Zelph, The White Lamanite of Mormon Folklore
Date: Tue, 27 Jul 1993 19:11:20 -0600
From: “David C. Goble”
Subject: Zelph, the White Lamanite
To: Multiple recipients of list MORMON-L
You asked for it and here it is. These are exerpts from Kenneth Godfrey ‘s “The Zelph Story,” available from FARMS (GOD-89). Most of the things I will present are the journal quotations and not Godfrey’s writing.
The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plaines of the Nephites, recounting occasionaly the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity… — Letter from Joseph Smith to his Wife, 1834 Dean C. Jessee, _The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith_, p. 324
tuesday 3 visited the mounds a skeleton was dug up Joseph said his name was Zelph a great warrior under the Prophet Omandagus an arrow was found in his Ribs [page break; top of next page; different ink; much ligher writing] His name was Zelph a warior under the Prophet Omandagus Zelph a white Lamante Crossed the Missipi River on the 4 2 days in Crossing June 6 resumed our jrney [illegible] at Salt River Staid 12 days from Salt River to Richmond Ray County [illegible] that [illegible] the [illegible]
19 on fishing River 20 went 5 miles meeting held counsel
June 24 Colera
23 Arived at Rush Creek
Rush Creek Mo Clay co
Choler 24 [original writing returns] which he said he suposed ocaisoned his death. Said he was killed in battle Said he was a man of God and the curse was taken off or in part he was a white Lamanite (was known from the atlantic to the Rocky Mountains) [added later] — Reuben McBride Journal Microfilm 920 #57, BYU
this being in the Co of Pike hear we discovered a larg quantity of large mounds being filed with curiosity we excavated the top of one Sone 2 feete when we came to the Sbones of an extraordinary large person or humane being the thigh bones being 2 inches longer from one Scket to the other than of th Prophet whi who is upwards of 6 feete high which would have constuted Some 8 or 9 feete high in the trunk of the Skeleton near the vitals we found a large stone arrow which I suppose brought him to his end Soon after this Joseph had a vision and the Lord shewed him that this man was once a mighty Prophet and many other things conserning his dead which had falen no doubt in some great batles in addition to this we found many larg fortifications which also denotes sivilseation and an in numberable population which has falen by wares and comotion and the banks of this Beautiful River became the deposit of many hundred thousands whos graves and fortifications have are overgrown with the sturday oak 4 feete in dianeter. — Moses Martin Journal, 1834
While on our travels we visited many of the mounds which were flung up by the ancient inhabitants of this continent probably by the Nephites & Lamanites we visited one of those Mounds and several of the brethren dug into it and took from it the bones of a man Brother Joseph had a vission respecting the person he said he was a white Lamanite the curs was taken from him or at least in part he was killed in battle with an arrow the arrow was found among his ribs, one of his thigh bones was broken this was done by a stone flung from a sling in battle years before his death his name was Zelph Some of his bones were brought into the camp and the thigh bone which was broken was put into my waggon and I carried it to Missouri Zelph was a large thick set man and a man of God he was a warrior under the great prophet that was known from the hill cumorah to the Rocky mountains. The above knowledge Joseph received in a vision. — Wilford Woodruff’s Journal 1934
While on our travels we visited many of the mounds which were flung up by the ancient inhabitants of this continent probably by the Nephites & Lamanites we visited one of those Mounds and*+ several of the brethren dug into it and took from it the bones of a man Brother Joseph had a vission respecting the person he said he was a white Lamanite the curs was taken from him or at least in part he ws killed in battle with an arrow the arrow was found among his ribs, one of his thigh bones was broken this was done by a stone flung from a sling in battle years before his death. his name was Zelph Some of his bones were brough into the camp and th thigh bone which was broken was put into my waggon and I carried it to Missouri Zelph was a large thick set man and a man of God he was a warrior under the +Onandagus +on East sea great prophet + that was known from the hill Cumorah+ to the Rocky mountains. The above knowlege Joseph received in a vision.
*[The following was added interlinearly above the “and” designated and continues within this paragraph]: +considerd to be 300 feet above the level of the Illionis river three persons dug into the mound & found a body Elder Milton Holmes took the arrow out of the back bones that killed Zelph & brought it with some of the bones in to the camp, I visited the same mound with Jesse J Smith who the other persons were that dug in to the mound & found the body I am undecided — Wilford Woodruff’s Journal (version 2–with insertions)
The published history of Zion’s Camp gives an account of the bones of a man which we dug out of a mound. His name was Zelph. The Lord showed the Prophet the hsitroy of the man in a vision. The arrow, by which he was killed, was found among his bones. One of his thigh bones was broken by a stone slung in battle. The bone was put into my wagon, and I carried it to clay county, Missouri, and buried it in the earth. — Wilford Woodruff, Leaves From My Journal, Third Book of the Faith-Promoting Series (Juvenile Instructor Office: Salt Lake City, 1881)
on the way to Illinois Rvier where we camped on the west side in the morning many went to see th big mound about a mile below the crossing I did not go on it but saw some bones that was brough with a broaken arrow they was layed down by our camp Joseph addressed himself to sylvester smith this is what I told you and now I want to tell you that you may know what I ment this land was called the land of desolation and Onendagus was the king and a good man was he there in that mound did he bury his dead and did not dig holes as the people do now but they brought there dirt and vovered them untill you see they have raised it to be about one hundread feet high the last man buried was Zelf he was a white Lamanite who fought with the people of Onendagus for freedom when he was young he was a great warior and has his thy broaken and never was sat it knited together as you see on the side he fougt after it got strength untill he lost evry tooth in his head save one when the Lord said he had done enough and suffered him to be cild by that arrow you took from his brest these words he said as the camp was moving off the ground as nere as I could lern he had told them something about the mount and got them to go and see for themselves. I then remembered what he had said a few days before while passing many mounds on our way that was left of us said he there are the bodies of wicked men who have died and are angry at us if they can take the advantage of us they will for if we live they will have no hope I could not comprehend it but supposed it was all right. — Diary of Levi Hancock, 1834
Next morning we started on our journey in good spirits. On the way to Illinois River where we camped on the west side. In the morning many went to see the big mound about a mile below the crossing. I did not go on it but saw some bones that was brough back with a broken arrow. They were laid down by our camp. Joseph Smith addressing himself to Sylvester Smith and said, “This is what I told you and now I want to tell you that you may know what I meant. This land was called the land of desolation and Onedages was the King and a good man was he. There in that mound did he bury his dead and did not dig holes as the people do now, but they brought their dirt and covered them until you see they have raised it to be about one hundred feet high. The last man buried was Zelf or Telf. He was a white lamanite who fought with the people of Onedagus for freedom. When he was a young man he was a great warrior and had his thigh broken and never was set. It knitted together until he lost every tooth in his head save one, when the Lord said he had done enough and suffered him to be killed by that arrow you took from his breast. These words he said as the camp was moving off the mound as near as I could learn he had told them something about the mound and got them to go and see it themselves. I then remembered what he had said a few days before while passing many moounds on our way that was left of us. Said he, “these are the bodies of wicked men who have died and are angry at us and if they can take the advantage of us they will, for if we live they will have no hope.” I could not comprehend it, but supposed it was alright. — The Levi Hancock Journal, 1838
On Tuesday the 3rd, we went up, several of us, with Joseph Smith jr. to the top of a mound on the bank of the Illinois river, which was several hundred feet above the river, and from the summit of which we had a pleasant view of the surrounding country: we could overlook the tops of the trees on to themeadow or prairie on each side the river as far as our eyes could ex’end, which was one of the most pleasant scenes I ever beheld. On the top of this mound there was the appearance of three altars, which had been built of stone, one above another, according to the ancient order; and the ground was strewn over with human bones. This caused in us very peculiar feelings, to see the bones of our fellow creatures scattered in this manner, who had been slain in ages past. We felt prompted to dig down into the mound, and send for a shovel and hoe, we proceeded to move away the earth. At about one foot deep we discovered the skeleton of a man, almost entire; and between two of his ribs we found an Indian arrow, which had evidently been the cause of his death. We took the leg and thigh bones and carried them along with us to Clay county. All four appeared sound. Elder B. Young has yet the arrow in his possession. It is a common thing to find bones thus drenching upon the earth in this country.
The same day, we pursued our journey.–While on our way we felt anxious to know who the person was who had been killed by that arrow. It was made known to Joseph that he had been an officer who fell in battle, in the last destruction among the Lamanites, and his name was Zelph. This caused us to rejoice much, to think that god was so mindful of us as to show thsese things to his servant. Brother Joseph had enquired of the Lord and it was made known in a vision. — “Extracts from H.C. Kimball’s Journal,” _Times and Seasons_, v.6 (February 1, 1845), p. 788
There are a few writings written after the History of the Church was written, but most refer to it. There were various versions of the tale in HotC and it seemed that each version made the tale bigger and bigger. Joseph appears to not have found the incident that important. The others seem to not agree on what exactly happened. All that is sure is that Zelph was a renown warrior under Omandagus and that he was killed in a great battle. Other facts are, in my opinion, additions by the various journal writers. _The History of the Church_ in relating the Zelph story does a poor job and Godfrey details their problems quite well.
The site has since been described as a “typical prehistoric Middle Woodland moruary complex of the Hopewell culture.” “The site reflects mortuary activity of approximately 2000 years ago.” (An Archaeological survey of the Naples-Russell Mound Number Eight, National Reister of Historic Places)
Godfrey gives a rather fine conclusion to the data. “Interestingly the earlier accounts do not expressly identify Zelph with the Nephites, as do the later accounts. Perhaps this is because Joseph’s statements to his friends were not as clear to them at the time they were made as they seemed to them later in retrospect or as we might be inclined to assume today. It also appears that particular information, originally couched in several of accounts with some degree of probability, came to be understood with greater certainty and specificity thatn the earlier written records indicate.”
—- Clark Goble ————– [email protected] —————
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