During the 1830 census, it was established that 105,060 Indians were living on tribal lands, east of the Mississippi River. Keokuk, Chief of the Sauk Tribe was one of those Indians. In that same year, Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act which authorized the President of the United States to make treaties with the Indians to exchange lands east of the Mississippi River for lands west of that river. Because of this treaty, 100,000 Native American’s were relocated to the west.
Soon after the signing of the 1830 Removal Law, Keokuk understood that the Indians had no chance of winning any battle against the white settlers. Knowing this, he determined that it would be better for his people to negotiate with the Federal Government rather than go to war.
Chief Keokuk was a master at negotiations and knew he could get the best terms in exchange for his people’s eastern lands. He negotiated annual payments in gold and silver for the lands which made him popular with not only his own people but with the white settlers who didn’t have to fight with the Indians.
Chief Keokuk moved his tribes several times and always acted as an ardent friend of the Americans, visiting Washington, Philadelphia and Boston. He was a great orator and was very conscious of his public image. Some of the leading artists of that day painted Keokuk as a model of a good Indian Chief. One such painting was a mural in the LDS Mesa Temple wall where the stairs lead to the second floor. The story behind the mural is an interesting one:
In August 1841 Keokuk and 100 other chiefs camped for several days across the river from Nauvoo. A few years before, Keokuk had briefly met Joseph Smith when he received a copy of the Book of Mormon. During the first week of August representatives from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints crossed over to Iowa to meet Keokuk. They made detailed arrangements for a social event for Keokuk and more than 100 fellow Chiefs together with their wives, to meet Joseph Smith and his people in Nauvoo.
The Indians and the members of the Latter day Saints agreed on the details for an all-day event that was to be a summer festival of diplomacy including food, music, and dance. The Indians would bring their drums and the Church members their brass band. The arrangements were clear and agreeable to both sides. On the appointed morning of Thursday, August 12th, the Ferryman took two flatboats and one ferry over the river from Nauvoo to Montrose to get the Indian guests whose total number was greater than 200. Joseph had pre-arranged for the city's brass band and a military unit to greet the arrival of this large group of Indians. These guests were at the time some of the most significant leaders of Native Americans in the country. Keokuk had a great sense of drama and after he and his people came to the Nauvoo landing they remained on the ferry and flatboats.
Keokuk asked where was the leader of the Mormon Church. (as was called back in that day) The welcoming committee said that Joseph Smith was waiting for them up the road in the grove. Keokuk said that he would not get off the ferry except that Joseph Smith was there to greet him in person. A messenger immediately went to get the Prophet and after a short time, Joseph and Hyrum came down to the landing to welcome Keokuk and his fellow Chiefs and their wives to Nauvoo.
For the rest of that day, there was a summer celebration in the grove. Church members offered the visitors their best "dainties" and fresh melons along with their brass band and singing. The Indians entertained the Church members with their drums and dancing. This was a very significant event for both the LDS Church members and the Indians. For Joseph Smith, this was one of the most important social events of his life. He made a speech to as many as 500 people when he announced that God had revealed to him that the Book of Mormon was an account of the fathers of Keokuk and his fellow Indian chiefs. Joseph Smith declared this as a direct revelation from God and thereby confirmed the truth of the Book of Mormon that it was "written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel." The giving of his testimony to those Native Americans was very important for Joseph Smith. Keokuk was the living embodiment of the people of the Book of Mormon.
An account of the day's activities was placed in the documentary history of the Church. The children of some of those members who were there would be so influenced by the telling of Keokuk's visit to Nauvoo that when the Mesa Temple was built in the 1920s, an artist created the mural that was used on the wall with the stairs to depict the day of Thursday, August 12th, 1841, when Chief Keokuk and his fellow Chiefs came to visit Joseph Smith.
As discussed in my last post, our August event near Nauvoo, Illinois will include finding the crossing of Alma and his army as recorded in Alma chapter 2.
In order for the search of this crossing to be successful, there are certain elements that must be studied to understand where this spot exists. The first clue is the Robert E. Lee survey.
Traveling up and down the Mississippi River was pretty common by the early 1800’s but crossing it was a bit dangerous. There is a place along this river called the Des Moines Rapids that lies between Nauvoo, Illinois and Keokuk, Iowa. The Des Moines Rapids limited steamboat passage because of the “dangerous, sharp, rocky bottom” as noted by Swedish novelist, Fredrika Bremer, who in 1850, was taking a trip down the Mississippi from St. Paul. http://www.mississippivalleypublishing.com/daily_gate/news/des-moines-rapids-proved-to-be-major-obstruction-to-traffic-on-river/article_98e0680c-e615-58c7-914f-3b9b092ed622.html
In 1837, a group of Army Corps of Engineers led by Robert E. Lee (the same Robert E. Lee who was the confederate general in the War Between the States) was a cartographer which most people did not know. Robert E. Lee and his group took a survey intending to cut a channel through the rapids, but after three months of trying along with budget cuts, the project was canceled.https://web.archive.org/web/20070813184416/http://www.beautifulnauvoo.com/site/default.asp?pg=pages%2Fhist_explore.asp
The Army Corps of Engineers did another survey of the same Des Moines rapids in 1866, just after the War Between the States. This time Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson was in charge of making this survey. Colonel Wilson's survey was even more extensive than Lee's with more information.
The Heartland Research Group realized Robert E. Lee’s original survey matched up with the description in the Book of Mormon of the River Sidon that helped pin point an approximate location from over a 2,000 mile distance of the river down to a few acres. Lee’s survey marks the point on a chart that shows where the flow of the river's water at harvest time would have been sufficiently low so as to allow an ancient army to cross the large river.
The second clue to the whereabouts of this crossing has to do with the river’s first and biggest dam built in Keokuk, Iowa in 1913. The town of Keokuk was named after the famed chief of the Sauk tribe who met with Joseph Smith back in 1841 in Nauvoo but that is a story for another time.
What is interesting about the dam in Keokuk, is that all water flowing down the river has to pass through the dam each day and there is no water being stored as in other hydro power projects. That’s a lot of water passing through so it could be that all the evidence of that army crossing was washed away. Reportedly, the Keokuk Dam pond is filling with sediment due to slowing of the river in that area which would make searching for Alma’s army crossing location more difficult because if may be covered in sediment. The more we study this area, the more difficult the finding of this location sounds.
In the late 19th century, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employed as many as 1,000 workers to build the Des Moines Rapids Canal near the dam. In that project, they blasted as much as a million tons of limestone rock on the west bank. The obvious question is what will be the effects of this blasting on finding the immediate area that is associated with the Battle of Zarahemla.
Another clue we need to study is the trail of the Mississippi River. The Des Moines River flows into the Mississippi River just below Keokuk, Iowa. For approximately 25 miles before this river reaches the Mississippi River, it had served as a state boundary line between Iowa and Missouri. If we looked at a map from early 1800, we would see the meandering of the river trail. But now this boundary does not follow the current Des Moines river channel because it has migrated from its early 1800s path, albeit a few hundred feet in one way or the other. In some places it is the same with the Mississippi River. Over the years it has changed its course somewhat through meandering which increases the challenge to those searching for the crossing place of the Nephite and Amalicite armies. With the study of the river, we have found however, that the geologic structure of the Des Moines Rapids area has restricted channel meandering.
With these clues and many others put together by historians, engineers and scientists, we believe we will be successful in finding the crossing that will lead to even more clues to the city of Zarahemla’s location.
For those trying to understand the places of the Book of Mormon, we search that book for clues and then find evidence of where they are located. Let me start from the beginning. A letter written to John Wentworth who was the editor of the Chicago Democrat, from Joseph Smith was very instrumental in beginning to understand where the Nephites and Laminates lived.
Discovering the places we read about is very exciting. As we read descriptions and narrations of these faraway places, we visualize through site, smell, sound and feel of what they would actually be like. What would it be like to actually visit the places in the Book of Mormon we have read about for so many years? When I visited the Sacred Grove, my testimony grew exponentially of the First Vision. When I visited Nauvoo, my love for those pioneers filled my heart to over flowing in appreciation of what they experienced and saw through their eyes and understand how they felt. It was an amazing reality.
Here an excerpt of that letter which start the clues: “I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country', and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people was made known unto me: I was also told where there was deposited some plates on which were engraved an abridgment of the records of the ancient prophets that had existed on this continent ...” understand how they felt. It was an amazing reality.
Joseph Smith wrote for the Times and Season Newspaper in editorials called “American Antiquities” which corroborates wars described in the Book of Mormon with archaeological finds in northern America. Josiah Priest also contributed some of this information under the approval of Joseph Smith. His statements were as follows: "Weapons of brass have been found in many parts of America, as in the Canadas, Florida, etc., with curiously sculptured stones, all of which go to prove that this country was once peopled with civilized, industrious nations.”
In other readings, the Times and Seasons associates earth, timber and metal works found in northern American including artifacts of mount builder societies with implements and construction as described in the Book of Mormon. It’s fascinating to put the pieces together.
In another letter written by Joseph Smith to N.C. Saxton, editor of the Rochester Observer, January 4, 1833 reprinted in the Times and Season November 15, 1844 it says:
“The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians; having been found through the ministration of an holy angel, and translated into our own language by the gift and power [of] God, after having been hid up in the earth for the last fourteen hundred years, containing the word of God which was delivered unto them. By it we learn that our western tribes of Indians are descendants from that Joseph that was sold into Egypt, and that the land [of] America is a promised land unto them, and unto it, all the tribes of Israel will come, with as many of the Gentiles as shall comply with the requisitions of the new covenant.”
What we have in our country is evidence of those early people of this continent who made covenants with God to live in this Promised Land. Nephites and Lamanites left behind a great history here and although we cannot see some of that evidence, they are still there waiting to be discovered.
One such place was told by Joseph Smith from a vision of these areas which was written down by Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimbal, George A. Smith and many others:
"On the top of the mound were stones which presented the appearance of three altars having been erected one above the other, according to the ancient order; and the remains of bones were strewn over the surface of the ground. The brethren procured a shovel and a hoe, and removing the earth to the depth of about one foot, discovered the skeleton of a man, almost entire, and between his ribs the stone point of a Lamanitish arrow, which evidently produced his death. Elder Burr Riggs retained the arrow. The contemplation of the scenery around us produced peculiar sensations in our bosoms; and subsequently the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the Spirit of the Almighty, I discovered that the person whose skeleton was before us was a white Lamanite, a large, thick-set man, and a man of God. His name was Zelph. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea to the Rocky mountains. The curse was taken from Zelph, or, at least, in part-one of his thigh bones was broken by a stone flung from a sling, while in battle, years before his death. He was killed in battle by the arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites."
That is an incredible writing and what an incredible find and message from the Prophet Joseph Smith of this great warrior. I am overwhelmed with gratitude to hear of these stories and will continue writing about the search and discovery of evidence of the Book of Mormon in the United States.
Over the past four years, I have been led on a journey which took me totally by surprise. This journey strengthened my testimony of the Book of Mormon more than anything else in the world. I have read and studied this book from cover to cover countless times from 1981 to present day, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that it is another testament of Jesus Christ. What took me a step further in my testimony was the journey as to where the Book of Mormon lands are located.
Why is this so important to know where the Book of Mormon lands are located? Why should I even waste my time? The answer lies within the book itself.
From Nephi speaking in the book of 2 Nephi in the Book of Mormon chapter 10, verse 10 and 11 he says: “But behold, this land said God shall be a land of thine inheritance, and the Gentiles shall be blessed upon the land. And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles and there shall be no kings upon the land who shall raise up unto the Gentiles.”
From the Brother of Jared in Ether chapter 2 verse 9 and 12 says “(9)And now we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise…(12)Behold, this is a choice land and whatsoever nation shall posses it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land who is Jesus Christ who hath been manifested by the things which we have written.”
From 3rd Nephi chapter 20 verse 22 it says: “…this people will I establish in this land, unto the fulfilling of the covenant which I made with your father Jacob; and it shall be a New Jerusalem. And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of these people; yea, even I will be in the midst of you.”
I can go on with many more prophesies and scripture about this Land of Promise. So where is it? How are we, who believe in the Book of Mormon, able to follow this command of “serve the God of the land” if we don’t even know where it is? It’s important for us to know so we can protect it and be free from bondage and captivity.
The Heartland Research Group has spent years researching and sharing the information of the Promise Land. There are incredible amounts of physical evidence all over the United States of the early people of this country called the Hopewell people and how they were the decedents of Lehi and his family. Much of it is explained very well on this website. This is the covenant land promised by God. This is the Promised Land which we are enjoying the freedoms and prosperity and as a people we need to pay attention to what God wants us to do in His land.
Ezra Taft Benson once said, “The promises of security, prosperity and freedom are directly connected to the chosen land by divine decree and secured by worship and faith in Jesus Christ.” We are those people who will secure the land by worship and faith in Jesus Christ.
The path I am following has deepened my love for the Book of Mormon and love for the United States as well. I’ll be following along this path of the Book of Mormon lands in Iowa, Ohio, Clay County, Missouri and more and I invite you to come along with me. I add my testimony to the many who know the same as Joseph Smith. That “The Book of Mormon is the most correct of any book on this earth, and the keystone of our (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Church) religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book.” Not only do I have a testimony of the spiritual significance in our lives of the Book of Mormon but also the physical significance of the places of the The Book of Mormon in this promised land of the United States of America.
The Book of Mormon was written for us today. God is the author of the book. It is a record of a fallen people, compiled by inspired men for our blessing today. President Ezra Taft Benson, April 1975 General Conference, The Book of Mormon is the Word of God.