Tag Archives: Lamanites

Lamanites in North America

Joseph-Knew-Oliver-CowderyIn September 1830 the second general conference of the church was held in Fayette, New York. At the time there were only 62 members of the church. At that conference the Lord, through the Prophet Joseph, commanded Oliver Cowdery to, “go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them”. (D&C 8:8) This was the first official church mission. Three others, Ziba Peterson, Parley P. Pratt and Peter Whitmer were called to accompany Oliver. Pratt recorded their missionary activities in his autobiography.

“After travelling for some days we called on an Indian nation at or near Buffalo; and spent part of a day with them, instructing them in the knowledge of the record of their forefathers. We were kindly received, and much interest was manifested by them on hearing this news.” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, page 47)

Joseph-Knew-Parley-P-PrattThe missionaries traveled from the Buffalo area to Ohio where they met and taught other Lamanites. While there, they baptized Frederick G. Williams who joined them in their missionary efforts into Missouri. It was here that Cowdery, Pratt and Williams met with the Delawares and the Shawnees. The chief of the Delawares, who had taken the Christian name Anderson, was open and receptive. In a letter to Joseph Smith, Cowdery wrote:

“The principal chief says he believes every word of the Book and there are many more in the Nation who believe and we understand there are many among the Shawnees who also believe & we trust that when the Lord shall open our way we shall have glorious times.”

Joseph-Knew-Joseph_Preaching_to_the_Indians_by_C.C.A._ChristensenJoseph Smith saw the Native Americans in a different light than was popular in America at the time. It’s reasonable to assume his view came from the Book of Mormon, which did not portray them as savages, untamed by civilized society. Joseph knew from the Book of Mormon that the Lamanites were a noble people, equal in stature to any people on earth. Joseph’s view of the Lamanites was no doubt reinforced in November 1831 when, at a special conference of the elders of the church, he received a revelation, which would become the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants. The Lord reveals his intention and desire to make the gospel known “unto all flesh,” because he is “no respecter of persons.” (D&C 1:34,35)

The US government did not share this view of Native Americans. In 1830, the same year the Lord sent his first missionaries out to share the gospel with the Lamanites, the US congress passed the Indian Removal Act. This gave the US President power to order the removal of any and all Native Americans to the western territories. By moving the savages out of the east, it opened the way for civilized society to expand.

The attitudes of the Latter-day Saints toward the Native Americans served as kindling for the anti-Mormon fires that were smoldering in Missouri. Oliver Cowdery taught the Delawares that the land should be “held in common with the palefaces”. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, page 55) Such teaching could not have set well with landowners.

Joseph traveled to share the gospel with the Lamanites. He also welcomed them into Nauvoo.

When the Lord commanded Joseph to send missionaries among the Lamanites, Joseph did not send them to Central or South America. He sent them into North America. However, Joseph’s understanding of who the Native Americans were did not begin with the translation of the Book of Mormon. As a seventeen year old he was taught by Moroni “concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity”. (The Wentworth Letter)

Joseph knew that the Native Americans were descended from Joseph of Egypt, and those missionaries who shared the gospel with them understood that fact. After his first mission to the Lamanites, Parley P. Pratt expressed his hope that “at some future day, when the servants of God go forth with power to the remnant of Joseph, some precious seed will be found growing in their hearts, which [was] sown by us in that early day”. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, page 57) During Moroni’s first appearance to Joseph Smith, Moroni said he had been “sent to bring the joyful tidings, that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel was at hand to be fulfilled”. That first mission to the Lamanites in 1830 was helping to fulfill that covenant.

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Image credits: Joseph Smith preaching to the Laminates by CCA Christensen

Photos of Oliver Cowdery and Orson Pratt by unknown photographers (in the public domain)


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Zelph’s Mound

Zion’s Camp Trail

In May of 1834 Joseph Smith organized a group of Latter-day Saints that came to be known as Zion’s Camp. During May and June, this group of approximately 200 men, several women and a few children traveled on foot from Kirtland, Ohio to Western Missouri. Although it was not the main goal of the expedition, the march gave Joseph Smith and the Saints a greater understanding of Book of Mormon lands. It was clear to Joseph that they were traveling across the very lands occupied by the Nephites. In a letter to his wife Emma, he wrote:

“The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recording occasionally, the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendor and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.” (The complete letter is in the possession of the Community of Christ church.)

From this letter we learn two things:

  1. Joseph knew North America was where the Book of Mormon took place.
  2. Joseph knew the many man-made mounds in the Heartland of America were created by the Nephites.
Heber C. Kimball

On the morning of June 3 near Grigsville, Illinois Joseph took several men to the top of a hill, known today as Naples-Russell Mound 8. About this event, Heber C. Kimball wrote:

“On the top of this mound there was the appearance of three altars, which had been built of stone, one above another, according to the ancient order; and the ground was strewn over with human bones.”

Seeing this, Joseph sent for a shovel and a hoe and they began to excavate at the top of the hill. Again, Kimball reports:

“At about one foot deep we discovered the skeleton of a man, almost entire; and between two of his ribs we found an Indian arrow, which had evidently been the cause of his death. We took the leg and thigh bones and carried them along with us to Clay County. All four appeared sound.”

Another account was recorded by Elder Burr Riggs:

“The brethren procured a shovel and a hoe, and removing the earth to the depth of about one foot, discovered the skeleton of a man, almost entire, and between his ribs the stone point of a Lamanitish arrow which evidently produced his death.”

There are several written accounts of what Joseph Smith said about the man whose remains they had uncovered. The accounts vary somewhat. However, in 1842 Willard Richards was assigned by Joseph Smith to compiled and record a History of the Church. The following was recorded by Richards as part of that official history. It appears to have been gleaned from the many different accounts spoken or recorded in journals of those who were in attendance at the event.

“The contemplation of the scenery around us produced peculiar sensations in our bosoms; and subsequently the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the spirit of the Almighty, I discovered that the person whose skeleton was before us was a white Lamanite, a large, thick set man and a man of God. His name was Zelph. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea, to the Rocky Mountains . . . He was killed in battle by the arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle with the Lamanites and Nephites.” (History of the Church, Vol. 2, pg. 79-80, June 3, 1834, 1948 edition)

From this account we learn four things:

  1. The last great struggle with the Lamanites and the Nephites took place in North America.
  2. The Hill Cumorah is in the Eastern Part of North America.
  3. The people of the Book of Mormon spread across North America from at least as far west as the Rocky Mountains to at least as far east as the Hill Cumorah.
  4. Joseph knew North America was where the Book of Mormon took place.

Zelph’s Mound (Naples-Russell Mound 8) is a man-made mound. Mounds such as this can be found throughout the heartland of America. Whether Zelph’s mound was a burial mound specifically for the warrior Zelph, or was a mound burying others is not known for certain. Many burial mounds have been found to have many people buried in them, but upon further examination, it has been found that is was a common practice for people centuries later to bury their loved one’s in such mounds.

Zion’s Camp was a pivotal event in church history. It served to strengthen the resolve of the saints in adversity. It strengthened their faith in the Lord, and it solidified testimonies of the Book of Mormon.

Copyright © 2014 by Energy Media Works LLC

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Additional information:

Joseph Knew is part of the Mormon Media Network.

Heber C. Kimball was called as an Apostle by the Three Witnesses in February, 1835.

Elder Burr Riggs was a Seventy who served in the first Quorum of the Seventy. He was a physician by profession. He was excommunicated in February 1833, but was re-baptized the following year. He became disaffected from the church in 1838 and in 1839 became one of the few members of the church to be excommunicated twice. Riggs is spoken of in the Doctrine and Covenants when he is called to travel south to do missionary work. (Doctrine and Covenants 75:17)

In these two “Past Impressions” episodes on The Mormon Channel, Dr,. Alex Baugh and Dr. Max Parkin discuss Zion’s Camp. “Establishing Zion’s Camp – Part 1”, “Establishing Zion’s Camp – Part 2.”


Image credits:

Main title image – Naples-Russel Mound 8 (Zelphi’s Mound) by: wikimedia commons, HotWheels53

Zion’s Camp Trail by: lds.org

Heber C. Kimball by: Unknown photographer – public domain