The Chile Landing Site: a Myth?

by Don R. Hender

 A well beloved Hymn states, " . . . truth is reason, truth eternal, tells me I've a Mother there." I love this particular phrase as it portrays more than one universal truth of which the Holy Ghost confirms to my soul. The one I wish to address is that of 'truth' being associated with reason. Logic and reason will always be associated with and be satisfied by ultimate truth. Truth is reasonable, truth is logical, that is when the whole truth is known. It is only when we see only a part of the story that we get into trouble. We mortal men will use both logic and reasoning and come to opposing conclusions, at opposing ends of the spectrum, on a topic of debate. Thus we see that the inverse does not always apply regarding the relationship of truth and reason. While truth is reason, reason is not always truth. Just because something seems logical and reasonable given the known facts, and our reasoning and logic assures our limited academic mentalities of such as truth; when given all the facts of which we are totally unaware, we may be actually dead wrong as to the real truth of the matter. That is in fact, what seems to be true to us based on our own limited understanding, logic and reasoning may be eventually proven to be totally wrong when we finally come to know the rest of the story. In short, it is a foolish man that always speaks in absolutes and does not admit that he could be wrong. I trust in the Word of God but unless it is God's absolute truth, the words of any man must contain the element of humility that recognizes the possibility that, that man in his opinion could be proven wrong. Any who profess to attain to such absolute statement of absolute truth is but a fool waiting for a fall whenever the basis of his reasoning, logic, and understanding tumble when the full and final truth of a matter be known. Yet we men in our pride so state such things in absolutes and even mock others for having a difference of opinion. And there in lies the true fallacy of a man and his pride. For he has failed to admit that he could be wrong.

 Thus let me begin by saying that I could be wrong, but it does seem to me that the Chilean Landing Site is not correct and more of myth than truth. The logic and reasoning of this Book of Mormon landing site does hold water in respect to some of the facts of the matter, yet it does not in others. In fact in at least one respect the Chilean landing site is the driest fact of the matter on earth as it has to negotiate the Atacama Desert to its north. Further the source of the statement as being that of the Prophet Joseph Smith has long been muddled in the unknown and hearsay. I will explain.

The Logic and Reasoning that Supports the Chile's Landing

 First the logic and reasoning which supports the Chilean Landing Site of Lehi's Book of Mormon Colony in the Americas. Nephi built a 'sailing' ship as it was driven before the wind and they did 'sail.' The Pacific trade winds and currents from the Middle East across the Indian and Pacific Oceans favor such a Chilean landing site in the Americas as being most probable and logical. Under the normal prevailing status quo of the Pacific Ocean as we understand it, this is a most logical and probable site for Lehi's party to have landed at thirty degrees, south latitude, on the coast of Chile near where La Serena is today.

 In addition to the course of nature confirming this site, there is a quotable statement in a book published in 1882. This book is the Compendium dealing with the doctrines of the gospel compiled by Elder Franklin D. Richards a member of the Council of the Twelve and James A. Little a trusted elder in the church. In a section denoted as 'Gems from the History of the Prophet Joseph Smith' we can find the last gem to read as follows:

  "Lehi's Travels.--Revelation to Joseph the Seer. The course that Lehi and his company traveled from Jerusalem to the place of their destination: They traveled nearly a south, southeast direction until they came to the nineteenth degree of north latitude: then nearly east to the sea of Arabia, then sailed in a southeast direction, and landed on the continent of South America, in Chile, thrity degrees, south latitude." (Compendium, (SLC, UT) p. 289)

The source for this information has be highly suspect and discounted by a number of Book of Mormon scholars. While Orson Pratt espoused this idea, the only actual source that even comes close to attributing it to Joseph Smith is a scrape of paper written on by President Fredrick G. Williams which was found and given to the Chruch by his son after Elder Williams died. (See more complete story below) Its association with the Prophet Joseph Smith is that the paper also held a well know revelation by the prophet on it. No direct statement to the effect that the Prophet Joseph Smith ever uttered the before quoted words concerning Chile can be found and many scholars discount it as being what was held by the Prophet.

The Logic and Reasoning Against the Chilean Site

 This Chilean landing site places Lehi's party in an arid climate, as we know it today. They would be south of any forested lands having to cross over a 1000-miles desert lands northward to arrive at such in Bolivia and Southern Peru. This includes the 600 mile Atacama desert known as the driest desert and land on earth.

I work at Dugway Utah in the middle of the Western Utah Desert south of the Great Salt Lake and bordering the Salt Flats. As I drive Skull Valley each day there is life everywhere, sagebrush, grasses and noxious weeds all over the place and even some native scrubby scrub-oak trees. It is open range and dear, wild horses, antelope and rancher's cows graze on this western desert land. Birds and insects are everywhere. There are a number of ranch houses, a Goshute Indian reservation, and a one time Polynesian settlement town called Iosepha, not to mention Dugway Proving Grounds out here. Life in this desert is abundant and it rains and snows here during the winter and spring of the year with ocasional showers at other times of the year also.

  It just doesn't rain in the Atacama Desert to speak of. There was rain in one spot in 1971 prior to which it hadn't rained there 400 years previous. Occasionaly in an El Nino year there will be a down pour of rain in some part of the desert, but for the most part, year in and year out, it just does not rain there at all. There is no life there. NASA has used it to test its NOMAD moon and planet exploration vehicle, as the land surface of the Atacama Desert is more like the surface of Mars than it is of any living surface here on earth. The Atacama is not a 'living desert.' It is a dead, dry land for hundreds of miles and shows no signs of any such thing as previously being forested or having had abundant animal life. (See Atacama Desert)

 Domestic animals were wiped out by Noah's flood and only brought back to the land north of the narrow neck of land by the Jaredites. Chile would be too far south of the land north for any such domestic animals to have traveled to be available for Lehi's party. So there is no logical source of those domestic animals of the Jaredites to be south of the Atacama Desert around La Serena, Chile at the date of Lehi's landing.

 Yet the Book of Mormon states that the land at the site of Lehi's landing was a bounteous land. When Lehi's party first landed they planted well needed crops and the land brought forth such abundantly. Logically this is not the arid Chilean site. The Book of Mormon also states that as Lehi's party began to journey in the wilderness from the site of landing to the Land of First Inheritance, they found in the forests beasts of every kind wild and domestic. The 1000 mile desert north of the Chilean site was no forested land filled with beasts of every kind. (See 1Nephi 18) A later Book of Mormon reference states that these animals had wandered into the land southward for the want of food. This would imply that they were from the Jaredite source and that as Shiz sweep the land desolete, any surviving animals had to leave the land northward and travel to the land southward to find food. Any such hungry animal will so migrate for food, even dumb cows.

 In the July 1950 Improvement Era, John A. Widtsoe on page 547 discounts the so called Joseph Smith revelation. It seems that the 'quote' attributed to Joseph Smith's History was not taken from there at all. It's source was an obscure slip of paper in the possession of the Church Historian and was said to have been the property of President Frederick G. Williams, one of Joseph's counselors. On that paper where found notes pertaining to the doctrine and history of the Church. And there also was found the above quote. Elder Widtsoe points out that diligent search has failed to trace it to the Prophet. The Chruch Historian obtained the paper as a gift from Ezra G. Williams, the son of Frederick G. Williams in 1864, twenty years after Joseph's death.

 B. H. Roberts points to another record source of such a statement. It is in the writings of Orson Pratt (Pratt's Works, edition of 1851, "Remarkable visions," p. 7). Elder Roberts concludes from this and the previous sited quote, that Lehi did land in Chile in his book A Book of Mormon Study page 253. It seems from these sources that it was the logical and reasonable assumed truth that Lehi landed 3000-4000 miles south of the Land occupied by the Jaredites. And thus Elder Roberts concludes that it was totally impossible for the Jaredite domestic animals to be those found by Lehi's landing party. So where they came from is not ascertainable thus leaving gaps in the logic of fit. For one thing there are no such forest lands near that landing site and for another the domestic animals couldn't just appear out of thin air so to speak.

An Alternative Logical and Reasonable Site That Is Attributable to Joseph Smith

 So just where did Lehi land if not in Chile? I've written other articles and responses to email, which present a more logical and reasonable landing site. At least it is to my mind given the facts and evidence as I currently have them, though I may not be correct. It is reasonable and it not only fits what men and nature says, but what the Book of Mormon its self says. First in the Book which the Church seems to support, The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith complied by President Joseph F. Smith on page 267, the Prophet Joseph Smith teaches that Lehi landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien. Second nature supports this side as we now understand that in years of El Nino, the trade winds and currents could bring a ship in at this site quite easily. Third and Fourth, as portrayed in the Book of Mormon, this is a bounteous forested land and it could well have be filled with the hungry domestic beast of the Jaredites as it is just south of the narrow neck of the Isthmus of Darien from the land where the Jaredites perceivably occupied. And Fifth, Indian history/legend supports the Isthmus of Darien landing as told by the Indian leader 'Big Warrior' in Alabama in the year 1822, prior to the coming forth of the Golden Plates and the printing of the Book of Mormon in 1830.