The Talmage Journals: The Book of Mormon Geography Hearings, 1921

James E. Talmage.

Below are (heretofore unpublished) excerpts from the personal journal of Elder James E. Talmage from 1921, regarding a short series of hearings had by the “Book of Mormon committee”  regarding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.)


The Talmage Journals: The Book of Mormon Geography Hearings, 1921 — 18 Comments

  1. Don’t leave us in suspense, Joseph! What was the outcome??

    Also, do you think Talmage’s implicit hemispheric or Great Lakes view in 1920 was at all altered by the hearings in 1921?

  2. Sorry, I didn’t really give much commentary and probably should have! There actually isn’t a record of an outcome in the journals — his record of the hearings end and Talmage doesn’t seem to mention them again. There’s no record, as far as I know, of the committee ever reaching a conclusion. I had thought I had recalled Talmage more explicitly giving his own views on a Mesoamerican model but right now I can’t find that in my transcriptions. At some point I will have to go back and look at the journals again to be sure.

  3. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there??! Has anyone ever done an article comparing the different theories submitted at these hearings, fleshed out by other writings from the various presenters? Seems like that would be great fun.

  4. btw, I must say that I do love the edit/request deletion option offered for these comments. It surely will add to the erudition of our comment section! 🙂

  5. Fascinating, Trevor. Thanks for sharing this.

    Cheryl, I’m glad you like the deletion/editing options. It used to be that installing such options required a complicated CSS process, but someone seems to have perfected a plugin that has made it easy.

  6. I’m glad you edited the post to include a touch more commentary. That will make it more useful to those who don’t bother reading the comment section. Anyway, very interesting post! Cheryl is right; it would be a super cool project to reconstruct some of these early geographies more fully.

  7. Great stuff Trevor, very interesting and thanks for sharing. I wonder if James Harris, who is a relative of Talmage and has published widely on him, might have some additional information about these geography hearings? I know James has been working on a Talmage biography for some time. I could make an effort to get you in touch with him if you are interested. James was extremely helpful when I was researching Talmage. I spent some time with these journals when I was working on the Smoot hearings abridgment, he was the defense team’s star witness on doctrinal matters. His journal had some great critiques of Reed Smoot’s testimony that I included in the footnotes, but I could share these journal excerpts on this blog at a later date when I get a minute.

  8. Thank you so much, Joseph. Fascinating to read of these events. I thought James Harris did a wonderful job with the Essential James E. Talmage. Probably my favorite in the series. Nice to read his views on progression between the kingdoms in the first edition of Articles of Faith.

  9. Michael, I have heard of James’ work on a biography but have never talked to him myself. I would be interested to see if he knows more about this.

    I have a lot of Talmage’s journal entries from the years 1918-1923 transcribed, so in the future I’d like to publish more interesting sections on the blog as well. Especially interesting are to read his entries in context as he begins work on compiling Jesus the Christ, especially what he has to say about writing/editing the book in the temple. I think those may be the next I post.

  10. Mike: “His journal had some great critiques of Reed Smoot’s testimony that I included in the footnotes, but I could share these journal excerpts on this blog at a later date when I get a minute.”

    I assume you mean his testimony at the hearings rather than his testimony of the Gospel? 🙂

    Joseph: “Especially interesting are to read his entries in context as he begins work on compiling Jesus the Christ, especially what he has to say about writing/editing the book in the temple.”


  11. Chris, great catch. Yes, my semantic intention was to refer to Smoot’s testimony at the hearings. Talmage testified three days (January 18, 19, and 24 of 1905). Smoot testified for three days too (January 20, 21, and 23 of 1905). Talmage was in the room for Smoot’s testimony, and critiqued in his journal Smoot’s lack of gospel knowledge and doctrinal insight. So I guess in an indirect or implicit way, he could have been tweaking aspects of his gospel testimony too. I will try and post these journal excerpts in the near term.

  12. Trevor — Nice reference material for an obscure chapter in LDS history. I’ll be uploading these (plus the forthcoming entries). Thanks for taking the time to track them down, transcribe, and make them available.

  13. Thanks for this. Spencer Fluhman is also underway with a biography of Talmage, so he is a hot topic of late–and quite deserving of the attention, too.

  14. Is Fluhman still doing his Talmage biography? In any case I expect there will be A LOT of attention given to Talmage over the next couple of years, especially in 2014-2015 for the centennial of Jesus the Christ.

  15. As of two weeks ago, he was. He said he was finally emerging from his fist book–should be available next month, and will be one of the best Mormon studies books in the last decade (albeit ridiculously short, as UNC Prss made him cut the manuscript in half)–and was now turning his attention to Talmage.

  16. Joel Rick’s geography was published as a book entitled “The Geography of Book of Mormon Lands.” There is more information about it in John Sorenson’s “Book of Mormon Geography Sourcebook”, but my copy is on the other side of the US from me right now. His papers are held at the HBLL Special Collections. You can see the catalog here: One interesting thing listed there is correspondence with David O. McKay about Book of Mormon geography.

  17. Thank you for those two postings. If only one of those presenters had done the work to extract all travel times they would have discovered (like Sorenson) that BoM lands were too small to accommodate a model like Rick’s.

    Likewise it’s too bad that someone scientifically minded like Talmage did not tackle that at the outset. Now were stuck with the two Cumorah nonsense – no offense.

  18. Many thanks for posting this Trevor. I looked at these same journals when working on my senior thesis in the late 90s (which focused on Talmage’s views on evolution). I also could not find any further mention of the committee or its findings in later journal entries, but hopefully some of those working on full biographies may have had better luck finding out what happened.

    Did you also happen to read and transcribe journals from Talmage’s younger years at BY academy and Johns Hopkins? I found them fascinating.