Cumorah – Yes

Book of Mormon geography enthusiasts have ignored what David said about the angel heading for “Cumorah” there in Palmyra, to justify their models in S. America, Mesoamerica, Baja, Malay, Mexico, Africa, etc.

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.

 J. F. S. Did you notice his appearance?

 D. 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. I also remember that he had on his back a sort of knapsack with something in it, 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 consealed in my father’s barn.

I frankly asked Joseph if my supposition was right, he told me it was.

Some time 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 tired because of the increase in your toil; it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened.”

Thereupon he showed her the plates. (Interview with David Whitmer by Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, September 1878 Source: “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” Millennial Star 40, 9 Dec 1878, 771-7 )

 In an interview, David referrred to the hill where the plates were retrieved from as the “hill cumorah.”

One night Joseph Smith awoke from deep sleep to find his humble room ablaze with glorious effulgence. In the midst of this supernatural radiance stood an angelic figure robed in white, who, in seraphic tones, said to him that in a stone casket buried near the summit of the hill Cumorah were the priceless and sacred records of the Nephites, one of the lost tribes. (Chicago Times, August 7, 1875, 1)

David said that the plates were returned to a different hill in the same area:

I – Where are the plates now?

He – In a cave, where the angel has hidden them up till the time arrives when the plates, which are sealed, shall be translated. God will yet raise up a mighty one, who shall do his work till it is finished and Jesus comes again.

I – Where is that cave?

He – In the State of New York.

I – In the Hill of Cumorah?

HeNo, but not far from that place. (P. Willhelm Poulson letter of August 13, 1878 to Editor of Deseret Evening News, August 16, 1878) 

This is problematic for Book of Mormon geography enthusiasts who believe in a “two Cumorah” theory, with one in Mesoamerica (or wherever their distant model originates) and the other in Palmyra, NY. According to David, both depositories are in Palmyra, the place referred to by the angel as “Cumorah. (Cumorah’s Cave)

Any geographical models with a secondary Cumorah outside of Western New York are in error.

 Here is a report of David going into a cave in the Hill Cumorah:

14 Sun. returned in the morning with Br. Halls. Attended meeting. A discourse from W. W. Phelps. He related a story told to him by Hyrum Smith which was as follows; Joseph, Hyrum, Cowdery and Whitmer went to the hill Cumorah. As they were walking up the hill, a door opened and they walked into a room about 16 ft. square. In that room was an angel and a trunk. On that trunk lay a book of Mormon and gold plates, Laban’s sword, Aaron’s breast-plate. (William Horn Dame, personal diary, Church Archives)

Some have disputed the existence of caves in Palmyra. Caves have been identified:

While on a recent visit to the States on business, brother Brigham Young, Jun. and the Editor of the Juvenile Instructor [who was Elder George Q. Cannon], arranged to make a visit to the hill Cumorah—the hill where Mormon and Moroni secreted the records, by the command of the Lord, which were revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and from which he translated the Book of Mormon. We had proceeded a little over a mile on the road when the driver of the carriage pointed out a hill to us on our left, which he said was ‘Mormon Hill.’ We supposed that by this he meant Cumorah. Though in its general appearance it resembled the descriptions we had had of Cumorah, yet we were somewhat disappointed in its size, as it was not so high a hill as many others which we saw in the neighborhood. In fact, as we road along, we saw several hills which we thought more like what we imagined Cumorah to be than the one pointed out to us. We road on for probably two miles further, conversing but very little and each absorbed in his own reflections, when we saw, immediately in front of us, a hill that rose suddenly, almost precipitously, from the plain. Brother Brigham, Jun., remarked when he saw it: ‘There is a hill which agrees in appearance with my idea of Cumorah.’ In this opinion the Editor coincided. The driver, hearing our remarks, turned to us and said: ‘Yes, this is Gold Bible Hill.’ We asked him what he meant by calling the other, which he pointed out to us, Mormon Hill.’ He replied that there was a cave in that hill which the ‘Mormons’ had dug and some of them had lived in it, so the people said; and therefore, it was known by that name.” (Elder George Q. Cannon, ed. The Juvenile Instructor, vol. 8, July 5, 1873, p. 108)


Vol. ?                              Rochester, N. Y., April 25, 1974.                                No. ?

Palmyra Cave Mormon ‘Holy Ground?’


PALMYRA — A cave that may have been used by Mormon prophet Joseph Smith about 150 years ago is being uncovered by a local farmer. Smith, who was born in Palmyra founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). Children discovered the cave about 11 years ago, but eventually mud and dirt blocked the entrance. Bulldozers have cleared the cave opening after the farmer decided last week to investigate the 20-foot long cave,

“I really think I’ve got something here,” said Andrew H. Kommer, the farmer on whose land the cave is located.

The cave is about 7 feet high and 8 feet wide and is carved into a rock-hard clay hillside. It is about a quarter mile off Miner Road south of Palmyra. Yesterday Kommer and two other men prepared to protect the cave from the public by installing 1 1/2 inch iron bars and locked doors. Kommer, 60, who is not a Mormon, said that “ever since my childhood I have heard rumors about a cave.” Kommer purchased his Palmyra farm in 1952. Shortly afterward he hired a bulldozer operator to uproot bushes on the hill, he said.

“This was done in the fall,” he said. “During the following spring the rains washed the soil down the hill and a small cavity developed on the east side of the hill. I became aware of the opening by some children in the neighborhood who had been scouting around on the slope of the hill.”

The children walked through the hole and into the cave, They reported the discovery to their parents.

“It happened about 11 years ago,” said Donald Nichols, father of one of the children involved. Nichols yesterday helped Kommer and Gerald Henderson at Palmyra fasten bars and doors to the cave. Over the past decade the hole leading to the cave filled with dirt.

“I have always hoped to learn what might exist underground at that particular spot,” said Kommer yesterday. He said a bulldozer was hired to do work on his farm last week and that he decided to have the dozer dig near the cave site.

The cave was built so that water would drain away from it. The walls and ceiling of the cave appear to have been dug or picked by hand. According to Kommer, a few years ago a Mormon visiting Palmyra tried to reach the cave but was stymied by the concrete-like hillside.

An article in the New York Herald on June 25, 1893, told of the cave being located on the hill. A landslide had made the cave inaccessible to the public. The Mormon prophet had [evidently] constructed doors to the cave, which have since rotted, the article said. In digging this week some rotten door planks were uncovered.

The unearthing of the cave this week may clear up a mystery about the exact location of the cave. According to a book written in the 1920s by historian Thomas Cook, “no trace of the old Joe Smith cave can be found.”


Note 1: A photograph accompanying the above article bears this caption: “Andrew Kommer, right, assisted by Don Nichols, left, and Gerald Henderson, enclose entrance to cave that may have been used by Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Note 2: Palmyra editor Abner Cole was perhaps the first person to publicize Joseph Smith’s excavation exploits south of Palmyra. According to Dan Vogel, Cole was particularly interested in Smith’s activities around what later came to be called “Miner’s Hill,” because he had owned that piece of property a few years before the proto-Mormons dug their tunnel into the hillside: “The Locations of Joseph Smith’s Early Treasure Quests,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27 (Fall 1994) pp. 204-207. In his Reflector for Jan. 18, 1831, Cole contrasts the prophetic careers of Smith and “the impostor of Mecca,” noting that “Mahomet… retired to a cave in mount Hara, where he… [received] passages which he pretended had been revealed to him by the ministering angel.” In his issue of Feb. 14, 1831 Mr. Cole says a little about the Smith family’s money-digging and mentions the money-diggers’ claims that “great treasures” of the “Ancient inhabitants” of the region “remained secure” from theft “in large and spacious chambers” in the earth, in and around Ontario county, New York. In his 1830 “Book of Pukei” satires, Cole makes further mention of the local money-diggers’ preoccupation with ” treasures, hidden in the bowels of the earth,” but he does not specifically refer to their activities at Miner’s Hill.

Note 3: The next writer to offer significant relevant comments on the Ontario county digging was reporter James G. Bennett of the New York City  Morning Courier and Enquirer. In that paper’s issue for Aug. 31, 1831 Bennett informed his readers, that “A few years ago the Smith’s… caught an idea that money was hid in several of the hills which give variety to the country between the Canandaigua Lake and Palmyra… the Smith’s and their associates commenced digging, in the numerous hills… in the town of Manchester… On the sides & in the slopes of several of these hills, these excavations are still to be seen.” To this report, Bennett added the strange intelligence, that a “famous Ohio man made his appearance” in the midst of the New York money-diggers — a “Henry Rangdon or Ringdon” — and that when “this person” (the Rev. Sidney Rigdon) “appeared among them, a splendid excavation was begun in a long narrow hill, between Manchester and Palmyra… Ringdon partly uniting with them in their operations.” How much truth may reside in this story, it is difficult to say; but from 1831 forward there were certain people who declared that Sidney Rigdon was more or less secretly connected with the mysterious hillside excavations made south of the Smith home.

Note 4: Eber D. Howe’s 1834 book, Mormonism Unvailed, was written and published at a considerable distance away from the Ontario digs, but Howe’s associate, D. P. Hurlbut, in 1833, managed to collect a few scraps of useful information in the Palmyra area. In a statement signed by 51 citizens of Palmyra, those local folks certified that the Smiths “spent much of their time in digging for money which they pretended was hid in the earth; and to this day, large excavations may be seen in the earth, not far from their residence, where they used to spend their time in digging for hidden treasures.”William Stafford, a Manchester resident interviewed by Hurlbut, testified that the Smiths “would say, also, that nearly all the hills in this part of New York, were thrown up by human hands, and in them were large caves” and that in these hidden hill chambers were “large gold bars and silver plates.” In examining the 1833 statements collected by Hurlbut, the modern reader gains the impression that the Mormon Smith family asserted that practically every pile of glacial gravel in their neighborhood was an ancient Nephite mound, full of secret chambers, accessible only by tunneling in from the outside.

Note 5: Although local residents in the Manchester area knew, from an early day, that Joseph Smith, Jr. and his diggers had tunneled into Miner’s Hill, further publication of information on the cave construction appears to have been lacking until Pomeroy Tucker’s Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism came out in 1867. Tucker wrote about Joseph Smith’s money digging and occasional concealment in dark chambers, as early as May 26, 1858, but he did not provide any specific details regarding the cave in Miner’s Hill until his 1867 book was published. On pp. 48-49 of that work, Tucker reports: “The work of [Book of Mormon] translation this time [1829] had been done in the recess of a dark artificial cave, which Smith had caused to be dug in the east side of the forest-hill near his residence, now owned by Mr. Amos Miner… [others said he] only went into the cave to pay his spiritual devotions and seek the continued favor of Divine Wisdom. His stays in the cave varied from fifteen minutes to an hour or over — the entrance meanwhile being guarded by one or more of his disciples… This excavation was at the time said to be one hundred and sixty feet in extent… [with] a substantial door of two-inch plank, secured by a corresponding lock. From the lapse of time and natural causes the cave has been closed for years, very little mark of its former existence remaining to be seen. Like James G. Bennett before him, Tucker introduced the secretive presence of Sidney Rigdon into his telling of the Mormon story. Although Tucker’s account allows for the possibility that Rigdon occasionally “hid up” his reverend self in the Miner’s Hill cave, the writer does not specifically make that claim — nor does he offer much in the way of evidence demonstrating Rigdon’s secret presence among the Smiths in New York or Pennsylvania.

Note 6: Most subsequent accounts of Smith’s Miner’s Hill tunnel appear to have been directly or indirectly influenced by Tucker’s 1867 account. One narrative not dependent upon Tucker was an 1861 British novel, that put Smith and Rigdon together, operating both money and scriptural counterfeiting schemes, by torch-light, inside just such a cave — the novel even supplies a fanciful illustration of the nefarious business. A more substantive account was offered as supplementary evidence by Rev. Clark Braden in the 1884 Braden-Kelley Debate, conducted in Kirtland, Ohio. Rev. Braden quotes Samantha Stafford Payne thusly: “She was a schoolmate of Smith. His reputation was bad… After Smith came back from Pennsylvania, his followers dug a cave in a hillside not far from here. They conducted the work of getting up Mormonism in it. I was in it once. It can be seen to-day. The present owner of the farm, Mr. Miner, dug out the cave, which had fallen in. The cave had a large, heavy plate door and a padlock on it. The neighbors broke it open one night, and found in it a barrel of flour, some mutton, some sheep pelts, and two sides of leather…” Braden probably quoted Samantha’s testimony from a now lost article published in the Michigan Cadillac Weekly News of April 6, 1880. A Samantha Payne affidavit, dated June 29, 1881, was published in the Ontario County Times of July 27, 1881, but it contains no mention of Miner’s Hill.

Note 7: The publication of statements like those made by Samantha Payne stirred some Mormon elders to conduct interviews among the Smith’s old neighbors and publish the more or less favorable results in their own periodicals. The RLDS Saints’ Herald of June 1, 1881 contains a number of these generally positive reminiscences regarding the Mormon Smith family. However, since the interview texts were censored prior to publication, the unpublished interviewers’ notes (now in the Dan Vogel document series) should be consulted to obtain more accurate and complete readings. Lorenzo Saunders saw the Smiths digging in Miner’s Hill prior to the close of 1825. Saunders also told one interviewer that Smith informed him that it was “in a cave, where I began the first translation of the inspired pages.” Ezra Pierce recalled that Abel Chase had visited “the cave with the Smiths where the sheep bones were found.” He added, “people used to think they were making counterfeit money” in the tunnel — which, by 1881, was “all caved in.” Major John H. Gilbert said that Smith and his helper(s) “translated” the Book of Mormon “in a cave;” but he probably took this idea from Tucker’s book. Nevertheless, Elder George Reynolds reprinted Gilbert’s allegation in his “Joseph Smith’s Youthful Life,” published in the Juvenile Instructor for Oct. 1, 1882, and Elder Rudolph Etzenhouser repeated the same in his 1894 book, From Palmyra to Independence. See also George Q. Cannon’s acknowledgement of the mysterious cave in his July 5, 1873 Juvenile Instructor piece, “Visit to the Land and Hill of Cumorah.”

Note 8: Around the turn of the century the old neighbors’ recollections of events at Miner’s Hill began to take on a surrealistic tone. Following Tucker’s 1867 lead, the survivors and their interviewers seemed convinced that Joseph Smith did his Book of Mormon translation in a hidden chamber, such as the one he dug in Miner’s Hill. Palmyra historian Thomas Cook says, in his Palmyra and Vicinity, that Smith encountered his ministering angel in “a cave. There he would meet him and reveal to him the hieroglyphics on the golden plates.” Walter H. McIntosh, in his History of Wayne Co., N. Y., states that the final stage of the Book of Mormon translation “was effected… within a cave dug in the east side of the forest hill.” Accounts by Daniel Hendrix were published in 1899 and 1905, in which he asserted that “The copy for the Book of Mormon was prepared in a cave that Smith and others dug… on Gold Hill… Some one of the converts was constantly about the mouth of the cave, and no one but Smith and Alvin [sic, Oliver?] Cowdry… were allowed to go through the mouth of the cave. Rigdon had some hopes of converting me, and I was permitted to go near the door, but not so much as to peep inside. Smith… read aloud, and Cowdry, who was seated on the other side of a screen or partition in the cave, wrote down the words as pronounced by Joe.”

Note 9: Perhaps the most whimsical reconstruction of events inside Miner’s Hill was the account penned by the Rev. Dr. William H. Whitsitt, in his 1891 manuscript, “Sidney Rigdon, The Real Founder of Mormonism.” On pp. 394-396 Whitsitt says: “Lucy Smith declares that… ‘my husband, Samuel and Hyrum retired to a place where the family were in the habit of offering up their secret devotions to God’… likely the cave that is mentioned by Pomeroy Tucker, who says that Smith had caused a dark artificial cave to be dug in the east side of the forest hill near his residence, now owned by Mr. Amos Miner. Mr. Tucker adds that Joseph was accustomed to spend some of his time in this cave, of which the entrance was meanwhile guarded by one or more of his disciples… [here] it would be easy for Sidney [Rigdon] to secrete himself … [and] When the eight fresh witnesses were duly assembled in this favorable situation, Mr. Rigdon would experience no special embarrassment in playing the role of an angel… It may be supposed that Rigdon had the entire [Spalding] manuscript at hand in a… rear portion of the cave… [where] the witnesses were invited to inspect… the matter… Lucy Smith reports… ‘the angel again made his appearance to Joseph, at which time Joseph delivered up the plates into the angel’s hands’… [this] signifies that Sidney came forward from the recesses of the cavern to which he had recently retired took…. the manuscript, and set forth on his journey back to his home in Mentor Ohio.” On pp. 515-516 Whitsitt adds the following to his reconstruction: “Lucy Smith declares… the family were ejected… during the Spring of 1829, and went to reside with their son Hyrum Smith… in Manchester…Hither was brought… the recently completed manuscript of the Book of Mormon; here was prepared the curious artificial cave… for the purpose of guarding that treasure from harm… hence were carried from day to day that portion of the copy… [which was] safe to intrust to the printers… The homestead is now said to be owned by Mr. Amos Miner…” Whitsitt is obviously wrong in many particulars of time and space — but he still manages to offer his readers a fascinating tale of Sidney Rigdon’s intrigues in the artificial cave.