Below are (heretofore unpublished) excerpts from the personal journal of Elder James E. Talmage from 1921, regarding a short series of hearings had by the “Book of Mormon committee” regarding popular theories regarding the geography of the setting of the Book of Mormon. The committee was established in 1919 to prepare a new edition of the Book of Mormon and was chaired by Elder Talmage.
Jan. 14, Fri.: In addition to other committee work I attended an afternoon session of the Book of Mormon committee, at which preliminary arrangements were made for hearing some of the proponents of different views on Book of Mormon geography. Many varied and conflicting views concerning the location of Book of Mormon lands have been advocated amongst our people; and not a few maps have been put out. With all precautions taken to make plain the fact that these maps have been intended as suggestive presentations only, we find some people accepting one map and others another as authoritative. The matter was brought before the council through the receipt of a communication from Elder Joel Ricks of Logan, who several years ago published a map, of which over 6000 have been disposed of. Brother Ricks and several other good brethren have voiced a sort of complaint that they have had no opportunity to present their views, with the fullness they desire, before the Church authorities. The entire matter was referred to the Book of Mormon committee; and today appointments were made for the beginning of the series of hearings.
Jan. 21, Fri.: Sat with the rest of the Book of Mormon committee in the first session appointed for the hearing of those who have views to present on the subject of Book of Mormon geography. The entire afternoon was occupied by Brother Joel Ricks of Logan, who exhibited a copy of his map, and gave many details of his personal travels and investigations in the northern part of South America and in part of Central America.
Jan. 22, Sat.: The Book of Mormon committee sat during both forenoon and afternoon. Elder Joel Ricks occupied part of the morning session, and the rest of that meeting, together with the whole of the afternoon session was given over to Elder Willard Young, who claims that most of the Book of Mormon scenes were laid in Guatemala, and Honduras.
Jan. 23, Sunday: […] I had looked forward to this opportunity of attending Sunday School in my own ward for once; but this was made impossible by action taken at last night’s meeting of the Book of Mormon committee this forenoon. This morning Elder Willard Young continued his presentation. […]
Jan. 24, Mon.: We were engaged from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Book of Mormon hearing, with a noon intermission. Elder Anthony W. Ivins of the Council of the Twelve presented his views and suggestions, indicating that the Book of Mormon lands embraced mainly Yucatan and Mexico. There being none others who had expressed a desire to be heard by the committee, this meeting was regarded as the closing session of the present stage of the investigation.
(Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University: MSS 229, Box 6, Folder 2, Journal 24.)
As far as I have been able to tell Talmage does not mention the hearings again in his journals, and the committee does not seem to have ever reached any conclusions (at least Talmage does not mention any). I have never seen record of these “hearings” anywhere outside of Talmage’s journal so I’m not sure if more information about them might be available elsewhere. If anyone does know of anything, please share.
Here I will also add another relevant entry that Talmage wrote a few months prior to the geography hearings when he visited the Hill Cumorah in New York. This entry was written in August 1920.
Aug. 11, Wed.: President McCune and I went early to the Grove. Later we were conveyed by auto to the Hill Cumorah by Brother Bean. We climbed the hill and traversed it back and fore and examined it with interest and care. It is the largest of the many glacial drumlins of the locality, and is the most prominent of all the elevations in the neighborhood. Aside from the fact that the plates of the Book of Mormon were taken from the hill, I was greatly interested in looking from its summit over the surrounding region and in contemplating the tremendous battle-scenes of the past, whereby first the Jaredites and later the Nephites were exterminated as nations. I believe the Book of Mormon account without reservation or modification. I believe, also, and express it as my personal conviction, that many ancient records, possibly those from which Mormon made his abridgment, are still concealed in that hill. I believe also that they will be brought forth in the Lord’s due time, and that until that time no man will succeed in finding them. […]
(Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University: MSS 229, Box 6, Folder 1, Journal 23.)