormon-Media-Network-Ancient-burial-sites-in-VIctor-New-YorkThe “bone-pits” found in New York differ in one important way from burial grounds in the Mississippi Valley. Unlike those in Mississippi, the Cumorahland pits and mounds appear to be created in great haste. A mound near Greene Township, NY, near the Chenango River was discovered and excavated.

“Great numbers of human bones were found ; and beneath them, at a greater depth, others were found which had evidently been burned. No conjecture could be formed of the number of bodies deposited here. The skeletons were found lying without order, and so much decayed as to crumble on exposure. At one point in the mound a large number, perhaps two hundred, arrowheads were discovered, collected in a heap. They were of the usual form, and of yellow or black flint.” (ibid, pages 47 and 48)

The End of Two Great Nations

The Book of Mormon tells of two great battles of genocide that took place in Cumorahland, the Jaradites and centuries later the Nephites. Could the two layers of burials described above be evidence of the end of these great civilizations?

In a previous article, we discussed the bones, arrowheads, and weapons that continue to be found in the Finger Lakes region of New York. There are many contemporary firsthand accounts of massive graves throughout the area known as Cumorahland. Students of the Book of Mormon looking for evidence of the great battles of the Jaradites and the Nephites can look in the Land of Many Waters in Upstate New York.

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Antiquities of the State of New York, E. G. Squire, M. A., 1851

Three Messengers

Iroquois_6_Nations_map_c1720-by-RA-NonenmacherThe Seneca are one of the six nations that make up the Iroquois Confederacy. The six are: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Tuscarora and Seneca.

The Seneca lived in Western New York in what is known as the Finger Lakes area. The town of Palmyra sits in the center of Seneca land.

Handsome Lake (Sganyadai:yo) was a Seneca religious leader and prophet. He was born about 1735 near present-day Avon, New York. Not much is known about his parents. We do know that he was born into the Wolf clan of his mother and was later adopted into the Turtle clan.

Joseph Knew Iroquois_western_goodsAt the time of Handsome Lake’s birth, the Seneca nation was prosperous. Living in the Finger Lakes area, which has an abundance of lakes, rivers and streams, they were successful trappers and fur traders. They traded not only with other members of the Iroquois Confederacy, but also with the ever-growing influx of Europeans that was moving further and further inland.

In 1777 Handsome Lake was part of an Iroquois war council that met with the British concerning the revolutionaries battling Britain for independence. It was Handsome Lake’s opinion that the war was a family squabble between Europeans and of no concern to the Iroquois. However, in 1778 he went along with the decision of his people and fought along side the British against the revolutionaries.

After the war, and as retribution for Iroquois support of the British, American Major General John Sullivan led a campaign against the  Iroquois. It was his intent, “…to destroy everything that contributes to their support”.

Archeologist Arthur C. Parker wrote:

“Forty towns were obliterated, 60,000 bushels of corn destroyed, fruit orchards uprooted, girdled or chopped down, one containing 1500 trees. Ruin was spread like a blanket over the Iroquois country and their garden valley reduced to a desolate blighted and forsaken region dotted with blackened ruins. Hardly a food plant remained for the coming winter.” (Arthur C. Parker, Iroquois Uses of Maize and Other Food Plants, 1919, page 20)

Cornplanter-by-F-Bartoli-1796The Iroquois began to fight back and destroyed many white villages. Cornplanter, being the Seneca War Chief, was summoned to Washington DC by George Washington. It was the desire of both men to end the fighting and to live peaceably.

As a result of this retribution, the Seneca people had suffered greatly, both temporally and emotionally.  Their once great nation fell into depression, alcoholism, and immorality.

By this time Handsome Lake was an alcoholic and in poor health. He realized he had wasted much of his life. Rather than being a spiritual leader and example to his people, he had fallen into disgrace. Preparing to die, he asked his daughter to send for his half brothers, Black Snake and Cornplanter. Laying on his cot, Handsome Lake pleaded with the Great Spirit to let him die.

Handsome-Lake-largerWhile working in the back of the lodge, his daughter heard someone shout “Niio” (alright or so be it). When she went to find out what was happening, she found her father lying on the ground near the door of the lodge. He appeared to be dead. When his half brothers arrived, Cornplanter found warm spots on the body and decided to postpone the burial.

The next day, Handsome Lake still appeared to be dead. At midday he woke and sat up. He related a vision he had had while presumed dead.

“Some voice from without said, ‘Come forth’. I hesitated, first thinking that I was speaking to myself. But after it was repeated three times, I arose to investigate. I, with much difficulty, got to the door of my lodge where I saw standing before me three looking alike, all dressed in clean white raiment, standing in clear swept space. Never before have I seen such handsome, commanding men. They held in their hands branches from bushes bearing berries of different colors.”

The men told Handsome Lake that He who created the world in the beginning  sent them.  He sent them to visit Handsome Lake because “He is grateful for my creations, furthermore, he wishes to rise from sickness and walk again upon the earth. Go down and help him to recover.”

The men told him “Take of these berries and eat of every color. They will give you strength: then come with us.”

The men then took him on a journey where he saw many of his people. He saw their sins and sufferings. After that first visit, they visited him many times and gave him instructions for the people. Handsome Lake became a great religious leader to his people. When the three messengers visited him, he then imparted the message fearlessly to his people. The religion he established among his people was called Gai’wiio meaning The Good Message or New Gospel. 

Who were these three messengers? Could they have been earlier inhabitants of North America?

In the Book of Mormon, in the book of 3 Nephi, Christ called and ordained twelve Nephite disciples. When asked what they desired, nine of them asked to live to an old age and then to be taken quickly into Christ’s presence. The other three asked to remain on earth until Christ’s second coming. They were granted that request.

3 Nephi, Chapter 28

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Image Credit:

Painting Handsome Lake and the Three Messengers by Ernie Smith, from the Collections of the Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, NY.

Iroquois Nation Map — R.A. Nonenmacher, wikimedia commons

Iroquois Trading with Europeans — Public Domain

Seneca War Chief Cornplanter — F. Bartoli (1796)

Great Destruction in the Land

Joseph-Knew-3-NephiIn the Book of Mormon we read of great destruction at the time of Christ’s death. Some who believe Central and South America to be the land of the Book of Mormon cite the destruction recorded in the eighth chapter of 3 Nephi as evidence, believing the heartland of North America is not prone to such destruction. As evidence to the contrary we can look at the earthquakes of 1811 and 1812. Named for a Missouri town on the Mississippi River, the quakes have become known as the New Madrid earthquakes.

At 2:15 AM on December 16, 1811 an 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit the central United States. The epicenter was in northeast Arkansas. It was strongly felt over an area of 50,000 square miles (130,000 square kilometers) and moderately felt across 1 million square miles (nearly 3 million square kilometers). By comparison, the devastating 1906 San Francisco quake was felt over approximately 6,200 square miles (16,000 square kilometers).

Four days later another 8.1 quake hit; followed by a 7.8 on January 23, 1812 and an 8.0 on February 7, 1812. From December 16 to February 7 the area was hit by over 2,000 earthquakes or after shocks.

The similarities between the destruction recorded in 3 Nephi and the destruction in America’s heartland are undeniable. Below is a verse-by-verse comparison of events in the Book of Mormon at the time of the crucifixion and events in and around New Madrid, Missouri.



3 Nephi 8:12

. . . for behold, the whole face of the land was changed, because of the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth;

New Madrid Eye-witness Accounts

There was a great shaking of the earth this morning. Tables and chairs turned over and knocked around – all of us knocked out of bed. The roar I thught (sic) would leave us deaf if we lived. – George Heinrich Grist

Many witnesses reported hearing distant thunder and loud explosions. “Earthquake Booms” can be caused by small earthquakes deep underground which are too small to be recorded. They often have the roar of distant thunder.

There were many reports in New Madrid of flashes of light coming from the ground. This is caused by quartz crystals being squeezed. This phenomenon, which can look like lightning, is called “seismoluminescence.”



3 Nephi 8:14, 17-18

And many great and notable cities were sunk, and many were burned, and many were shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth, and the inhabitants thereof were slain, and the places were left desolate. 

And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth.

And behold, the rocks were rent in twain; they were broken up upon the face of the whole earth, insomuch that they were found in broken fragments, and in seams and in cracks, upon all the face of the land.

New Madrid Eye-witness Accounts

“In all the hard shocks mentioned, the earth was horribly torn to pieces – the surface of hundreds of acres, was, from time to time, covered over, in various depths, by the sand which issued from the fissures, which were made in great numbers all over this country, some of which closed up immediately after they had vomited forth their sand and water, which it must be remarked, was the matter generally thrown up. In some places, however, there was a substance somewhat resembling coal, or impure stone coal, thrown up with the sand. It is impossible to say what the depths of the fissures or irregular breaks were; we have reason to believe that some of them are very deep.” – Eliza Bryan

“The surface was sinking and a black liquid was rising up to the belly of my horse, who stood motionless, struck with a panic of terror … [ ] …water spouts, hundreds of them throwing water and sand were to be observed on the whole face of the country, the sand forming miniature volcanoes, whilst the water spouted out of the craters; some of the spouts were quite six feet high… In a few minutes, on both sides of the road as far as the eye could see, was vast expanse of sand and water, water and sand. The road spouted water, and wide openings were to be seen across it ahead of me, then under me, and my [vehicle] sank while the water and sand bubbled, and spat and sucked till my axles were covered.” – J Fletcher

“I went ashore, and found the chasm really frightful, as it was not less than four feet in width and besides the bank had sunk at least two feet. I took the candle, examined to determine its length and concluded that it could not be less than eighty yards long.” – John Bradbury (on the Mississippi River)

“The earth was broken in many places and the openings filled with water. The houses much injured – the only brick chimney in the place entirely demolished . . .” – Daniel Bedinger

Maps from the mid 1800’s referred to some lakes in the area as “Earthquake Lakes”.

In 1912, areas around the Mississippi river were identified and named “Sunklands”. Geologist Myron Fuller believed those lands were created during the New Madrid earthquake.

One terrifying phenomenon that occured in the New Madrid area was that of sand blows or sand boils. Liquefaction can cause geysers of sand, water and tar to gush from the earth. These sand blows can blow up to twenty feet high and can completely cover acres of land.



3 Nephi 8:19-20

And it came to pass that when the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the storm, and the tempest, and the quakings of the earth did cease—for behold, they did last for about the space of three hours; and it was said by some that the time was greater; nevertheless, all these great and terrible things were done in about the space of three hours—and then behold, there was darkness upon the face of the land. 

And it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallen could feel the vapor of darkness;

New Madrid Eye-witness Accounts

“We were visited by a violent shock of an earthquake, accompanied by a very awful noise resembling loud but distant thunder, but more hoarse and vibrating, which was followed in a few minutes by the complete saturation of the atmosphere, with sulphurious vapor, causing total darkness.” – Eliza Bryan

“A dense black cloud of vapor overshadowed the land.” – Godfrey LeSieur



3 Nephi 8:21-23

And there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all;

And there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, for so great were the mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land.

And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen; . . .

New Madrid Eye-witness Accounts

“My maw tried to light the lamps; but the darkness was so dense they didn’t help at all.” – Eliza Bryan

Not being able to light fires, burn candles, etc., is not unheard of. Fire requires approximately 18% oxygen to burn. At sea level our air contains about 21% oxygen. Although fire cannot “breathe” below 18%, humans can.


The 1811-1812 destruction in the heartland was not an isolated incident. Geologists believe similar events happened 600 years earlier around 1200 AD, and 600 years before that in 600 AD. Perhaps 600 years before that people in the heartland witnessed the same devastation and it was recorded in 3 Nephi.

Copyright © 2015 by Energy Media Works LLC

When using portions of this article, please credit: JosephKnew.com

If you have comments or questions, we would like to hear them. Just click on leave a comment below.


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Additional Information:

See: Fuller, Myron L. 1912. The New Madrid Earthquakes. US. Geol. Survey. Bulletin.

JosephKnew.com has assembled several historical documents about the New Madrid Earthquakes. You can find these documents in PDF format here:

Document 1               Document 2               Document 3               Document 4

Document 5               Document 6               Document 7               Document 8

Document 9               Document 10             Document 11             Document 12

Document 13             Document 14             Document 15             Document 16

Ancient Temple Mounds

Jseph-Knew-CahokiaMound-MMNA common argument given to disprove the Book of Mormon is the use of the word synagogue. Critics argue that synagogues were not used in Israel before the Babylonian captivity and, therefore, would not have been known to Jews whose ancestors arrived in North America around 600 BC. Whether or not such meeting places were in use in Israel before the captivity is a topic for another discussion, but for the sake of this discussion, suffice it to say that research over the past few decades has shed new light on the subject. *

The word synagogue appears at least 25 times in the Book of Mormon. The word temple appears 27, and sanctuary 10 times. Religious worship was extremely important and places of worship were an essential part of Nephite cities.

A place for Sabbath meetings was also important in ancient Israel. (See Lamentations 2:6, Ezekiel 44:24) Recent studies in Israel indicate that gated chambers inside cities (before the captivity) served as Sabbath meetings places. These were set apart from the common area of the city.

If Jews in North America were building Sabbath meeting places, one would expect to see this same pattern of construction.

“And Alma and Amulek went forth preaching repentance to the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews.” (Alma 16:13 Italics added)

Joseph-Knew-Terraced-Temple-MoundIn their book Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, G. H. Squire and E. H. Davis describe what they call ancient temple mounds found throughout the Mississippi valley. The Mounds were large flat-topped mounds found in the center of a city. The ruins of structures have been found on top of these mounds, and Squire and Davis believed these structures were temples, or some important building of worship. Building temples or synagogues inside the city and separating them from the common areas of the city is consistent with what Jews in 600 BC would have been familiar with.

Fitting with early gated areas inside cities in Israel, Squire and Davis describe these mounds as being set apart inside walled or enclosed cities.

“These mounds are distinguished by their great regularity of form and general large dimensions. They occur most usually within, but sometimes without, the walls of enclosures.” (G. H. Squire and E. H. Davis, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, 1848, page 173)

When not inside an enclosed city, these sanctuaries were still securely placed above the city.

Throughout the Bible we find examples of sacred events taking place on mountaintops: Moses on Mount Sinai, Christ with his Apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Sermon on the Mount. Isaiah, speaking of a temple in the last days, calls it “the mountain of the Lord’s house” in “the top of the mountains.” With such a tradition, it would make sense that Jews, finding themselves in the flat Ohio and Mississippi valleys would build their own “mountains”. The mounds documented by Squire and Davis are all man-made.

Joseph-Knew-Monks-Mound-Cahokia-From the Squire and Davis book, is a drawing of one such mound in Cahokia, Illinois. (Also seen at the top of this article as it looks today). At the left we can see a single ramp or stairway leading up to the top of the mound.

“The form of the mound is that of a parallelogram, seven hundred feet long by five hundred wide at the base. It is ninety feet in height. Upon one side is a broad apron or terrace, which is reached by a graded ascent.” (E. G. Squire and E. H. Davis, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, 1848, Page 174)

This man-made mound, known today as Monks Mound, is estimated to have a volume of twenty million cubic feet of dirt.

Joseph-Knew-Diamond-Temple-MoundOften smaller mounds were surrounded by ditches. These ditches were much like those surrounding the fortresses described in an earlier post, Preparing for War. However, unlike the fortress ditches, they did not have earthen mounds with timber palisades. These ditches were not intended for defense. They were most likely designed for privacy.

Seeing the prominent positioning of these temple mounds, and the manner in which the temples were constructed, Squire and Davis conclude that religion played an important part in society.

“We have reason to believe that the religious system of the mound-builders, like that of the Aztecs, exercised among them a great, if not a controlling influence. Their government may have been, for aught we know, a government of the priesthood; one in which the priestly and civil functions were jointly exercised, . . .” (E. G. Squire and E. H. Davis, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, 1848, Page 47)

There is one defining feature about the temples constructed upon these mounds in North America that separates them from structures in Central America. They were built of timber rather than stone.

“. . . and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.” (Helaman 3:9)

Copyright © 2015 by Energy Media Works LLC

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Additional Information:

* For more detailed information about research into ancient Synagogues see Lee I. Levine’s article, The Nature and Origin of the Palestinian Synagogue Reconsidered. (Journal of Biblical Literature 115 [1996]) Also, his book, The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years (Yale University Press)


Monks Mound photo by: Mormon Media Network

Temple Mound etchings from the Squire and Davis book.