Here is a list of ten accounts that refer to the storehouse of plates Mormon hid up in Cumorah:
The following references seem to represent the existing consensus about that storehouse and the location of Cumorah. I may add more later, but these capture the main points that I read in the publications of the citation cartel.
(Okay, I can't help commenting a little. Sunlight is a great disinfectant. You'll see what I mean if you haven't read these comments by LDS scholars before. As always, I'm focused on the word on the page, not who wrote them. FairMormon is actually pretty good about this; like the Times and Seasons, they usually publish anonymous articles so there is no risk of offending anyone by analyzing or critiquing their articles.)
From FairMormon. (I'm copying the entire entry because they change things often and don't allow access to see what was changed, by whom, and when. This is the entry on July 15, 2016 at 1:25 pm MDT.
Archaeology and the Hill Cumorah
Questions and Answers
The Church has no official position on any New World location described in the Book of Mormon
There is no clear indication that Joseph Smith ever applied the name "Cumorah" to the hill in New York
At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine. In his account in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith refers to the hill where the plates were buried, but never calls it by any name. In the Doctrine and Covenants the name 'Cumorah' only appears one time, in an 1842 epistle written by Joseph Smith: 'And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah' (DC 128:20). No other uses of 'Cumorah' have been found in any other of Joseph Smith's personal writings. When this name does appear it has been added by later editors or is being quoted from another individual.
A late account from David Whitmer is the earliest possible association of the name with the New York hill
When I was returning to Fayette, with Joseph and Oliver, all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old fashioned, wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us, while traveling along in a clear open place, a very pleasant, nice-looking old man in a clear open place, who saluted us with "Good morning, it is very warm," at the same instant wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and by a sign from Joseph I invited him to ride if he was going our way, but he said very pleasantly, "No I am going to Cumorah." This was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant, and as I looked enquiringly at Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared so that I did not see him again.
Question: Where is the Hill Cumorah?
Joseph Smith never used the name "Cumorah" in his own writings when referring to the gold plates' resting place
David Whitmer is not told that the hill from which Joseph received the record was called Cumorah, but this usage seems to have nevertheless become common within the Church
When I was returning to Fayette, with Joseph and Oliver, all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old-fashioned, wooden, spring seat and Joseph behind us; while traveling along in a clear open place, a very pleasant, nice-looking old man suddenly appeared by the side of our wagon and saluted us with, "Good morning, it is very warm," at the same time wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and, by a sign from Joseph, I invited him to ride if he was going our way. But he said very pleasantly, "No, I am going to Cumorah." This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked around inquiringly of Joseph, the old man instantly disappeared, so that I did not see him again.
Since the 1950s, opinion among Book of Mormon scholars has increasingly trended toward the realization that the Nephite Cumorah and the Hill in New York cannot be the same
Here [at BYU] I was introduced to the idea that the Book of Mormon is not a history of all of the people who have lived on the continents of North and South America in all ages of the earth. Up to that time, I had assumed that it was. If that were the claim of the Book of Mormon, any piece of historical, archaeological, or linguistic evidence to the contrary would weigh in against the Book of Mormon, and those who rely exclusively on scholarship would have a promising position to argue.In contrast, if the Book of Mormon only purports to be an account of a few peoples who inhabited a portion of the Americas during a few millennia in the past, the burden of argument changes drastically. It is no longer a question of all versus none; it is a question of some versus none. In other words, in the circumstance I describe, the opponents of historicity must prove that the Book of Mormon has no historical validity for any peoples who lived in the Americas in a particular time frame, a notoriously difficult exercise.
There are 13 geographical conditions required for the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah
- near eastern seacoast
- near narrow neck of land
- on a coastal plain and near other mountains and valleys
- one day's journey south of a large body of water
- an area of many rivers and waters
- presence of fountains
- water gives military advantage
- an escape route southward
- hill large enough to view hundreds of thousands of bodies
- hill must be a significant landmark
- hill must be free standing so people can camp around it
- in temperate climate with no cold or snow
- in a volcanic zone susceptible to earthquakes
Question: Did Joseph Fielding Smith reject the theory that the final battlefield of the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica rather than New York?
Joseph Fielding Smith, before he became President of the Church, argued for a New York location as the scene of the final battle
In 1938 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote an article published in the Deseret News arguing against what he then termed the "modernist" theory that the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites may have been in Central America rather than in New York. In 1956 this article was included in a selection of Elder Smith's writings compiled by his son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie. Although Elder Smith would later become president of the church in 1970, his article arguing for a New York location as the scene of the final battlefield was written many years before he assumed that position, and he apparently never revisited the question as president of the church. There is evidence that Elder Smith may have softened his opposition on the Cumorah question. In a letter written to Fletcher B. Hammond, who argued emphatically for a Central American location and had sent Elder Smith a copy of his findings, the apostle explained, "I am sure this will be very interesting although I have never paid any attention whatever to Book of Mormon geography because it appears to me that it is inevitable that there must be a great deal of guesswork." Apparently, he did not consider his 1938 argument as settled and definitive or as a measure of doctrinal orthodoxy.
Joseph Fielding Smith acknowledged that this was his opinion, and that others were entitled to their own opinions regarding this subject
Sidney B. Sperry, after whom an annual Brigham Young University symposium is named, was also one who initially supported the New York Cumorah view (that is, an area of New York as the final battlefield of the Nephites and Jaredites). During the 1960s, as he began to explore the issue, he came to a different conclusion... Reversing his earlier position, he wrote: "It is now my very carefully studied and considered opinion that the Hill Cumorah to which Mormon and his people gathered was somewhere in Middle America. The Book of Mormon evidence to this effect is irresistible and conclusive to one who will approach it with an open mind. This evidence has been reviewed by a few generations of bright students in graduate classes who have been given the challenge to break it down if they can. To date none has ever been able to do so." Sperry, who was very familiar with what Joseph Fielding Smith had previously written, told him that he did not feel comfortable publishing something that contradicted what the apostle had written, but that he and other sincere students of the Book of Mormon had come to that conclusion only after serious and careful study of the text. Sperry said that Elder Smith then lovingly put his arm around his shoulder and said, "Sidney, you are as entitled to your opinion as I am to mine. You go ahead and publish it." 
John E. Clark, "Archaeology and Cumorah Questions,": "The hill the plates came from is not at issue; the question is whether this final resting place is the same hill where the ending battles occurred"
Things are rarely as simple as labels make them appear. For the past 50 years, some scholars have suggested that common Latter-day Saint usage of Cumorah confuses two different places and that the modest hill where Joseph Smith recovered the plates is not the eminence of the genocidal battles. Further, the Cumorah battlefield is seen by many scholars as the key for identifying the location of the ancient lands described in the book. Hence, much rests on its correct placement. All these observations lead to a paradox explored here: before archaeology can reveal Cumorah's secrets, it must first be employed to identify its location. The hill the plates came from is not at issue; the question is whether this final resting place is the same hill where the ending battles occurred. Many serious scholars have attempted to prove that the Palmyra hill was the battle hill, but to little avail, largely because they do not understand archaeology as an inexact science. They argue that the Palmyra hill and its surrounding area once had tons of convincing evidence that has long since been destroyed or carted away. —(Click here to continue) 
Question: Have any archaeological excavations ever been performed on the site of the Hill Cumorah in New York?
No actual archaeological digs have been performed at the site to actually attempt to find artifacts
Question: Did Moroni bury the gold plates in the Hill Cumorah referenced in the Book of Mormon?
The Book of Mormon does not state that the plates of Mormon were buried in the Hill Cumorah: All of the other records except the gold plates were buried there
"And it came to pass that when we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold I, Mormon...made this record [the plates of Mormon] out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save [except] it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni." (Mormon 6:6) (emphasis added)
Moroni wandered for 36 years before burying the plates of Mormon
"[The Lamanites] put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ. And I, Moroni, will not deny the Christ; wherefore, I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life." (Moroni 1:3)
Michael J. Dorais (2004): "The Geologic History of Hill Cumorah"
Cumorah! The very mention of the name brings multiple images to the minds of Latter-day Saints. We commonly think of the coming forth of the golden plates under the direction of the angel Moroni and of the faithfulness of the Prophet Joseph Smith in fulfilling his mission. We may also think of the preparation of the plates themselves, from Nephi's making a second set of plates, whose ultimate purposes he knew not, to Moroni's final words engraved on that sacred record before he placed it in the Hill Cumorah. The preparation of the Smith family may come to mind as well, such as the fact that Joseph was born of righteous parents and thus was spiritually prepared to become the prophet of the restoration. Perhaps less thought goes to the climatic and financial difficulties that the Smith family experienced while living in New England, prompting them to move to New York in proximity to Cumorah, where a new dispensation would dawn. —(Click here to continue) 
Question: Are the large population counts described in the Book of Mormon during the final battle at the Hill Cumorah accurate?
Ancient militaristic texts, including those of the Bible, frequently exaggerated the numbers involved in battle for their own propagandistic purposes
Of the followers of the old Xicotenga . . . there were ten thousand; of another great chief named Moseescaci there were another ten thousand; of a third, who was called Chichimecatecle, there were as many more....
Question: Is there a cave in the Hill Cumorah containing the Nephite records?
I believe I will take the liberty to tell you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can be. This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery, but he did not take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take. I tell these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so. I want to carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters, and to the children also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem to be entirely hidden from the human family. Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: "This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ." 
The story of the cave full of plates inside the Hill Cumorah in New York is often given as evidence that it is, indeed, the hill where Mormon hid the plates. Yorgason quotes one version of the story from Brigham Young and alludes to six others collected by Paul T. Smith. Unfortunately, none of the accounts is firsthand. The New York Hill Cumorah is a moraine laid down anciently by a glacier in motion. It is comprised of gravel and earth. Geologically, it is impossible for the hill to have a cave, and all those who have gone in search of the cave have come back empty-handed. If, therefore, the story attributed to Oliver Cowdery (by others) is true, then the visits to the cave perhaps represent visions, perhaps of some far distant hill, not physical events.
Cameron J. Packer (2004): "Joseph Smith and others returned the plates to a cave in the Hill Cumorah after he finished translating them"
The Hill Cumorah's significance in the restoration of the gospel goes beyond its being the ancient repository of the metal plates known as the Book of Mormon. In the second half of the 19th century, a certain teaching about a cave in the hill began surfacing in the writings and teachings of several leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In their view, the hill was not only the place where Joseph Smith received the plates but also their final repository, along with other sacred treasures, after the translation was finished. According to some of those leaders, Joseph Smith and others returned the plates to a cave in the Hill Cumorah after he finished translating them. At least 10 different accounts, all secondhand, refer to this cave and what was found there. —(Click here to continue) 
- Rex C. Reeve, Jr., and Richard O. Cowan, "The Hill Called Cumorah," in Larry C. Porter, Milton V. Backman, Jr., and Susan Easton Black, eds., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History: New York and Pennsylvania(Provo: BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1992), 73–74.
- David Whitmer interview with Joseph F. Smith and Orson Pratt; version recorded in Joseph F. Smith, Diary, 7-8 September 1878, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 5:41–49.
- Rex C. Reeve, Jr., and Richard O. Cowan, "The Hill Called Cumorah," in Larry C. Porter, Milton V. Backman, Jr., and Susan Easton Black, eds., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History: New York and Pennsylvania(Provo: BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, 1992), 73–74.
- Interview with David Whitmer [conducted 7–8 September 1878 in Richmond, Missouri], "Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith," Millennial Star 40 (9 December 1878), 771–774.
- Martin H. Raish, "Encounters with Cumorah: A Selective, Personal Bibliography," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13/1 (2004): 38–49. off-site wiki
- Jesse A. Washburn and Jesse N. Washburn, From Babel to Cumorah (Provo, UT: New Era Publishing, 1937).
- Thomas S. Ferguson, Cumorah—Where? (Independence, MO: Press of Zion's Print. & Publishing Company, 1947).
- Sidney B. Sperry, Handout, Religion 622 (31 March 1964); published in Sidney B. Sperry, "Were There Two Cumorahs?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 4/1 (1995): 260–268. off-site wiki
- Sidney B. Sperry, The Book of Mormon Testifies (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1952), 335–336. Sperry would later write: "In this volume I have reversed my views, held many years ago, that the Hill Cumorah, around which the last great battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place, was in the State of New York. The book of Mormon data are very clear and show quite conclusively that the Hill (Ramah to the Jaredites) was in the land of Desolation, somewhere in Middle America. I have summed up my arguments and conclusions in connection with the discussion of Mormon, Chapter 6. My conclusions have been tested in a number of classes of graduate students who were challenged to demonstrate their falsity. Up to the present time, no one has done so. The Hill Cumorah in New York, from which the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the Nephite plates, may have been so named by Moroni in commemoration of the Cumorah in the land of Desolation, around which his father and fellow Nephites lost their lives in their last struggles with the Lamanites." - Sidney B. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), 6–7.
- See, for example, John E. Clark, "Archaeology and Cumorah Questions," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13/1 (2004): 144–151. off-site wiki; John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon(Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996 ),14–16.
- Dallin H. Oaks, "Historicity of the Book of Mormon," Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies Annual Dinner Provo, Utah, 29 October 1993; cited in Dallin H. Oaks, "The Historicity of the Book of Mormon," (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1994), 2-3. Reproduced in Dallin H. Oaks, "The Historicity of the Book of Mormon," in Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2001), 237–48.
- David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah: New Evidences for the Book of Mormon from Ancient Mexico (Bountiful: Horizon, 1981), 28–72.
- See Andrew H. Hedges, Cumorah and the Limited Mesoamerican Theory off-site and see also Edwin Goble, Resurrecting Cumorah, Second Revised Edition, May 2011.
- Matthew Roper, "Losing the Remnant: The New Exclusivist "Movement" and the Book of Mormon (A review of "Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America" by: Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum)," FARMS Review 22/2 (2010): 87–124. off-site wiki
- John E. Clark, "Archaeology and Cumorah Questions," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13:1-2.
- Michael J. Dorais, "The Geologic History of Hill Cumorah," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13:1-2 (2004)
- A. Brent Merrill, "Nephite Captains and Armies," in Ricks and Hamblin, eds., Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 270. Reference cited is Graham Webster, The Roman Imperial Army (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1969). http://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1108&index=13
- Bernal Diaz del Castillo, The Bernal Diaz Chronicles, trans. and ed. A. Idell (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1956), 161–162, 110, 103; cited in John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon(Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996 ), 263. GL direct link
- Brigham Young, "TRYING TO BE SAINTS, etc.," (June 17, 1877) Journal of Discourses 19:38.
- Cameron J. Packer, "Cumorah's Cave," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13/1 (2004): 50–57. off-site wiki
- John A. Tvedtnes, "Review of Little Known Evidences of the Book of Mormon by Brenton G. Yorgason," FARMS Review of Books 2/1 (1990): 258–259. off-site
- Cameron J. Packer, "Cumorah's Cave," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 13:1-2 (2004)
The gold plates and North America
Questions and Answers
Question: If the gold plates were orignally in Mesoamerica, how did they get to New York?
The answer to this question is not known, but informed speculation demonstrates that this poses no difficulty
- The final battles of the Nephites took place in the land of Cumorah. Mormon tells us that he "hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni" (Mormon 6:6).
- The last of the Nephite people were wiped out about A.D. 385 (Mormon 6:5). Only Moroni remained to finish his father's record.
- Moroni wandered "whithersoever [he could] for the safety of [his] own life" to avoid being captured and killed by the Lamanites (Moroni 1:3).
Would Moroni have been able to survive a trip of several thousand miles through strange peoples and lands, if he did transport the record? Such a journey would be no more surprising than the trip by Lehi's party over land and by sea halfway around the globe. As a matter of fact, we do have a striking case of a trip much like the one Moroni may have made. In the mid-sixteenth century, David Ingram, a shipwrecked English sailor, walked in 11 months through completely strange Indian territory from Tampico, Mexico, to the St. John River, at the present border between Maine and Canada. His remarkable journey would have been about the same distance as Moroni's and over essentially the same route. So Moroni's getting the plates to New York even under his own power [in 36 years] seems feasible.
- John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co. ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996 ), 44, footnotes omitted.
From Brant Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History, p. 373 ff.
The Mesoamerican Cumorah
Cumorah was either an impressive defensive position or a metaphorical location for the destruction of a people--perhaps both. Moroni writes: "And it came to pass that the army of Coriantumr did pitch their tents by the hill Ramah; and it was that same hill where my father Mormon did hide up the records unto the Lord, which were sacred." (Ether 15:11)." Moroni's equation of the two hills requires that the hill of Nephite destruction be in Jaredite lands, which places all of these events in a limited area that does not stretch from Mesoamerica to New York. (See the next section for the New York Hill Cumorah.)
John L. Sorenson simply accepts Moroni's equation of Ramah and Cumorah: "The hill Ramah, where the Jaredites destroyed themselves, was the same hill as Nephite Cumorah (Ether 15:11). [Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, p. 14. He makes the same correlation in Sorenson, Mormon's Code, 688, note 82.] Nevertheless, we hve no source from which Moroni might have known that the two locations were indeed one and the same. Ether certainly knew Ramah but could not have known the name Cumorah. The identification couldn't have come from Ether's record.
Moroni knew the location as Cumorah, but there is no way to know how he understood it to be the very hill that Ether called Ramah. It is possible that there was some distinguishing feature of the hill that Ether noted and Moroni recognized (but did not record as he abridged Ether). Perhaps it was revelation, but Moroni doesn't mention that either. Perhaps it was only the similarity in the final destruction of the two peoples and that made them symbolically the same. It is currently unknowable. [I do not think that questioning the correlation between Ramah and Cumorah alters the essential requirement that the final destruction of both people occurred in Mesoamerica. Other data are sufficient for that conclusion. However, arguments for a Mesoamerican location for the Book of Mormon that lean on this correlation (as Sorenson's does) are weaker than they appear if hte two are not the same hill.]
We may hope to learn more about Moroni's Cumorah. David A. Palmer comments that the site of El Meson is near the proposed Hill Cumorah, which he identifies as Cerro Vigia in modern Veracruz. [David Palmer, In Search of Cumorah, p. 91] El Meson was occupied beginning as early as 400 B.C. and continued to be occupied through Nephite times until ca. A.D. 300. [reference] The abandonment of this site around one hundred years earlier than the final events of the Nephite nations suggests that it was a location with the natural resources to support a city population, but that there was no significant competing peoples who had to be dislodged to allow the Nephites access to it.
Lawrence L. Poulsen has proposed a different hill along the eastern seashore of the Gulf of Mexico. Poulsen examined three-dimensional maps against the information in the text and found four possibilities. He then further refined the search, settling on one in Misantla, Veracruz, Mexico. One interesting correlation is to the requirement that there be "many waters, rivers, and fountains" (Mormon 6:4). Poulson quotes from one of the early Spanish descriptions of the land commissioned by the king: "One of the aspects most prominent of the region, is the abundance of water, yest it is a district, humid by nature, where have existed the difficult problems of other places. In the entire jurisdiction there are abundant springs, lagoons, and streams. The great rivers form a true hydrographic net and it is notable that even in the hills, little fountains are found. [Poulsen, "Book of Mormon Geography and the Book of Ether."] The actual hill that might have been Cumorah remains speculative.
The New York Cumorah
Not long after the Book of Mormon was published, the community of believers began using the name "Cumorah" for the hill from which Joseph had retrieved the plates. The New York hill wasn't, and isn't, an imposing natural feature. There is nothing about the New York hill that suggests an important defensive position, particularly for the numbers of defenders mentioned. Although there is a strong tradition linking that hill with Cumorah, the tradition is stronger than any evidence for the correlation.
As later as almost a hundred years after the publication of the Book of Mormon, Orson F.Whitney indicated that it had different local names: "In the summer of 1914, it fell to my lot to visit some of hte scenes made memorable by the early experiences of the Latter-day Saints. One object of surpassing interest was the Hill Cumorah, called 'Mormon Hill' by the inhabitants of the region in which it is situatied--namely, western New York state about midway between the towns of Palmyra and Manchester." [Whitney, "Some Historical and Prophetic Phases of the Book of Mormon," 216] Rex C. Reeve, Jr. and Richard O. Cowan discuss the way it acquired the name Cumorah:
At what point in modern times this New York hill was first called Cumorah is difficult to determine. In his account in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith refers to the hill where the plates were buried, but he never calls it by any name. In the Doctrine and Covenants the name "Cumorah" only appears one time, in an 1842 epistle written by Joseph Smith: "And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah!" (D&C 128:20). No other uses of "Cumorah" have been found in any other of Joseph Smith's personal writings. When this name does appear it has been added by later editions or is being quoted from another individual.
[Reeve and Cowan, "The Hill Called Cumorah," 73-74. The earliest possible connection between the New York hill and the Book of Mormon Cumorah comes from an 1878 interview with David Whitmer by Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, "Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith," 772-73:
When I was returning to Fayette with Joseph and Oliver all of us riding in the wagon, Oliver and I on an old fashioned wooden spring seat and Joseph behind us, while traveling along in a clear open place, a very pleasant, nice-looking old man suddenly appeared by the side of our wagon who saluted us with, “good morning, it is very warm,” at the same time wiping his face or forehead with his hand. We returned the salutation, and by a sign from Joseph I invited him to ride if he was going our way. But he said very pleasantly, “No, I am going to Cumorah.’ This name was something new to me, I did not know what Cumorah meant. We all gazed at him and at each other, and as I looked round enquiringly of Joseph the old man instantly disappeared, so that I did not see him again.
This report would be much more conclusive had it not been recorded nearly fifty years later. The passage of time and the accepted designation of "Cumorah" as the name of the New York hill by the time of the recollection argue against this second-hand report from Whitmer as being a definitive statement.
Sidney B. Sperry, "Were There Two Cumorahs?" 268, suggests: "Now if it is agreed that the Book of Mormon evidence points inevitably to a Ramah-Cumorah in Middle America, the question then arises as to how the hill in New York from which the Prophet Joseph Smith received the sacred Nephite records came to be called Cumorah. No details are afforded us as to either how or when the hill was so named. But certainly no adherent of the Middle-American view of Ramah-Cumorah would object to the suggestion that Moroni himself may have called the hill Cumorah in honor of the one in Middle America. He may even have told the prophet Joseph Smith about it but of this we have no proof."]
The sacralization of the New York hill by association with Cumorah tapped into the miraculous nature of the discovery and translation of the plates. It was an association that certainly occurred very early, but the source of the connection between the New York hill and the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is unknown. One might suppose that had Moroni identified the New York hill as Cumorah, Joseph would have used the term earlier than he did.
Joseph's use of the term in 1842 is similar to his use of Urim and Thummim for the interpreters and the seer stones. [Gardner, The Gift and Power, p. 127-9] Although he was in a perfect position to know a different name and to correct the Saints, he didn't. However, that should not be seen as confirmation that the tradition was correct, but rather that the Saints' communal interpretation of history influenced Joseph's description of that history. Joseph not only allowed the communal creation of the Church's history, he embraced it.
It is plausible that just as W.W. Phelps was the one to associate the interpreters with the Urim and Thummim of the Bible, one of Joseph's companions made the association between the hill from which the plates were taken with the hill in which Mormon had hid the plates. While that is a plausible connection, it is based on a misreading of the text. Mormon specifically says: "I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni" (Mormon 6:6). Although the Book of Mormon specifically tells of plates being buried in the hill Cumorah, they were explicitly not the plates delivered to Joseph Smith.
[Of course, it is possible that Moroni returned to Cumorah and buried the plates there, but nothing in the text makes that assertion. The only information that the Book of Mormon itself offers is that Cumorah was not the resting place of the plates that Mormon gave to Moroni.]
On the basis of the only information we have in the text of the Book of Mormon, the hill from which Joseph retrieved the plates should never have been called Cumorah. Nevertheless, the association was made and became so entrenched int he Saints' understanding that it is difficult to separate the historical data from the communal story.
The strength of that communal story was sufficient that Sidney B. Sperry originally argued for a single hill that bore the name Cumorah. However, he changed his mind after reviewing the evidence., He records:
The friendly controversy still goes on, the one camp holding that the only Cumorah in or out of the Book of Mormon is the traditional one in New York State, the other supporting the view that the Cumorah in New York has been named after the one in Middle America, but is not the one around which the last great battles of the Nephiles and the Lamanites took place.
Now which of these two points of view is correct? It would be desirable, if possible, to come to a unity in the matter. Truth should never be on the defensive, but sometimes it is hard to decide just where it is. Perhaps most people of the Church hold to the traditional view of Cumorah, and, indeed, I have defended that view in some: of my writings.5 But in recent years we have again gone over the Book of Mormon evidence very carefully and are prepared to present what we feel are the elements of the strongest case that can be made for a Cumorah in Middle America.
Contering the force of traditional association is the archaeological data for the hill and the surrounding lands. John E. Clark discusses the reasons that the New York hill could not have been the location of the final Nephite battle: "Archaeologically speaking, it is a clean hill. No artifacts, no walls, no trenches, no arrow-heads. The area immediately surrounding the hill is similarly clean. Pre-Columbian people did not settle or build here. This is not the place of Mormon's last stand. We must look elsewhere for that hill." [Clark, "Archaeology and Cumorah Questions," 144-51.] Clark has also noted: "The cultural worlds of ancient Mesoamerica and early New York are far enough apart that it ought to be simple to discover from which one the book came. The cultures described in the Book of Mormon fit much better in Mesoamerica than in New York for any century." [Clark, "Archaeological Trends and Book of Mormon Origins."]
Nevertheless, we do understand that the plates from which Joseph translated the Book of Mormon came from the New York hill. How did they come to be there? Sorenson comments:
A question many readers will have been asking themselves is a sound and necessary one: how did Joseph Smith obtain the gold plates in upstate New York if the final battleground of the Nephites was in Mesoamerica?
Let's review where the final battle took place. The Book of mromon makes clear that the demise of both Jaredites and Nephites took place near the narrow neck of land. Yet New York is thousands of miles away from any plausible configuration that could be described as this narrow neck. Thus the scripture itself rules out the idea that the Nephites perished near Palmyra.
Then how did the plates get from the battleground to New York? We have no definitive answer, but we can construct a plausible picture. Mormon reports that he buried all the records in his custody at the Hill Cumorah of the final battle except for certain key golden plates (Morm. 6:6). Those from which Joseph Smith translated, he entrusted to his son Moroni. As late as 35 years afterward, Moroni was still adding to those records (Moro. 10:1). He never does tell us where he intended to deposit them, nor where he was when he sealed them up (Moro. 10:34). The most obvious way to get the plates to New York State would have been for somebody to carry them there. Moroni could have done so himself during those final, lonely decades.
Would Moroni have been able to survive a trip of several thousand miles through strange peoples and lands, if he did transport the record? Such a journey would be no more surprising than the trip by Lehi's party over land and by sea halfway around the globe. As a matter of fact, we do have a striking case of a trip much like the one Moroni may have made. In the mid-sixteenth century, David Ingram, a shipwrecked English sailor, walked in 11 months through completely strange Indian territory from Tampico, Mexico, to the St. John River, at the present border between Maine and Canada. His remarkable journey would have been about hte same distance as Moroni's and over essentially the same route. So Moroni's getting the plates to New York even under his own power seems feasible. [Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, p. 44].
How should we see Joseph fielding Smith's firm declaration that the New York hill must be Cumorah? His opinion is unambiguous:
The Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon.
The fact that all of his associates from the beginning down have spoken of it as the identical hill where Mormon and Moroni hid the records must carry some weight. It is difficult for a reasonable person to believe that such men as Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, David Whitmer, and many others, could speak frequently of the spot where the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained the plates as the Hill Cumorah and not be corrected by the Prophet, if that were not the fact. That they did speak of the hill in the days of the Prophet in this definite matter is an established record of history. [JFS, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:234]
Although Joseph Fielding Smith was adamant in his opinion, the data upon which the opinion was based are not nearly as strong as his statement suggests. [Elder Smith's footnote to his declaration that Joseph Smith has definitely identified the New York hill as the very Cumorah cites the Zelph story as found in HC 2:79-80. That statement was a composite of multiple recollections of the incident. The reference to the Hill Cumorah is not an identification but a reference of distance. See Godfrey.[ [note: see also Cannon.]
Joseph did make the association between Cumorah and the New York hill, but only late and well after it had become an accepted designation.
The weight of tradition certainly sees Cumorah in New York, but that tradition hangs on assumption rather than revelation or any firm evidence. There is an assumption that Joseph knew Book of Mormn geography, knew where the Book of Mormon Cumorah was, and declared the Book of Mormon Cumorah to be in New York. Those are three assumption on which to base such a strong declaration, especially when the evidence does not support the thread on which the weight of tradition hangs.
Archaeology and history declare a different story. The New York hill cannot be the Cumorah described in the text.
What history does support is that Joseph came late to using Cumorah to identify the New York hill. Rather than being able to use Joseph as the foundation of the naming tradition, it is easier, according to the evidence of history, to see Joseph as accepting the tradition. He would not have corrected it for the same reason he did not correct the use of "Urim and Thummim" when applied to the interpreters or seer stone.