Friday, August 30, 2019

The Problem With Journals – The Story of Zelph and Onandagus - Part II

Continuing from the previous post regarding this event and what can be learned from it, and here picking up with the sixth of the five journal entries:
An example of a large mound—it certain had nothing to do with buildings or housing on top as some theorists have claimed

4. This being in the County of Pike, here we discovered a large quantity of large mounds. Being filled with curiosity we excavated the top of one some 2 feet when we came to the bones of an extraordinary large person or human being, the thigh bones being 2 inches longer from one Socket to the other than of the Prophet who is upwards of 6 feet high which would have constituted some 8 or 9 feet high. In the trunk of this skeleton near the vitals we found a large stone arrow which I suppose brought him to his end. Soon after this Joseph had a vision and the Lord shewed him that this man was once a mighty Prophet and many other things concerning his people. Thus we found those mounds to have been deposits for the dead which had fallen no doubt in some great Battles. In addition to this we found many large fortifications which also denotes civilization and an innumerable population which has fallen by wars and commotion and the Banks of this Beautiful River became the deposit of many hundred thousands whose graves and fortifications are overgrown with the sturdy oak 4 feet in diameter.
5. Tuesday [Jun] 3 visited the mounds. A skeleton was dug up. Joseph, said his name was Zelph a great warrior under the Prophet Onandagus. An arrow was found in his Ribs which he said he supposed occasioned his death. Said he was killed in battle. Said he was a man of God and the curse was taken off or in part he was a white Lamanite was known from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains.
6. On the way to Illinois River where we camped on the west side in the morning, many went to see the big mound about a mile below the crossing, I did not go on it but saw some bones that was brought with a broken arrow, they were laid down by our camp. Joseph addressed himself to Sylvester Smith, "This is what I told you and now I want to tell you that you may know what I meant; Onandagus was the king and a good man was he, there in that mound did he bury his dead and did not dig holes as the people do now but they brought there dirt and covered them until you see they have raised it to be about one hundred feet high, the last man buried was Zelf, he was a white Lamanite who fought with the people of Oneandagus for freedom, when he was young he was a great warrior and had his thigh broken and never was set, it knitted together as you see on the side, he fought after it got strength until he lost every tooth in his head save one when the Lord said he had done enough and suffered him to be killed by that arrow you took from his breast." These words he said as the camp was moving off the ground; as near as I could learn he had told them something about the mound and got them to go and see for themselves. I then remembered what he had said a few days before while passing many mounds on our way that was left of us; said he, "there are the bodies of wicked men who have died and are angry at us; if they can take the advantage of us they will, for if we live they will have no hope." I could not comprehend it but supposed it was all right.
Journals kept by the six who recorded the events

As one can see from these six journal entries, no two are identical and several have both conflicting and non-supportive statements, i.e., they do not agree with one another. Yet, from them a picture can be developed that more-or-less tells us what happened.
    Joseph Smith recorded the event only in a passing note in a letter the next day (June 4, 1834) to his wife Emma Smith, writing: “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, recounting 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 a 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.”
    Since there was never an area in the Book of Mormon Land of Promise called the “Plains of the Nephites,” one might imagine that he was naming it himself from the flat plains over which their group had been passing, and not using the term as a name, but as a descriptive comment so that Emma might get a visual image of their travels and drawing attention to her that Nephites had traveled over this area at one time.
    The point is, as it always is, that information given us from the past by people who are, in fact, stating only their opinions of what they have seen or heard, are always going to be open for questioning, especially when they disagree with others seeing and hearing the same thing. As an example, we do not know that the word “Cumorah” was used in Joseph Smith’s explanation as to the widespread recognition afforded Onandagus. Was “Cumorah” something added by Wilford Woodruff? Or is he the only one that heard it correctly and included the full comment in his journal? It is not that Woodruff would not be a creditable witness, only whether he actually heard that or wrote it down because, to him, that would have been the eastern edge (like the Sea East) of the Land of Promise, in which Onandagus would have been known.
    The problem is, that there is no way to know which of these two possibilities took place. And since there is no verification from any of the others who wrote—and one would logically think there would have been if that was what was said—then it stands to reason that it was removed from the official record as unverifiable.
    If we take this further, let’s consider the mental state of those involved at the time. We have three options, each recorded, some more than once, and that is that Onandagus was known far and wide, from “in the east” to:
Hill in western New York people call Cumorah

1. Cumorah, a hill all would have known about;
2. A sea (Sea East), the eastern terminus of the Land of Promise, of which all would have known about;
3. The Atlantic Ocean, the eastern terminus of the United States, the land in which the men were traveling, and of which all would have known about.
    Since Zelph and Onandagus were identified as Lamanites (not specifically Nephites), certainly these men’s minds would have been drawn to the Book of Mormon. In a time when people in general thought the Book of Mormon was a fallacious writing, made up by Joseph Smith and possibly others, anything that would have defended the correctness of the Book of Mormon surely would have been of interest. And if “Cumorah” had been stated, it stands to reason that more than one person would have heard and recorded it. Since others did not, it seems reasonable to suggest that this was an opinion inserted by Woodruff that, to him, made sense.
    Now, a few things need to be made clear. The comment about Cumorah and the eastern sea is discussed in the last post. But in addition, it should be noted that one of the witnesses named Reuben McBride, whose journal entry is the closest to the date of the event, while others are several days or weeks later, penned in his journal that Zelph: "was known from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains” which has no mention of Cumorah or eastern sea, suggesting Joseph’s mention of the breadth of knowledge about the ancient prophet was from the Atlantic (eastern sea) to the Rocky Mountains. Levi Hancock’s journal entry said that: “Zelpf was a white Lamanite who fought with the people of Onandagus for freedom.” Moses Martin wrote in his journal: "Soon after this Joseph had a vision and the Lord shewed him that this man was once a mighty Prophet and many other things concerning his dead which had fallen no doubt in some great battles.”
Reuben McBride one of those journal keepers on the Zion’s Camp march

We can also look at Sea East—another Book of Mormon supportive statement, but again, this was not reported by more than one person. However, the term “Atlantic Ocean” or “eastern sea” was mentioned more than once, once of which was by Reuben McBride, who was 31 years old at the time of Zion’s Camp and had been baptized the year before. After Zion’s Camp, McBride became the custodian of the Church property and the Temple in Kirtland. A footnote as to the character of the man is shown in the incident when he was subpoenaed to court to give testimony concerning the whereabouts of the Prophet Joseph, which he adamantly refused, saying, “I refuse to give such testimony, and rather than be thus imposed upon, I will lie in your jail until the maggots carry my body through the keyhole of your door.” Later, he was the first person to be baptized for the dead in the font of the Nauvoo Temple.
    In addition, regarding the “last, great battle between the Nephites and Lamanites,” is another instance of one person claiming that was said, when the others claimed it was just some battle—a far cry from the last great struggle between the Nephites and Lamanites. Yet, it is understandable, given the circumstances, to include wordage of events in terms of how they were understood in the Book of Mormon. After all, the last, great battle between the Nephites and Lamanites had occurred many centuries earlier—it stands to reason someone thought of this battle as that one.
(See the next post, “The Problem With Journals – The Story of Zelph and Onandagus - Part III, for more information regarding what Zion’s Camp found and what we can understand from this event)


  1. My my, if the Heartland folks want to claim that this all confirms the location of the BOM lands then the east sea is the Atlantic not any of the Great Lakes. Rather than confirming the Heartland theory it nails the door shut on the idea.