long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cumorah - bird's eye view

We're exploring the area around Cumorah. There are some amazing things here, best seen from the air.

The Hill Cumorah

"In this valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites—once so highly favored of the Lord, but at that time in darkness, doomed to suffer extermination by the hand of their barbarous and uncivilized brethren. From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains of those who, the day before, were filled with anxiety, hope, or doubt." Oliver Cowdery, Letter VII, available here.
Valley west of Cumorah

The Sacred Grove

The Palmyra Temple

Friday, August 28, 2015

Joseph and Emma house

Today we visited the restored house in Pennsylvania where Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. It is a fantastic restoration.

They also included a replica of the table where Joseph and Oliver Cowdery worked on the translation. All very well done. 

We also visited the Susquehanna River site where Joseph and Oliver baptized one another. Of course, they did the baptism in the spring when the river was much deeper than it is in August, as this photo shows.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Failure to communicate

Failure to Communicate - 'Cool Hand Luke'.jpg
"What we've got here is failure to communicate."
As a relative newcomer to the public discussion of the geography issues, I have been interested to see how the two sides approach the issues. They keep talking past one another. 

In Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman immortalized the line, "What we got here is a failure to communicate." He was actually reprising a line first uttered by the Captain in the scene above. The line has been quoted in several movies and TV shows.

It should be quoted more often in the context of Book of Mormon geography.

By definition, Mesoamericanists don't think the Book of Mormon took place in North America. As a former Mesoamericanist myself, I empathize with their position and I understand their paradigm. It's a difficult one to break out of. In a future post I'll explain what changed my mind, but here I want to say that, in my opinion, the Mesoamericanists have never looked at the North American setting with any objective other than to disprove it.

I've posted quite a few entries examining the fallacies inherent in the Mesoamerican setting. I've previously discussed the reasons why Mesoamericanists are so dogmatic about their theory, so I won't rehash them here. Many of those reasons are understandable. But they are no excuse for closed minds and refusing to communicate.

I'm hopeful that both sides of the issue will engage in more dialog and exchange of ideas. The failure to communicate makes it impossible for everyone to reach a consensus.

I'll repeat what Roger Terry said, because I fully believe it:  "Obviously, if one of the models answered all the questions presented by the scriptural text, there would be consensus on where the Book of Mormon history actually occurred."

In my view, one of the models does just that. I'm going to start explaining it around Sept. 15. But first, there is more groundwork to do on the Mesoamerican theory.


Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Mesoamerica in New York

The other day I was speaking with a well-educated BYU professor who thought that everyone knew the Hill Cumorah was in New York. I explained that the proponents of Mesoamerica insist the Book of Mormon Cumorah is not in New York, but somewhere in Mesoamerica. They claim Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer were speculating, or guessing, when they identified the New York hill as the Book of Mormon Cumorah; either way, according to the Mesoamericanists, Joseph and two of the Three Witnesses were wrong.

He thought I was kidding.

I assured him I was not. I asked if he'd ever attended the Hill Cumorah pageant. He hadn't, so I described the set and costumes. They have actually recreated Mayan temples on the Hill Cumorah in New York.

I wish I was kidding.

Here is what I was talking about.


Mesoamerica in New York!

Note: these photos are directly off of lds.org. You can see them here.

Maybe creating a Mayan temple in New York is someone's idea of neutrality regarding Book of Mormon geography... This makes as much sense as a pageant in southern Mexico showing Joseph Smith obtaining the plates from the Cerro Vigia (where Mormon's record repository lays in wait, of course.)

Lest I be accused of criticizing the Cumorah Pageant, let me be clear that I don't attribute any of the Mesoamerican theory to the fine, creative people who put on the pageant, paint the paintings, produce the movies, print the manuals, etc. In my opinion it's the scholars perpetuating the theory who need to reassess their views in the face of the historical, geological, and geographical evidence.

John Sorenson set forth an important principle for evaluating Book of Mormon geography. “We need instead to use the entire scripture, without exception . . . We must understand, interpret and deal successfully with every statement in the text, not just what is convenient or interesting to us.”[i] I agree with him--which is why I don't use the Sorenson translation of the text.

He also points out, “If we are to progress in this task, we must chop away and burn the conceptual underbrush that has afflicted the effort in the past.”[i]

In my view, a Mayan temple in New York is a good example of the conceptual underbrush that needs to be chopped away.

[i] Sorenson, Geography, p. 210.

[i] Sorenson, Geography, p. 210.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Royal Skousen and the Printer's Manuscript

I attended Royal Skousen's lecture last Thursday about the publication of the Printer's Manuscript of the Book of Mormon. It was excellent and will likely be available online sometime, but for now, those interested can watch his similar presentation here.

Skousen has done tremendous work on analyzing the manuscripts and the early editions of the Book of Mormon. He published a series of books about his work (the critical text project) that used to be available online at the Maxwell Institute here. It looks like they've disabled the link to download them, however, probably because of the new publication by the Joseph Smith papers, which is available here.

I have relied on Skousen's work quite a bit. His approach helped me analyze the Times and Seasons, for example, to help determine authorship of anonymous articles. I'll be publishing that information in upcoming weeks.

While the detailed discussion of a particular penstroke or punctuation mark might seem highly technical, it's important to remember, when reading the Book of Mormon, that the meaning of a particular passage can be affected by punctuation, which did not exist in the original manuscript. Skousen's work has shed a lot of light on the translation process, as well.

Digital versions of the printer's manuscript are available here. These aren't as nice as the color photos in the new printed books, but they are still useful.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday thought from Oliver Cowdery

Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated, with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, "Interpreters," the history, or record, called "The book of Mormon."

Mayan or Hebrew? 400 years

The Book of Mormon describes people who kept the law of Moses and could write in Hebrew hundred of years after Christ (Mormon 9:33).

People who advocate a Mesoamerican setting claim the Book of Mormon describes Mayan culture. I'll take a look at the comparison.

Here, I'll look at the 400 year claim. Some Mesoamericanists think that the term of 400 years mentioned in the Book of Mormon (Alma 45:10, Helaman 13: 5-9, Mormon 8:6, and Moroni 10:1) is evidence of Mayan culture. For example, in Mormon's Codex, Sorenson writes, "An intriguing possibility of a detailed Mesoamerican correspondence with the Book of Mormon arises in connection with the prophecy of Samuel. He had announced that "four hundred years pass not away save the sword of justice falleth upon this people" the Nephites (Helaman 13:5, 9). (Here he nearly echoes Alma in Alma 45:10...) Another cycle in the numeration of some [Mayan] groups was 400 years. The 400-year prophecies by Alma and Samuel would be on a potentially correct calendrical target, even though so far we lack documentation form secular sources that prophecies occurred for a like period."

That's the Mayan explanation.

Here's the Hebrew explanation:

Genesis 15:13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;

 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

There are several references in the Book of Mormon to the children of Israel being in bondage and being freed. I think it makes more sense for the Book of Mormon authors to look at the 400 year period in the context of Genesis than in the context of a Mayan culture they never mention.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Archaeology and expectations

Archaeology is more an art than a science, in the sense that it requires subjective interpretation, it relies on luck to a significant degree, and there are no hard and fast rules. One can't replicate the results of archaeology; you either find something or you don't.

Here are two comparisons to keep in mind when discussing Book of Mormon archaeology in North America. There is a lot of evidence already, but even more yet to be found.

1. Magdala, Israel. Not long ago a site in Israel was discovered under 20 inches of topsoil that had not been touched in 2,000 years. It was a first-century synagogue, complete with mosaic flooring, frescoes, pottery and coins. Plus, it has the "Magdala Stone," which is a stone altar featuring a menorah, the oldest such one to be found outside of Jerusalem.

Image: Possible Home of Mary Magdalene Unearthed in Israel

The photo and overview here, a video here, and background here. More photos and details here.

2. Battle of Hastings. The famous Battle of Hastings was fought on Oct. 14, 1066. William's victory led to his coronation as the first Norman king of England. There were supposedly 10,000 people killed at the battle, but neither the remains nor any artifacts from the battle have ever been found. There are at least three possible sites, each supported by various forms of evidence, and all within a few miles.

Now, some people claim the battle took place at this roundabout:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The trend

What is the trend in terms of Book of Mormon geography?

Despite decades of promoting the Mesoamerican geography as the "scholarly" consensus, many remaining Mesoamericanists are jumping ship.

That's a step in the right direction.

Fewer and fewer LDS believe the Mesoamerican theory, not only because it doesn't make sense and contradicts the text of the Book of Mormon, but because they are learning the facts of Church history. Another big help is learning more about archaeology and geology and geography.

All steps in the right direction.

Thanks to learning about the American (Heartland) setting, people who were less active for years (and decades) are returning to activity, non-members are taking a new interest, and long-active members are re-energized.

More good steps in the right direction.

Keep up the good work.

Seriously... this is the map you're supposed to accept.

I've shown in over 100 posts so far that the Mesoamerican theory was based on a false premise, that it defies what Joseph Smith and two of the Three Witnesses said, and that it contradicts the text of the Book of Mormon itself.

Here's another example of why.

This is the map from p. 145 of Brant Gardner's book, Traditions of the Fathers.

There are far too many problems to discuss them all here, but just look at the seas. Do you see the "sea north" and "sea south" that the text mentions in Helaman 3:8? 


It turns out that, according to Gardner and other Mesoamericanists, the sea north and the sea south Helaman mentions are metaphors! You're not supposed to see them because they don't exist in the real world. Gardner adopts John E. Clark's explanation: "The main point is that the reference to north and south seas fits nicely into the Mesoamerican scene as part of a metaphor for the whole earth and was probably used in a metaphorical sense in the Book of Mormon."

I admire the creativity of the Mesoamericanists. As I've always said, these are capable scholars with good intentions. They're good people. They're just trying to defend an indefensible position. I look forward to the day when they apply their talents to North America.

Now, you might wonder why the sea east is north and the sea west is south of the supposedly "narrow" neck of land that is 125 miles wide. The answer is that Joseph Smith didn't understand Mayan mythology so he didn't know how to translate the book correctly. Well, that's not fair. When he translated 1 Nephi, Joseph translated directions accurately because when Nephi lived in the Middle-East, he used the same cardinal directions we do today. But when he came to the New World, Nephi and his successors immediately rejected the Hebrew customs and embraced Mayan mythology and worldview.

At least, that's what you're supposed to believe.

That's what you have to believe if you still believe the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Priesthood Restoration Site Reopening and Dedication

In two weeks, the Priesthood Restoration Site near Susquehanna Depot, Pennsylvania.will be open to the public (beginning on Saturday, August 29, 2015). I'm planning to visit the site that day.

According to the press release, "Dedicatory services will be held on Saturday, September 19, at 11:00 a.m. eastern daylight time (EDT) at the site. President Russell M. Nelson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, will give the dedicatory prayer."

This is a tremendously important site. Among many other important events, it was here that Joseph and Oliver translated the Book of Mormon.

Here is more from the press release:

"Joseph and Emma Smith moved to Harmony in December 1827 to escape persecution for their religious beliefs. They lived with Emma’s parents, Isaac and Elizabeth Hale, until they purchased a nearby home with 13½ acres from Emma’s brother Jesse.

"In early April 1829, schoolteacher Oliver Cowdery came to meet Joseph and soon became his scribe. During the translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph and Oliver went into the woods and prayed for guidance on the subject of baptism. In reply, the resurrected John the Baptist visited them on May 15, 1829, and ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood. He then commanded Joseph and Oliver to baptize each other in the nearby Susquehanna River. A little later in a nearby area, the two men received the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James, and John, three of Jesus Christ’s original Apostles.

"Also in Harmony, Joseph received 15 divine revelations that were later included in the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph and Emma Smith moved from Harmony in August 1830. The home they lived in burned down in 1919 and is now reconstructed as part of the site."

Here's an aerial map of the site. Here are the coordinates if you want to see it on Google Earth:

Lat:  41°57'11.59"N
Long:  75°38'19.69"W

The way forward to 2016

In 2016, the curriculum for the Church focuses on the Book of Mormon. It will be a phenomenal year for study and unity.

When I give presentations, I usually conclude with a slide that says, "The Book of Mormon has never been stronger than it is now." The convergence of unprecedented access to Church historical documents through the Joseph Smith Papers, along with developments in archaeology, anthropology, and geology, have already energized many people to take another look at the Book of Mormon. Less active members are returning to activity, investigators are taking another look, and active members are seeing the Book of Mormon in a new light with tremendous enthusiasm.

A lot of things have been happening lately that point toward resolution of the Book of Mormon geography issue. I think the "Book of Mormon wars" will become a footnote in history as more and more people learn about Church history and the role of the Book of Mormon.

Up to this point, I've had to be somewhat pointed in my blog posts because it is necessary to set out the historical facts of what has been going on. I've consistently recognized that all believers in the Book of Mormon have good intentions and objectives. What unites us is far more important than disagreements about this or that detail, but the disagreements have led to fundamental problems that, in my view, can and will be resolved by full and open disclosure and dialog.

In my opinion and experience, when people read the actual history, their views converge toward unity. They see Joseph and Oliver and David as confident, reliable and consistent witnesses regarding the setting for and historicity of the Book of Mormon, which to them was an important aspect of the restoration.

Those aspects are no less important today.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Geography overview for Mesoamericanists

Everyone agrees that the text of the Book of Mormon describes geography. Everyone also agrees that the text doesn't identify any modern sites in the New World, so there is no frame of reference. Most people who read the book still want to know where the events took place.

There are three ways to solve the problem:

1. Compose an abstract map from the text and search for a real-world match. This is how Mesoamericanists and other theorists approach the problem.

2. Consult latter-day revelation, realize that two key modern-day identifiers exist, and use those as placeholders when evaluating the text. This is how I recommend people approach the problem.

3. Pretend it doesn't matter.


1. An example of the Mesoamericanist approach is Brant Gardner's book, Traditions of the Fathers. On p. 129, he writes, "Locating the Sidon is important not only for understanding the geographical features of the Book of Mormon but because locating the Sidon also locates the land of Zarahemla." Resorting to their own abstract maps and searching for a real-world match has led Mesoamericanists (and many other theorists) to disagree even about the river Sidon, although many of them have narrowed it down to one of two possible rivers in Mesoamerica. But even if they could agree on the river Sidon, they have to adjust the text to make it fit their geography as Gardner demonstrates in his long discussion of "Directions in the Book of Mormon" starting on p. 129, and the Sorenson translation (headwaters of Sidon instead of head of Sidon, etc.).

2. Two sections of the Doctrine and Covenants use the names of Book of Mormon sites: Zarahemla and Cumorah, in Sections 125 and 128 respectively. Mesoamericanists claim neither is conclusive, but why is conclusiveness necessary (or even relevant)? Why not give them a try before rejecting them? They are canonized scripture, after all. (It's interesting that D&C 125 was never canonized by the Reorganized/Church of Christ and other restoration groups.)

It turns out that if you put Cumorah in New York and Zarahemla in Iowa, the geographical references in the text fit nicely. The archaeology, anthropology, and geology also match up with the seas, the narrow strip of wilderness, going up and down, the narrow neck, etc..

In my view, this is yet another demonstration of the superiority of revelation over academic guesswork, but that's just me. The scriptures give us the minimum essential information we need--information we could never get on our own--and then we use our own efforts to supply the rest. IOW, instead of relying solely on study the way the Mesoamericanists advocate, I propose anyone can get a better solution through this formula: seek learning even by study and also by faith, a phrase repeated three times in the D&C. (D&C 88:118, 109:7, 109:14)

3. Some believers say they don't care about Book of Mormon geography. Everyone has different interests, of course. Some people have a spiritual witness that supersedes any earthly knowledge. (That approach also explains why there are 1.4 billion Muslims and over 1 billion Catholics in the world.) If one major purpose of the Book of Mormon is "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations," how convincing is it when investigators (and members) are told "no one knows where the Book of Mormon took place?" Or worse, they are told it took place in Mesoamerica, which requires one to believe that Joseph Smith didn't know much about the Book of Mormon and that not only he but two of the Three Witnesses were wrong (or merely speculating, confused, etc.).

When I hear believers say they don't care about the setting of the Book of Mormon, I suspect that in many cases that reflects not so much apathy or a lack of curiosity but an understandable desire to avoid the geography debates. I think this is a bigger issue than many realize. More Church members are inactive than active, and most investigators don't join the Church. A major reason for inactivity and not joining the Church is disbelief in the Book of Mormon, and a major reason for disbelief is the question of historicity (i.e., lack of archaeological and other real-world evidence). Investigators and members are told the Book of Mormon is a true history. When they ask where it took place, the answer that "we have no idea" is not exactly faith promoting.

What makes that answer all the more unsatisfactory is that if we use the D&C in conjunction with the text of the Book of Mormon (and the unambiguous and consistent statements of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer), we have a real-world setting that reaffirms faith.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Church history overview for Mesoamericanists

People who support the Mesoamerican theory keep asking me about various items in Church history, such as passages in the Times and Seasons and the History of the Church. Even thoughtful scholars such as Brant Gardner are confused about Church history. Many of these questions are addressed in The Lost City of Zarahemla book, but not everyone has read that (yet).

The bottom line: Joseph Smith specifically directed his scribes to incorporate Oliver Cowdery's letters into his (Joseph's) personal history. This includes Letter VII, which unequivocally identifies the New York Cumorah as the scene of the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites. Note that this predates the 1842 history by seven years.

I bring this up again because Mesoamericanists demand "documentary" proof of such things as Joseph's use of the word "Cumorah" before others used the term. Their entire theory rests on the Book of Mormon Cumorah not being in New York.

The Cowdery letters were published at least three times during Joseph's lifetime, once with his express permission and another time by his brother Don Carlos in the Times and Seasons (in 1841). The letters were in the very same book that contained the "History of Joseph Smith" published in serial form in 1842, when Joseph was the nominal editor of the Times and Seasons. Joseph or his scribes always maintained possession of this book. Joseph invoked Cumorah in the Sept. 1842 letter that became D&C 128. What more could he have done to demonstrate that he approved of what Cowdery had written?

The Mesoamericanists could argue that Joseph should have published Letter VII while he was editor, but it had already been published in the Times and Seasons just a year earlier. How many republications would it have taken to satisfy today's Mesoamericanists?

Because of their dogmatic insistence on a Mesoamerican setting, the Mesoamericanists reject this history and cling to the anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons that were never referred to again after they were first published. (I think the evidence demonstrates they were an agenda-driven mistake, published by William Smith, who was fired as a result, and written by Benjamin Winchester, edited by W.W. Phelps and William.) Even the Mesoamericanists admit the articles were factually inaccurate, but they continue to insist on tying them to Joseph Smith because without those articles, there is zero foundation for a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.


Lately, I've been referring a lot of people to the Joseph Smith Papers. You can go here for an overall directory. For an overview of his journals, go here. For an overview of his histories, go here. These may appear intimidating at first, but the commentaries are excellent and the papers accurately show what happened, as opposed to the compilations in History of the Church.

Joseph Smith was not a prolific or accomplished writer, which is why he had so many scribes working for him throughout his life (and why the revelations in D&C are so miraculous). Theoretically, he could have translated the Book of Mormon without a scribe. But as is well known, he lacked much formal education and he had time pressures throughout his life. As Wilford Woodruff noted in June 1842 (when Mesoamericanists insist Joseph was writing editorials and actively editing the Times and Seasons), Joseph "hardly gets time to sign his name."

Even though Joseph recognized the need to record history, he had trouble getting it done. (Even in our day, how easy is it to maintain a journal?)

Joseph Smith started his first history in 1832, but it was only 6 pages long and was written partly by him and partly by Frederick G. Williams. The JSP Historical Introduction explains: "It is not clear why JS ended his earliest history before completing his stated intentions. Some of his other documentary endeavors, including the journal he began the same year, are similarly incomplete, perhaps indicating that other activities simply took precedence.1 It is possible, however, that JS deliberately ended the history where he did, viewing it as part of a larger historical record that would include the work of others assigned as record keepers. Even though JS wrote his own history in about summer 1832, he continued to affirm John Whitmer’s role as church historian, demonstrating that JS’s historical venture did not relieve Whitmer of the responsibility to continue the church history. For his part, Whitmer viewed his history as continuing work begun by Oliver Cowdery, whom he replaced as church record keeper. The question of whether JS expected Cowdery’s or Whitmer’s work to fit together with the account begun in his own history cannot be settled for certain; JS’s narrative does, however, cover only earlier history for which JS alone could provide a firsthand account, and it concludes just before Cowdery enters the scene."

Joseph started his first journal later that year. The JSP Historical Introduction explains: "JS’s first journal begins 27 November 1832 and ends 5 December 1834, with entries spread unevenly over this period of just over two years. After titling this journal “Joseph Smith Jrs Book for Record,” JS recorded his ambitious intention “to keep a minute acount of all things that come under my obsevation &c.” However, reality failed to match his expectations. From the outset, the level of detail JS preserved in this record was limited. His pattern of journalizing varied widely. After recording only nine more entries, JS abandoned journal keeping for ten months. Yet his original aspiration to keep a journal occasionally yielded significant information. Sporadic notations followed, with three instances of sustained writing covering a consecutive week or more in the remainder of the journal."

The second history (History, 1834-1836), which you can read here, incorporates the Cowdery letters.

I'm going to enter the citation cartel in one final attempt to persuade the Mesoamericanists on this issue. None other than Jack Welch pointed out how integral Cowdery's letters were to Joseph's own history. (I pointed out previously that Welch omitted any discussion of Cumorah, but keep Letter VII in mind when you read this passage from his chapter, "Oliver Cowdery as Editor, Defender, and Justice of the Peace in Kirtland," pp. 262-4, in Days Never To Be Forgotten: Oliver Cowdery.) I'm omitting footnotes but bolding important points. I can't tell whether Welch realized at the time that Joseph had incorporated these letters into his history, but that endorsement by Joseph is even more significant, IMO, than his helping Cowdery write the letters in the first place.


The history of the Church was a leitmotif in the Messenger and Advocate under Oliver Cowdery's supervision. He made this explicit in the first issue when he wrote that he would be including history of the events in New York and Pennsylvania to which he was privileged. He wrote, "We have thought that a full history of the rise of the church of hte Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time, would be worthy the perusal of the Saints.--If circumstances admit, an article on this subject will appear in each subsequent No. of the Messenger and Advocate, until the time when the church was driven from Jackson Co. Mo. by a lawless banditti."

Soon thereafter, John Whitmer was called to replace Cowdery as the official Church historian. Nevertheless, Cowdery continued to act as a historian. He was the only person other than Joseph Smith with firsthand knowledge of many of the founding events of the Restoration. Thus, it was only natural for him to write columns about the history of the Palmyra period of the Church.

Joseph Smith fully supported Cowdery's efforts to publish his history and even offered to assist him with it. Cowdery said that Joseph Smith's labor on the project and "authentic documents now in our possession" would give him the ability to write a historical narrative that was "pleasing and agreeable" to his readers. Would that we had all the documents Cowdery was working from, as documents from the early years of the Church are so rare.

Oliver Cowdery included several serials in the form of letters originally sent to W.W. Phelps in Missouri describing the early spiritual experiences of Joseph Smith. Taken together, they constitute one of the earliest recorded histories of the Palmyra period. He was not able to cover the swath of history he had hoped (from the First Vision to the expulsion from Jackson County), but he was able to cover from the First Vision to the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood. Cowdery's history is invaluable because it contains details that are unique to it, and it is much more detailed than those accounts left by the Prophet himself. But because Cowdery writes that Joseph assisted him with the writing of this history, the division between Cowdery's and Joseph's versions may be a false construct. Either way, the following is a sampling of some of the unique insights provided in Cowdery's Messenger and Advocate letters.

Friday thoughts from Oliver Cowdery

"Truth certainly can lose nothing by investigation." (M&A, Oct. 1836, p. 394).

"By liberality we do not merely mean giving to the poor, and alleviating the distressed, but a willingness to give each a candid hearing upon matters where a difference of opinion arise." (M&A, Oct. 1836, p. 395).

Thursday, August 13, 2015

David Whitmer

Think about this. To accept the Mesoaemerican setting you have to disbelieve two of the three main witnesses to the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer. The Mesoamericanists make every effort to persuade you these two men were not reliable witnesses when it comes to the issue of Cumorah being in New York.

By contrast, to accept the North American (or Heartland) setting, you fully embrace what these two men said.

I'll put it another way. We have an official report from two Apostles, written to the President of the Church and the Quorum of the Twelve, regarding their interview with one of the Three Witnesses, and the Mesoamericanists want you to believe it is not credible.

Mesoamericanists take offense when I point this out, but I've already given some examples of the treatment of Oliver Cowdery (and I have more to come). In this post I'll give some examples of how they have treated David Whitmer.

Here is the problem for Mesoamericanists.

In 1878 Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, stopped in Richmond and met with David Whitmer who was then 73 years old. The two Apostles sent a formal report of their interview to President John Taylor and the Council of the Twelve. It was published in the Millennial Star (Vol. 40, No. 49, Dec. 9, 1878, p. 769, online here, scroll down to Dec. 9 and open the first file) titled “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith.” 

During the interview, Whitmer said he, Oliver and Joseph were riding in a wagon on the way to Fayette when a man appeared next to the wagon. "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....It was the messenger who had the plates, who had taken them from Joseph just prior to our starting from Harmony." 

The Mesoamericanists don't like this interview because Whitmer recalls a divine messenger himself using the term Cumorah to describe the site in New York. (In this interview, Whitmer did not identify the individual, but in two other accounts, he claimed it was one of the three Nephites, as I explain below.) Whitmer had never heard the word Cumorah and didn't know what it meant, which makes sense because this occurred in 1829 and while he had just witnessed the plates (and much more) a few days previously, the Book of Mormon was yet to be published. Whitmer was with Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith when the messenger mentioned Cumorah. If Whitmer was right, then everything the Mesoamericanists say about New York Cumorah collapses; i.e., the early Saints knew New York was in Cumorah because a divine messenger told them. 

Before I give examples of how Mesoamericanists deal with Whitmer's 1878 interview, here's a comment about witnesses and testimony.

Early in my career I was a prosecutor. Much of the job required an assessment of the credibility of witnesses. In most cases, I evaluated witness statements taken by the police or investigators, comparing different versions of events as related by different people. I interviewed witnesses, examined and cross-examined them in court, etc. In my opinion, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer are exceptionally reliable witnesses.

In court, judges instruct the jury how to evaluate witnesses. Here are some model jury instructions that we could use to evaluate Cowdery and Whitmer. I've bolded some key points.

A witness is a person who has knowledge related to this case. You will have to decide whether you believe each witness and how important each witness's testimony is to the case. You may believe all, part, or none of a witness's testimony.

In deciding whether to believe a witness's testimony, you may consider, among other factors, the following:

(a) How well did the witness see, hear, or otherwise sense what he or she described in court?

(b) How well did the witness remember and describe what happened?

(c) How did the witness look, act, and speak while testifying?

(d) Did the witness have any reason to say something that was not true? Did the witness show any bias or prejudice? Did the witness have a personal relationship with any of the parties involved in the case? Does the witness have a personal stake in how this case is decided?

(e) What was the witness's attitude toward this case or about giving testimony?

Sometimes a witness may say something that is not consistent with something else he or she said. Sometimes different witnesses will give different versions of what happened. People often forget things or make mistakes in what they remember. Also, two people may see the same event but remember it differently. You may consider these differences, but do not decide that testimony is untrue just because it differs from other testimony.

However, if you decide that a witness deliberately testified untruthfully about something important, you may choose not to believe anything that witness said. On the other hand, if you think the witness testified untruthfully about some things but told the truth about others, you may accept the part you think is true and ignore the rest.

Do not make any decision simply because there were more witnesses on one side than on the other. If you believe it is true, the testimony of a single witness is enough to prove a fact.

Now, what do Mesoamericanists say about David Whitmer?

For convenience, I'll post the entire interview at the end of this post. But first, here are some examples of how Mesoamericanists handle this interview. Quotations are in blue

At the outset, I note that the citation cartel rarely provide a citation to the 1878 Whitmer interview that anyone can find. If they refer to the interview at all, they usually quote the excerpt from the interview about Whitmer's experience as one of the Three Witnesses, and then cite Lyndon Cook's 1982 book, David Whitmer Interviews, which is out of print (used price is $47.49 on Amazon). Examples from FAIR MORMON are here and here. Matt Roper cites Cook here. John Welch does the same thing in Opening the Heavens, p. 299, as does Jeff Lindsay here, and there are many other examples. Another oft-cited book, Richard Lloyd Anderson's otherwise excellent and detailed Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, doesn't even mention the 1878 interview. 

Brant Gardner, 2015: Footnote 22, p. 375, Traditions of the Fathers"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: [quoting the Cumorah incident] 
[I give full credit to Gardner for quoting from the interview, even if he buried it in a footnote. But he gives a page reference without a citation, so no one can look it up. Hopefully, this is just a typo. I comment on the phrase "earliest possible connection" below, where FAIR MORMON used the nearly identical phrase, "earliest possible association."] 
This report [the Whitmer interview] 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 the second-hand report from Whitmer as being a definitive statement." 
[As a thoughtful scholar, Gardner recognizes that the Whitmer statement destroys the Mesoamericanist theory that Joseph Smith belatedly adopted the tradition, created by unknown early Saints, that the New York hill was the Book of Mormon Cumorah. Gardner undermines Whitmer as best he can by noting the passage of time, but his second argument--that Whitmer's memory is tainted by the "accepted designation"--inverts the evidence. Whitmer's testimony demonstrates that he heard a divine messenger refer to Cumorah before he, Whitmer, had ever heard the word. He didn't even know what it meant. To the extent there was an "accepted designation" among the early Saints, this testimony indicates Whitmer himself may have been the one to initiate the tradition--because he heard it directly from a divine messenger.]  

Gardner has also commented on this in response to various internet forums, such as here. He wrote, "The name Cumorah became attributed late and appears because it had become the way to refer to the hill. There is no early documentation (1830 and before) from Joseph indicating that he ever used that term. He came to it later. 
[This is purely Gardner's inference; he has no evidence that Joseph "came to it later" because neither Joseph nor anyone else ever said or wrote that he came to it later. In fact, Whitmer's testimony is evidence that Joseph knew Cumorah was in New York at least by summer of 1829, since Joseph was present when Whitmer heard the term. According to Parley P. Pratt, during his 1830 mission to the Delaware Indians, Cowdery told them the Book of Mormon “was hid in the earth by Moroni in a hill called by him, Cumorah, which hill is now in the state of New York, near the village of Palmyra.” Both of these are evidences of "early use" that was oral, not written.] 
When you cite people like Whitmer, you are citing remembrances from 50 years later. That isn’t documentary evidence that the name was used earlier, only that it became associated and was used later. 
[Gardner flat out contradicts Whitmer's testimony, based on nothing but his effort to support his unfounded insistence that Cumorah is in Mesoamerica. Gardner's view is supported by Loren Blake Spendlove and other Mesoamericanists.] 
The documentation you note is all of that type. It is referential and later. It was unquestionably an early identification, but not one that can be traced directly to Joseph or from him back to Moroni."
[Notice that Gardner is deflecting from the point. Whitmer says he learned about Cumorah directly from a heavenly messenger. Gardner rejects that testimony and insists on written documentation from Joseph (or from Joseph back to Moroni), which he knows does not yet exist. Gardner rejects the testimony of one of the Three Witnesses, as do all Mesoamericanists. They have to.]

Michael Ash: Ash wrote a two-page summary demonstrating Whitmer's consistency and credibility, published by FAIR MORMON here. While he refers to several of Whitmer's statements and offers several extended quotations, he never mentions the 1878 interview. In a separate piece, Ash writes that he had previously "pointed out that the hill in New York known as Cumorah was probably not the Cumorah of Book of Mormon times and that the name was likely given to the New York hill by early Latter-day Saints." He wrote another article in which he states that the claim “The Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is the same hill in New York from which Joseph retrieved the plates” is "problematic" and refers to "the name of the New York hill" being "assigned by the early Saints." He writes, "It’s certainly possible that Joseph accepted the early LDS designation of the New York hill as Cumorah, but the fact that he never called it Cumorah suggests that he never received a revelation on the issue." 

[Ash doesn't provide any evidence to support this theory of "accepted designation" and he doesn't mention Whitmer at all. Perhaps Ash has addressed the Whitmer interview somewhere else--links to his Mormonfortress are broken--but at least in these examples, his approach to the 1878 interview seems to be to ignore it completely.] 

[Gardner and Ash are just two of the Mesoamericanists to adopt this idea of "accepted designation." Critics have picked upon this Mesoamericanist theme that Joseph "accepted the early LDS designation." In response to Ash's article (I'm not providing the link, but anyone who wants to find it can google it), one asked, "Who, per Ash, is leading who here? Who constitutes the "LDS" that are coming up with geographic ideas that Joseph then "accepts?" If Pratt or Cowdery had suggested that Cumorah was another name for Bunker Hill in Boston, or Pike's Peak in Clorado, would Joseph have then "accepted" this as Church doctrine?" Obviously that's ridicule, but the point is well made. In my view, the Mesoamericanist theme is inconsistent not only with the historical record but with the basic premise that Joseph, as the Prophet, was the leader.]

FAIRMORMON: Their web page excerpts part of the 1878 interview with approval here, and they acknowledge the meeting with a divine messenger here, but they use this language to question its reliability: 
"A late account from David Whitmer is the earliest possible association of the name with the New York hill, though it is long after the fact:" 
[It's true that the 1878 interview was "late" and "long after the fact," but does that render it unreliable as FAIR implies? The phrase "earliest possible association" has two connotations. It could mean that no earlier association was possible; i.e., that Moroni or another divine messenger could not have told anyone, including Joseph Smith, that Cumorah was in New York prior to the time Whitmer heard it. Of course, that's nonsense; we know Moroni instructed Joseph for four years before turning over the plates, but what that instruction entailed is mostly unknown. The other connotation, that Whitmer's recollection itself is only a "possible" association because it is unreliable, appears to be what FAIR intended, as shown by the dual reference to the timing issue in one sentence.] 
After quoting the passage, FAIR writes: "Even this use of the term does not identify any specific site with Cumorah." 
[In the passage, Whitmer says he offered the messenger a ride, but he said, "No I am going to Cumorah." Whitmer, Cowdery and Joseph were traveling from Harmony to Fayette, so the Hill Cumorah would not be on their way. FAIR makes a good point that the messenger did not identify any specific site; Cumorah was both a hill and a land in the Book of Mormon, but the hill was in the land. Perhaps FAIR wants readers to believe the messenger was referring to southern Mexico on this occasion?]

Matthew Roper, 2004: "Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations," available here. Traditions about the New York Hill Cumorah
The Book of Mormon seems to imply that the hill Cumorah was near the narrow neck of land, but a long Latter-day Saint tradition links the hill Cumorah with the hill in New York. 
[The "but" here implies there is a conflict because the narrow neck of land must be far from New York. In the North American model, the narrow neck is within a hundred miles of the New York Cumorah. The discrepancy Roper alludes to arises from the Sorenson translation of the Book of Mormon. Sorenson thinks there is only one narrow neck, but the text doesn't require that. In fact, the text contradicts the notion that there is only one narrow neck, as I explain in Moroni's America.] 
How did the hill in New York come to be known as the hill Cumorah? How have subsequent Latter-day Saints reconciled the apparent discrepancy between the description in the Book of Mormon and the tradition that both the Jaredites and Nephites met their end in New York? 
[It's only an apparent discrepancy for Mesoamericanists.]

First, some Latter-day Saint scholars have argued that early Saints may have named the hill in New York Cumorah, perhaps assuming that the New York drumlin and the hill mentioned by Mormon were
the same because they were both the repository of plates. 

[I wish there was a citation here. I'd like to know who came up with this argument. Even better, I'd like to know who the "early Saints" were who named the hill based on assumptions.]

They note that Joseph Smith’s own account of the appearance of Moroni fails to name the hill where the plates were found (JS—H 1:51) and that the earliest reference to the New York hill as Cumorah comes not from Joseph Smith but from Oliver Cowdery and W. W. Phelps. 

[Joseph Smith incorporated Cowdery's Letter VII into his personal history before the version JS-H was written. As I explain in my book, Moroni's History, Letter VII was copied into the same book in which JS-H was first recorded.] 

Was this association simply an inference drawn by the early brethren, or was it based on revelation?

[These are not mutually exclusive categories. Cowdery was present at several revelatory events, including the ministering of angels.]

At least one piece of evidence gives the impression that the association did not originate from mere speculation. On several occasions late in his life, David Whitmer reportedly referred to an incident in
which he was traveling in a wagon with Joseph and Oliver on the way to Whitmer’s home in Fayette, New York. 

[Excellent! Roper refers to "several occasions" here. So far as I know, there were three, of which Roper quotes one and offers a citation regarding another--the 1878 interview. Unfortunately, he cites only Cook's difficult-to-find book, but at least Roper offers this quotation:]

The Prophet, & I were riding in a wagon, & an aged man about 5 feet 10 heavey Set & on his back an old fashioned Armey knapsack Straped over his Shoulders & Something Square in it, & he walked alongside of the Wagon & Wiped the Sweat off his face, Smileing very Pleasant David asked him to ride and he replied I am going across to the hill Comorah.

According to Whitmer, Joseph later told David that they had seen one of the Nephite prophets.¹³² 

Footnote 132. Edward Stevenson, interview with David Whitmer, 22–23 December 1877, in
David Whitmer Interviews, ed. Lyndon W. Cook (Orem, UT: Grandin Book, 1991), 13;
Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, interview with David Whitmer, 7–8 September 1878, in

David Whitmer Interviews, 27

The earliest accounts of this incident were recorded over forty-eight years after the event. 

[The implication here being that Whitmer's statement was too remote from the incident to be reliable.] 

If this account is accurate, then the association between the name Cumorah and the hill near Joseph’s home may not have been based merely on personal assumption.¹³³ 

[Fair enough, although Roper remains equivocal here. If this account is accurate, the knowledge about Cumorah could not have been based on personal assumption.]                                                                                           
Footnote 133: Given that the earliest account of this experience was recorded forty-eight years
after the event, it is possible that Whitmer’s reference to “Comorah” was influenced by
Book of Mormon geographical thinking of the time. [This is the same inversion argument that Gardner made, which I addressed above.]

Separately, Matthew Roper rationalizes away the New York setting for Joseph Smith's reference to Cumorah in D&C 128 by writing, "The Book of Mormon contains the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the ‘glad tidings’ of the Restoration, so the Book of Mormon is indeed glad tidings from Cumorah, whether that hill was actually in New York or somewhere else.” 

[When read in context, I think Roper's spin doesn't work. The "glad tidings from Cumorah" is not a generalized restoration of the gospel, but, according to the scripture, Moroni's visit to Joseph--which took place in New York. Here is the verse in context, showing all the events took place in the general region of the land of Cumorah: "20 And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book! The voice of Michael on the banks of the Susquehanna, detecting the devil when he appeared as an angel of light! The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!"]

[Note: it bears repeating that when Joseph sent the letter to the Times and Seasons to be published, that same edition published another excerpt from his history. That history was taken from the same book into which Cowdery's Letter VII had been copied--at Joseph's specific direction. Whether Joseph, his scribes, or his brother William had possession of the book at that time is unknown, but it is implausible that Joseph was referring to anywhere but the New York Cumorah when he wrote what became Section 128.] 

John Sorenson. Sorenson has a lot to say about Cumorah in An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon and in Mormon's Codex, but so far as I can tell, he never mentions David Whitmer on that topic. Few of the books on Book of Mormon geography do, actually. With few exceptions, Mesoamericanists tend to avoid David Whitmer much like they avoid Cowdery's Letter VII. 

But as I've shown here, when they do reluctantly address the statements of these witnesses--two of the Three Witnesses--they discredit their testimony about Cumorah.


The 1878 Interview

In my view, there is nothing in the following testimony that suggests David Whitmer was anything other than lucid, specific, clear, and confident; i.e., there is no reason to doubt this testimony, apart from 1) the content that some people might find inherently difficult to believe (angels, miraculous plates, etc.) and 2) the implications for the Mesoamerican setting. While time disparity between an event and testimony is a factor, people do remember dramatic events better than mundane ones. 

Plus, Whitmer's testimony is corroborated by other people and by multiple interviews in which he related the same events.

I've made some comments about the testimony below.

NEW YORK CITY, September 17, 1878.
President John Taylor and Council of the Twelve:
Dear Brethren. – We desire to make the following hastily written report of our mission to the Eastern States, which we would have made from time to time as we journeyed along, but for the hurry and inconvenience of daily travel.
Agreeable to appointment we met Mr. Whitmer and his friends, at his office, but as the place was too public for private conversation and as it seemed impossible to obtain a private personal interview with David Whitmer, by himself, we invited him and such of his friends as he saw proper to fetch along, to our room in the hotel. Mr. Whitmer apologized for not inviting us to his house, as it was “wash day,” and he and his wife were “worn out” with the extra labor, exposure, &c, &c., consequent upon rebuilding since the cyclone. He accepted our invitation to our room and brought with him James R. B. Vancleave, (a fine looking, intelligent young newspaper man of Chicago, who is paying his addresses to Miss Josephine Schweich grand-daughter of David Whitmer) George Schweich, (grandson), John C. Whitmer, (son of Jacob), W.W. Warner, and another person whose name we did not learn. In the presence of these the following, in substance, as noticed in brother Joseph F. Smith’s journal, is the account of the interview.
Elder O. Pratt to D. Whitmer, Can you tell the date of the bestowal of the Apostleship upon Joseph, by Peter, James and John?
D.W. I do not know, Joseph never told me. I can only tell you what I know, for I will not testify to anything I do not know.

[This is a sign of an excellent witness. He declines to speculate and reaffirms that he will only testify from personal knowledge.]
J.F.S. to D.W. Did Oliver Cowdery die here in Richmond?
D.W. Yes, he lived here, I think, about one year before his death. He died in my father’s house right here, in January, 1849 Phineas Young was here at the time.
Elder O.P. Do you remember what time you saw the plates?
D.W. It was in June, 1829—the latter part of the month, and the eight witnesses saw them, I think, the next day or the day after.  (i.e. one or two days after). [Here he is careful to relate he isn't sure of the exact day, another sign of a good witness.[ Joseph showed them the plates himself, but the angel showed us (the three witnesses) the plates, as I suppose to fulfil the words of the book itself. Martin Harris was not with us at this time, he obtained a view of them afterwards, (the same day).  Joseph, Oliver and myself were together when I saw them. We not only saw the plates of the Book of Mormon but also the brass plates, the plates of the Book of Ether, the plates containing the records of the wickedness and secret combinations of the people of the world down to the time of their being engraved, and many other plates. The fact is it was just as though Joseph, Oliver and I were sitting just here on a log, when we were overshadowed by a light, it was not like the light of the sun nor like that of a fire, but more glorious and beautiful. It extended away round us, I cannot tell how far, but in the midst of this light about as far off as he sits (pointing to John C. Whitmer sitting a few feet from him), [excellent specificity] there appeared as it were, a table with many records or plates upon it, besides the plates of the Book of Mormon, also the Sword of Laban, the directors—i.e., the ball which Lehi had, and the Interpreters. I saw them just as plain as I see this bed (striking the bed beside him with his hand), [more specificity and physicality] and I heard the voice of the Lord, as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life, declaring that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and power of God.”
Elder O.P.—Did you see the Angel at this time?
D.W.—Yes; he stood before us, our testimony as recorded in the Book of Mormon is strictly and absolutely true, just as it is there written. Before I knew Joseph, I had heard about him and the plates from persons who declared they knew he had them, and swore they would get them from him. Where Oliver Cowdery went to Pennsylvania, he promised to write me what he should learn about these matters, which he did. He wrote me that Joseph had told him his secret thoughts, and all he had meditated about going to see him, which no man on earth knew, as he supposed, but himself, and so he stopped to write for Joseph.
Soon after this, Joseph sent for me (D.W.) to come to Harmony to get him and Oliver and bring them to my father’s house. I did not know what to do, I was pressed with my work. I had some 20 acres to plow, so I concluded I would finish plowing and then go, I got up one morning to go to work as usual, and on going to the field, found between 5 and 7 acres of my ground had been plowed during the night.
I don’t know who did it; but it was done just as I would have done it myself, and the plow was left standing in the furrow. [More detail. He's relating it as he saw it that day, just as he did with the plates and the angel.]
This enabled me to start sooner. When I arrived at Harmony, Joseph and Oliver were coming toward me, and met me some distance from the house, Oliver told me that Joseph had informed him when I started from home, where I had stopped the first night, how I read the sign at the tavern, where I stopped the next night, etc., and that I would be there that day before dinner, and this was why they had come out to meet me; all of which was exactly as Joseph had told Oliver, at which I was greatly astonished. 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. [This is a key. He remembers specifically hearing the word for the first time and not knowing what it meant. This makes sense because the Book of Mormon had not been published at this point, and he had not been helping with the translation. The entire account is replete with physical details. When compared with the Mesoamericanist theory that unknown Saints at an unknown time made the connection on their own, Whitmer's testimony is especially credible.]  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.
J.F.S.—Did you notice his appearance?
D.W.—I should think I did, he was, I should think, about 5 feet 8 or 9 inches tall and heavy set, about such a man as James Vancleave there, but heavier, his face was as large, he was dressed in a suit of brown woolen clothes, his hair and beard were white like Brother Pratt’s, but his beard was not so heavy. [More excellent detail.] I also remember that he had on his back a sort of knapsack with something in, shaped like a book. It was the messenger who had the plates, who had taken them from Joseph just prior to our starting from Harmony. Soon after our arrival home, I saw something which led me to the belief that the plates were placed or concealed in my father’s barn I frankly asked Joseph if my supposition was right, and he told me it was. Sometime after this, my mother was going to milk the cows, when she was met out near the yard by the same old man (judging by her description of him) who said to her, “You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tried because of the increase of your toil, it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened!”  Thereupon he showed her the plates. My father and mother had a large family of their own, the addition to it therefore of Joseph, his wife Emma and Oliver very greatly increased the toil and anxiety of my mother. And although she had never complained she had sometimes felt that her labor was too much, or at least she was perhaps beginning to feel so. This circumstance, however, completely removed all such feelings, and nerved her up for her increased responsibilities.
Elder O.P.—Have you any idea when the other records will be brought forth?
D.W. – When we see things in the spirit and by the power of God they seem to be right here—the present signs of the times indicate the near approach of the coming forth of the other plates, but when it will be I cannot tell. The three Nephites are at work among the lost tribes and elsewhere. John the Revelator is at work, and I believe the time will come suddenly, before we are prepared for it.
Elder O.P. – Have you in your possession the original Mss. of the Book of Mormon?
D.W.—I have, they are in O. Cowdery’s hand writing. He placed them in my care at his death, and charged me to preserve them as long as I lived; they are safe and well preserved.
J.F.S.—What will be done with them at your death?
D.W.—I will leave them to my nephew, David Whitmer, son of my brother Jacob, and my name sake.
O.P. – Would you not part with them to a purchaser?
D.W.—No. Oliver charged me to keep them, and Joseph said my father’s house should keep the records. I consider these things sacred, and would not part with nor barter them for money.
J.F.S.—We would not offer you money in the light of bartering for the Mss., but we would like to see them preserved in some manner where they would be safe from casualties and from the caprices of men, in some institution that will not die as man does.
D.W.—That is all right. While camping around here in a tent, all my effects exposed to the weather, everything in the trunk where the Mss. were kept became mouldy, etc., but they were preserved, not even being discolored, (we supposed his camping in a tent, etc., had reference to his circumstances after the cyclone in June last, except only, as he and others affirm, the room in which the Mss. were kept. That was the only part of the house which was not demolished, and even the ceiling of that room was but little impaired. “Do you think,” said Philander Page, a son of Hiram Page, one of the eight witnesses, “that the Almighty cannot take care of his own?”
Next day (Sunday, Sept. 8) Mr. Whitmer invited us to his house where, in the presence of David Whitmer, Esq., (son of Jacob) Philander Page, J.R.B. Vancleave, David J. Whitmer, (son of David the witness) George Schweich, (grandson of David) Colonel Childs and others David Whitmer brought out the Mss. of the Book of Mormon. We examined them closely and those who knew the handwriting pronounced the whole of them, excepting comparatively a few pages, to be in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. It was thought that these few pages were in the handwritings of Emma Smith and John and Christian Whitmer.
We found that the names of the eleven witnesses were, however, subscribed in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. When the question was asked Mr. Whitmer if he and the other witnesses did or did not sign the testimonies themselves, Mr. W. replied, “each signed his own name.” “Then where are the original signatures?” D.W.—I don’t know, I suppose Oliver copied them, but this I know is an exact copy.  Some one suggested that he being the last one left of the 11 witnesses, he ought to certify to this copy.  Lawyer D. Whitmer (Jacobs son) suggested that he had better reflect about it first and be very cautious.
J.F.S. suggested that perhaps there were two copies of the manuscripts, but Mr. Whitmer replied that according to the best of his knowledge there never was but the one copy. Herein of course he is evidently uninformed. [It seems to me that Whitmer was correct here. There was one original and one copy (the printer's copy). The copy Whitmer had has recently been published. The original, which Cowdery wrote from the Prophet's dictation, was mostly destroyed by water damage when it was in a time capsule placed in a cornerstone in Nauvoo.]
Elder O. Pratt again felt closely after the the subject of procuring the Mss., but we found that nothing would move him on this point. The whole Whitmer family are deeply impressed with the sacredness of this relic. And so thoroughly imbued are they with the idea and faith that it is under the immediate protection of the Almighty, that in their estimation not only are the Mss. themselves safe from all possible contingencies, but that they are a source of protection to the place or house in which they may be kept, and, it may be to those who have possession of them. Another reason why they cling to this relic is that David Whitmer has reorganized the “Church of Christ” with six Elders and two priests, after the pattern of the 1st organization, the two priests as we suppose representing Joseph and Oliver as holding the Aaronic priesthood from the hand of John the Baptist. David and John Whitmer were two of these six elders, four others, viz. John C. Whitmer, W.W. Warner, Philander Page, and John Short, having been ordained by David and John. And as the recent death of John has diminished the number to five Elders it would be interesting to know if, according to their strict construction the vacancy can be filled.
Their creed is to preach nothing but the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Mr. Whitmer and others called on us again in the evening at the hotel, and conversed during the evening, reiterating many things before stated. Upon inquiry, Mr. Whitmer informed us that Oliver Cowdery had told him all about his visiting the Church at Council Bluffs, and of his having been rebaptized. He said, “Oliver died the happiest man I ever saw, after shaking hands with the family and kissing his wife and daughter, he said “Now I lay me down for the last time, I am going to my Savior,” and died immediately with a smile on his face.
In response to some questions, Mr. Whitmer said: “Many things have been revealed which were designed only for the Church, and which the world cannot comprehend, but the Book of Mormon and those testimonies therein given were to go to all the world.”
We replied, “Yes, and we have sent that Book to the Danes, the Swedes, the Spanish, the Italians, the French, the Germans, the Welch, and to the Islands of the Sea, the book even having been translated into Hindoostanee. So you see the Church has not been idle.” To this he made no reply. In parting with him, he said, “This may be the last time I shall ever see you in the flesh, so farewell.”
This ended our interview with the last remaining witness who saw the plates of the Book of Mormon, yet not the last witness of its truth, for now such witnesses are multiplied into tens of thousands.   
[NOTE: I copied this version from here because the text is easier to read than in the BYU version.]

Additional corroborating evidence:

1. The first source for the "David Whitmer learning about Cumorah" story came from Matt Roper's FARMS article, "Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations" (FARMS Review, 2004, pp. 225-76). cited above. It is from an interview between David Whitmer and Edward Stevenson in December 1877.

"The Prophet, & I were riding in a wagon, & an aged man about 5 feet 10 heavey Set & on his back an old fashioned Armey knapsack Straped over his Shoulders & Something Square in it, & he walked alongside of the Wagon and Wiped the Sweat off his face, Smileing very Pleasant David asked him to ride and he replied I am going across to the hill Cumorah." (spelling and punctuation as in original)

2. The next year Whitmer was interviewed by Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, as mentioned above.

3. Edward Stevenson interviewed Whitmer again in 1886, which was discussed in the Instructor 22 (1887): 55:

"While on the return journey from Palmyra, David noticed a somewhat aged-looking man who approached them on the road. He had a very pleasant face, about which, however, there seemed something peculiar, and he carried a knapsack on his back fastened with straps which crossed his breast. David asked him to take a ride, but he declined, saying: 'I am going over to Cumorah,' and then disappeared very suddenly, though there was no chance for him to secrete himself in the open country through which the party was then passing. All felt very strange concerning this personage and the Prophet was besought to inquire of the Lord concerning him. Shortly afterwards, David relates, the Prophet looked very white but with a heavenly appearance and said their visitor was one of the three Nephites to whom the Savior gave the promise of life on earth until He should come in power. After arriving home, David again saw this personage, and mother Whitmer, who was very kind to Joseph Smith, is said to have seen not only this Nephite, but to have also been shown by him the sealed and unsealed portions of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated."

4. Joseph F. Smith wrote a journal entry for April 25, 1918, apparently based on his interview with Whitmer in 1878:

"When they started for New York, Joseph and Emma were on the hind seat (of the wagon) and Oliver and David on the front seat. In the middle of the prairie, all of the sudden, there appeared a man walking along the road, and David said he raised his hat and rubbed his brow as if he were a little warm, and said good morning to them and they said good morning. Oliver and David looked at each other and began to marvel and wonder: Where did he come from, and what does this mean? And Joseph said, 'Ask him to ride.' So David, who was teamster, asked him if he would get in and ride with them. He said, 'No, I'm just going over to Cumorah.' David said, 'Cumorah? Cumorah? What does that mean?' He had never heard of Cumorah, and he said, 'I thought I knew this country all around here, but I never heard of Cumorah,' and he inquired about it. While he was looking around and trying to ascertain what the mystery was, the man was gone, and when he looked back he did not see him anymore. Then he demanded, 'What does it mean?' Joseph informed him that the man was Moroni, and that the bundle on his back contained plates which Joseph had delivered to him before they departed from Harmony, Susquehanna County, and that he was taking them for safety, and would return them when he (Joseph) reached father Whitmer's home. There was a long talk about this."

5. Andrew Jenson's LDS Biographical Encyclopedia (Vol. 1, p. 283) includes this bio of David Whitmer's mother, Mary Musselman Whitmer ("the only woman who saw the plates of the Book of Mormon"):

"Her son, David Whitmer, before his death, testified on several occasions that his mother had seen the plates, and when Elders Edward Stevenson and Andrew Jenson visited Richmond, Missouri , in 1888, John C. Whitmer, a grandson of the lady in question, testified in the following language: ?I have heard my grandmother (Mary Musselman Whitmer) say on several occasions that she was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by a holy angel, whom she always called Brother Nephi. (She undoubtedly refers to Moroni, the angel who had the plates in charge). It was at that time, she said, when the translation was going on at the house of the elder Peter Whitmer, her husband, Joseph Smith with his wife and Oliver Cowdery, whom David Whitmer a short time previous had brought up from Harmony, Pennsylvania, were all boarding with the Whitmers, and my grandmother in having so many extra persons to care for, besides her own large household, was often overloaded with work to such extent that she felt it to be quite a burden. One evening, when (after having done her usual day's work in the house) she went to the barn to milk the cows, she met a stranger carrying something on his back that looked like a knapsack. At first she was a little afraid of him, but when he spoke to her in a kind, friendly tone and began to explain to her the nature of the work which was going on in her house, she was filled with inexpressible joy and satisfaction. He then untied the knapsack and showed her a bundle of plates, which in size and appearance corresponded with the description subsequently given the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. This strange person turned the leaves of the book of plates over, leaf after leaf, and also showed her the engravings upon them; after which he told her to be patient and faithful in bearing her burden a little longer, promising that if she would do so, she should be blessed; and her reward would be sure, if she proved faithful until the end. The personage then suddenly vanished with the plates, and where he went she could not tell. From that moment my grandmother was enabled to perform her household duties with comparative ease, and she felt no more inclination to murmur because her lot was hard.'"

This list is adapted from http://www.mormondiscussions.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=28417