Saturday, August 31, 2019

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

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:
In addition, Wilford Woodruff (left)wrote that he "visited many of the mounds which were flung up by the ancient inhabitants of this continent, probably by the Nephites & Lamanites." Who else would he think had done such a thing? They were talking about the Nephites and Lamanites, and Joseph considered this area the Plains over which the Nephites had moved. Woodruff’s association of the mounds, obviously something of great antiquity and built by an unknown people, and associated them with the Nephites and Lamanites, yet was still unwilling to say definitely—the word “probably” suggests he wasn’t positive.
    The point is, that while an individual is free to write whatever he chooses in his journal and personal and records and documents, the Church has the responsibility of being correct and accurate with its records. Consequently, despite all the claims to the contrary the following statements attributed to Joseph Smith by various people at the time involved in the incident are not always accurate. As an example, it is claimed that Joseph Smith said that:
    “Zelph was a white-Lamanite warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the hill Cumorah or eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains.” It is also claimed that Joseph Smith said, “Zelph was killed in battle by the arrow found among his ribs during the last great struggle with the Lamanites and Nephites.”
    Now the information we have of the incident that was recorded, for Joseph Smith did not record this specific information, comes from seven brethren who were part of Zion’s Camp and eye-witnesses to the events: among them were Heber C. Kimball, Reuban McBride, Moses Martin, Levi Hancock, Wilford Woodruff, and 12 years later a Times & Seasons report in January 1846.
    As one historian, Kenneth W. Godfrey, wrote: “Although such a discovery is exciting and insightful, many of the accounts are inconsistent and most of the details surrounding Zelph and his life remain unknown. The skeleton cannot therefore, provide conclusive evidence for anything, and Latter-day Saints should remember that more important than identifying the location of Book of Mormon events, the story should strengthen their belief in the book’s divinity” (“What is the Significance of Zelph in the Study of Book of Mormon Geography,” Neal A. Maxwell Institute, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 8/2(1999): p70-79,88).
Moroni spoke of at least 36 years of civil wars among the Lamanites after their annihilation defeat of the Nephites in 385 AD

What little can be gleaned from this experience is that there were Nephites in North America, or at least there were Lamanites in the area at one time—the arrow that killed the Lamanite Zelph simply could have been during a Lamanite-Lamanite battle—when we do not know and under what circumstances we do not know.
    What we do know is that five men wrote of the incident and two spoke of it (three of which later became Presidents of the Church), each recorded what they saw slightly different, some adding words and descriptions others did not, and some omitting points that others seem to have heard. So what was actually stated? We do not know—only our personal interest drives the argument over the differences.
    As an example, one used the term “Cumorah” while others used the “East Sea,” for an eastern boundary. One inserted “the last great battle of the Nephites and Lamanites,” while no one else mentioned that—was it one addition or several omissions?
    Take for example, of the five journal records:
1. One said Zelph was a warrior, another a great warrior, a third said he was a warrior in his youth, and one said he was a Chieftan;
2.  One said he was a man of God, one said he was a prophet, and two said he was a great prophet;
3. Four of the five said there were multiple burial mounds in the area;
4. One said it was 300-feet above the river, one said it was 100-feet above the river, and one said it was high above the river;
5. Only one said there were stones that looked like an altar on top;
6. Only one mentioned that they dug down on the top of the mound (years later one said it was halfway down);
7. One said they dug down two feet, one said they dug down one foot (years later one said they dug down a few inches), no one else mentioned how far down they dug;
8. One identified their discovery as a skeleton, one the bones of a man, one bones and a broken arrow, one a skeleton and arrow;
9. Three of the five gave the man’s name as Zelph;
10. Two identified that Zelph fought under Onandagus, one wrote under Onandagus, a king and great man; two made no mention.
11. Four of the five actually visited the mound, one said he did not.
It might be of interest to note, that beginning eleven years later, Heber C. Kimball (left) in recollection, Wilford Woodruff in 1850 and again in 1893, and George A. Smith in 1857, added to their comments with sometimes considerable differences. In fact, Wilford Woodruff’s 1893 comments, 59 years later, as might be expected, differed considerably in his recollection of the event.
    As was the case in the early days of the Church, it was the job of the Church Historian to enter into permanent record the events that took place in the Church. More than a century later, it was the role of the Ward Clerk to keep a history of the Ward’s activities and send it into the Church. Now the record goes from the Ward to the Stake Historian, whose job it is to edit and accurately state the Stake’s history before sending it into the Church Historian’s Office.
    Beginning in 1842, eight years after the event, Willard Richards compiled a number of records in order to produce a history of the church. Among the records examined were the various accounts related to Zelph. In the process of combining the accounts, Richards crossed out Woodruff's references to "hill Cumorah," and Heber C. Kimball's reference to the "last" great struggle with the Lamanites.”
    Evidently, since those two statements seem obvious additions to the facts that were isolated in those two men without any support elsewhere, it seemed to Roberts that they were added from a mind set (East Sea meant Cumorah to Woodruff, and great battle meant the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites to Kimball). It is not that the story of Zelph is inaccurate, only the memories of some of those present as to how they wrote it down or remembered it. In fact, if everyone had recalled it identically, it would have the feeling of a contrived or made up event. The fact that different people saw the events differently only adds to the reality of what took place. This is seen in the various accounts of the Three Witnesses to seeing and handling the gold plates, and the Eight Witnesses who saw the plates.
Anyone in law enforcement can verify this simple fact. Ask half a dozen witnesses to a special event, such as a robbery, etc., what they saw and you get half a dozen different versions of what took place.
    Take for example the ethnicity of Zelph. All agreed he was a Lamanite. One said he was a white Lamanite. But how did they know he was a Lamanite? Was it a conclusion jumped to or group decision because all the Nephites were said to have been wiped out at the close of the Book of Mormon in 421 A.D.? Or was it simply a term that had been adopted by members who considered at the time that all “Indians” were “Lamanites”? It would appear that nothing in the accounts can settle the question of Zelph’s specific ethnic identity. And with only bones remaining, how did these brethren or at least one of them, know that he was a white-skinned Lamanite? Short of a revelation, that would not have been known.
(See the next post,” The Problem With Journals – Part IV,” for more information on Zion’s Camp and the story of Zelph and Onandagus)

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