KC Kern and Greg Pavone are amazing researchers. They dug into the historical records to find out more about the legend of the Mormon Cave. We’re going to talk about the research they conducted and find out more about how they pinpointed where the cave actually was.
KC: Lorenzo Saunders—in 1822 he’s about 11 or 12 years old—he says that he sees Joseph Smith Sr. and Alvin, and then later Willard Chase is also mentioned as having started the dig. We can date it, because he mentions almost in the same breath, that this was the summer before Alvin died. Alvin died in 1823, in November. So, that summer places a timeframe for where this dig would have started and who might have been involved.
GT: Do you think that Joseph Senior and Alvin were digging this? Were they looking for Spanish treasure or something like that?
KC: It seems related to that. It’s unclear whether this was the Spanish buccaneers’ treasure trove that they were looking for, or whether it was something else, but they seem to have been tipped off by Lumen.
KC: The sources, even in the interview—it’s all over the place. It’s really hard to get a straight answer—why and where. We can piece together some things, but it is muddled.
GT: It wasn’t like a potato cellar or something like that to store…
Greg: It may have become that.
KC: There is an indication that it was turned into that. It also could be—this source, Lorenzo Saunders, who was pretty young at the time, not even a teenager at this time, so, it could be that his memory was off or that he got influenced by other stories later. But, there is one thing that he brings up, that also helps us time it, because he does say that they put a door—that they built this, they dug this tunnel, and they put a door on it. Apparently was causing a nuisance of some sort. His father, who was Enoch Saunders, apparently ordered the cave to be locked up and shut down or the door to be boarded up or something like that. Lorenzo said, “I was one of those that came in and boarded up that door at the request of my father.” We know that Enoch Saunders was buried in the Palmyra Cemetery, and the date on his tombstone is 1825. So, it seems like the tunnel was started in maybe 1822-23, and it was at least at some level of completion and usage by 1825. Then, it was boarded up. That’s where the story ends, as far as Lorenzo Saunders is concerned.
GT: So, it was a problem because of animals getting in there, or it was a safety concern, or you don’t know?
KC: We don’t know, I imagine…
Greg: It was a safety concern for kids.
KC: I imagine safety. The other strange thing is, this was not the Smith’s property. The Saunders eventually acquired the property, but at that time, the pedigree of the plot is it was the property of Abner Cole, who was the editor of the Palmyra Reflector from the early 1820s and 1822ish, and then he sold it to this guy named Benjamin Tabor, who had a during that time, during the dig and then Lorenzo Saunders bought it. Then, later, it gets sold to the Miner family and that’s why it’s called Miner Hill.
They also think there is a possibility that Oliver Cowdery copied the Printer’s Manuscript in the cave!
KC: You have Joseph moving to Harmony to do the translation. He’s staying there with Emma, but then after the translation is done, he entrusts Oliver Cowdery with the manuscript. Oliver goes back to Palmyra. That’s when they’re engaging with the printer and working towards getting the Printer’s Manuscript ready for publication. There are some very interesting statements from John Gilbert, who was a typesetter. He was just a few years older than Joseph Smith at the time. But he was the guy in charge of doing the typesetting and basically receiving the manuscript and then putting it to type.
KC: He [John Gilbert] talks about how it was Hyrum and Oliver that were the go-betweens between where they were preparing the manuscript and taking it to the print shop. Now, during this time, Joseph Smith, he’s in Palmyra. I mean, he’s in Harmony, Pennsylvania. So, he’s far away. Gilbert says, “I didn’t see Joseph Smith hardly at all, but I saw Hyrum a lot.” So, it looks like Hyrum and Oliver are working on this. Gilbert has some sense of what’s going on. He’s like, this is translated. He says, in his later interviews, “They translated the Book of Mormon in a cave.” He’s certainly misinformed because at that point, it was already translated. It was translated in Pennsylvania and parts of it in Fayette. But, from his vantage point, he’s just seeing them go back and forth from his office to what it seems to be, the cave. Because he keeps on mentioning this cave, as that’s where they’re preparing the manuscript. He thinks it’s a translation. What I think, is it could be the copying of the manuscript itself that was happening in the cave.
GT: So, you think that Oliver and Hyrum were copying the Printers Manuscript in the cave?
KC: I think there’s a possibility…
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