Justin R. Bray and Reid L. Neilson, eds., Exploring Book of Mormon Lands: The 1923 Latin American Travel Writings of Mormon Historian Andrew Jenson (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2014), 295–309.
“Ancient Ruins in South American Lands Held to be Evidence of Divine Authenticity of Book of Mormon”
By Andrew Jenson
My brethren and sisters and friends, it seems natural and pleasant to be back once more in the City of the Saints, in the valleys of the Rocky Mountains, to associate with the people that I love, the people that I have been associated with almost from the beginning of my existence in life.
I have been away several months and have made an extensive tour of Central and South America. I have traveled something like twelve thousand and twenty miles, and have visited at least eleven foreign lands, which I had never seen before. After previously having had the privilege to visit many parts of the world, I have now enjoyed South America, and have come back with ideas that I trust will do myself good and also perhaps may be the means of giving some light and intelligence to those with whom I shall associate hereafter.
I have always been interested in this book that I hold in my hand, the Book of Mormon. I have had the privilege to go through it a number of times. When I was thirty years of age and fulfilling one of my early missions to Europe, I had the privilege of revising a Danish translation of the book from the English version and making corrections that were necessary in order to make it read right in a foreign tongue. When I was fifty years of age, I had a similar experience when the former translation called for further revision, the language into which it was translated having somewhat changed in regard to orthography and general construction. So I am perhaps safe in saying that I have read the book at least fifty times and should therefore be somewhat acquainted with its contents.
In Book of Mormon Lands
In my travels in the South I have imagined—and I think the imagination is based upon facts—that I have traveled in Book of Mormon lands and that I have seen ruins of cities and fortifications originally built by the people of which the Book of Mormon bears record.
First, after leaving my home here in Salt Lake City in January last, in company with Elder Thomas P. Page of Riverton, Utah, I spent some time in California. I had in the city of Sacramento the privilege of participating in a celebration, which had been arranged in commemoration of the discovery of gold in California seventy-five years ago, and inasmuch as members of the Mormon Battalion were among those who first turned up the precious metal upon their shovels, while they were digging a mill race on the American River, it was an event of great interest to me to visit that part of the country.
I visited the very spot where gold was first discovered, and lingered somewhat around what is called Mormon Island, where a number of the first Latter-day Saints who dwelt in California spent some time looking for gold, and several of the brethren, while thus engaged, were called on a mission to the Sandwich Islands. I also had occasion, while visiting San Francisco, to learn something about that particular location which at an early day was called Yerba Buena and obtained much information about the Mormon elder, Samuel Brannan, who led about two hundred and thirty Latter-day Saints from New York to the bay of San Francisco in the year 1846.
An Early Newspaper
Samuel Brannan and his company turned the little Spanish settlement, Yerba Buena, into San Francisco, and published the second American, or English, newspaper ever published in California. A small periodical called the California was commenced a few months earlier in Monterey, but the California Star, published by Samuel Brannan, the Mormon elder, was the paper that had most influence and perhaps caused the change of a small Spanish town to an Anglo-Saxon city.
I also posted myself somewhat in regard to the first Anglo-Saxon settlement founded in the great San Joaquin valley—a valley now containing seven of the most flourishing counties in California. I had heard of a settlement called New Hope, which was established there in the latter part of 1846—sometime before the Latter-day Saints came to these valleys—and I had been anxious for some time to find out some facts about this first settlement founded there by Samuel Brannan and his people. I was successful; the exact location of New Hope is about eighteen miles southwest of the present city of Stockton. These things are naturally interesting to us as a people, especially since the Latter-day Saints in California in that early day made a good record, and therefore many Californians respect and honor the Latter-day Saints to this day.
There has been less prejudice in California against our people than in some other parts of the United States, because the Californians know us better. They remember the good behavior of the soldiers who served in the Mormon Battalion in the defense of their country and know that these soldiers were Christians, and they also know that the Brooklyn company of Saints, whom I have mentioned, were a good people, not to speak of the Mormon boys who discovered gold in the American River.
Old Mormon Graveyard
On my return to the United States, after I had been in South America, I also had occasion to make a detour to Old Florence, six miles north of the center of Omaha City, Nebraska. There I visited the old Mormon graveyard, where several hundred Mormon pilgrims who fell by the wayside were buried when the Saints were driven from their homes in Illinois. The old Mormon graveyard will always have a warm spot in the hearts of the Latter-day Saints, because it is the resting place of so many of those who started for the Rocky Mountains, but who never reached here.
In sailing down the west coast of South America, I went as far south as Valparaíso. I then crossed the Andes Mountains into Buenos Aires, in the Argentine Republic, and thence sailed and finally arrived in New York.
This is the extent of my travels, but in giving further details I want to say that in going south we touched the west coast of Mexico. The Republic of Mexico contains about fifteen millions of people, the great majority of whom are either pure descendants of the House of Lehi, or mixed with Spanish blood—half Spanish and half Indians; we may call all these the seed of Israel. We believe, according to the promises contained in the Book of Mormon, that there is a great future in store for these people, and that at some future day they will accept the true gospel and the record of their forefathers, which I here hold in my hand.
A City Rebuilt
In going down the west coast of America, we also visited Guatemala, one of the Central American states, containing something like two million people. There as well as in Honduras and other places there are a great many ruins which remind us of such a people as the Book of Mormon tells us about. We next landed in Salvador, another South American republic; this little country contains one and one-half millions of people. Going inland we visited the city of San Salvador, which was destroyed by earthquakes a few years ago, but which has been rebuilt and is now a beautiful city. On seeing it, I made the remark that if President Brigham Young had been the founder of San Salvador, he would have laid it out with the same regularity as he did Salt Lake City. In fact, San Salvador and Salt Lake City resemble each other very much in their general plan, but our streets here are much wider than the streets of San Salvador, and our blocks larger. In both cities, however, the streets follow the cardinal points of the compass. The same may be said of many other cities in Central and South America, where the builders seemed to be very fond of laying off their cities in checkerboard style.
I also had the privilege of visiting Nicaragua, a republic containing about six hundred thousand people, mostly Indians. The government is not a very stable one, and that accounts for so many criminals from the United States going down there to hide from the hand of justice. There is no understanding between the United States and the government of Nicaragua whereby criminals can be extradited.
I need not tell you much about the Panama Canal. I was proud of what I saw there. It is, indeed, a grand canal—very simple in its construction, yet everything is built on such a large scale that it fills one with admiration. It is a natural waterway, and we wonder sometimes why the canal was not built centuries ago. But we feel proud that after all it was American enterprise that caused it to become a reality, after other nations had tried in vain to build it.
Beyond the Equator
The next country I visited was the great state of Peru in South America. We crossed the equator and had a little experience with Father Neptune in doing so, but as I had crossed the line twice before, I escaped the usual rough handling. At the expense of those who crossed the line for the first time, there was some fun-making on board.
Soon we arrived safe and well in the old town of Lima, the capital of Peru. It is a most interesting city, and in the old cathedral we looked upon the mummified form of Pizarro, the conqueror of Peru. There were many things to see and learn in Peru, but that which more particularly interested us in going inland was the ruins of the old Inca and pre-Inca civilizations. There are about five million people in Peru, mostly Indians and mestizos. The majority of the people in Peru live up in the mountain valleys between eleven thousand and fifteen thousand feet above sea level.
There is a lake up there called Lake Titicaca, twelve thousand and five hundred feet above the level of the sea. It is the highest lake in the world that is navigated, and lies at the foot of mountains that tower up with snow-covered peaks twenty-one thousand feet.
Near Lake Titicaca there are some very interesting ruins—the ruins of a great city, including ruins of monoliths that baffle all understanding so far as the present generation is concerned. The people do not know who built the city originally. They say the Incas did not do it, because they were not intelligent enough; but it points to another people who lived before the days of the Incas.
In Shadow of the Andes
These pre-Inca people undoubtedly built those cities and their walls, temples, and towers, which were erected somewhat after Egyptian and Roman style. That theory, of course, gives the Latter-day Saints many peculiar thoughts. The ruins found in and near Cuzco, the old Inca capital, are especially interesting. Cuzco lies under the shadow of the Andes Mountains and on the headwaters of the great Amazon River. Near Cuzco are seen some of the grandest fortifications that can be found anywhere in South America. I have not seen all the ruins in Central America, but as far as I could learn, there is nothing there that can be compared with the great fortifications that encircle the hill lying immediately north of the old Inca capital.
Cuzco is today a fair sample of an old Spanish colonial city. When the Spaniards came to Peru, they destroyed the old Inca capital, the Temple of the Sun, and nearly all the main buildings which the Incas had erected, and on the ruins of some of these destroyed buildings they erected their cathedrals and churches. Thus, one of the largest churches in Cuzco now occupies the site of the old Inca Temple of the Sun.
Traveling on, we reached the Republic of Bolivia, which contains something like three million inhabitants. Peru has about five million people. Returning to the seacoast, we next visited Chile, where the inhabitants number about four million. I became very much interested in the old town of Valparaíso, the name of which, translated into English, means “The Vale of Paradise.”
It seems that the Spanish explorers, after sailing southward along the coast and seeing sixteen hundred miles of desert, came to a fertile valley that looked so green and pleasant that they at first sight of the same broke out in ecstasy, exclaiming “val de paraíso.”
While traveling I learned only a few Spanish words. I thought I was too far advanced in years to devote much time in acquiring a language that would be of but little use to me during the remainder of my life.
It was to Valparaíso that Parley P. Pratt, the martyred apostle, and Elder Rufus C. Allen, went in 1851 to preach the gospel. They attempted to learn the Spanish language and establish a mission, but somehow or another they did not succeed and returned to the United States in 1852. They spent most of their time in Valparaíso, and at a village thirty-eight miles inland, where they made their temporary home with a native family.
Across the Andes
Leaving Valparaíso, we went inland and visited Santiago, the beautiful capital of Chile, and thence we crossed the Andes Mountains at an elevation of about ten thousand feet above sea level. Before the railroad was built, the travelers following the old wagon road were compelled to climb the mountain pass to the height of about thirteen thousand feet. But the railroad builders bored a tunnel through the mountain about three thousand feet lower, in order to make the grade easier.
On the top of the mountain pass, above the tunnel, there is a unique statue erected in honor of a peace which was established between Chile and the Argentine Republic a few years ago. When we Mormon elders, in visiting foreign lands, find anything that resembles true Christianity, we at once become very much interested. The Chilean and Argentine people had been quarrelling about their boundary lines and came near going to war over it, when finally through the agency of the king of England, the two nations came together to talk over their difficulties, and they finally established peace. And in honor of that peace the two nations conjointly erected a colossal statue on the mountain representing Christ, upon the foot of which they carved the following inscription: “Sooner shall these mountains crumble into dust than Chileans and Argentines shall break this peace which at the feet of Christ, the Redeemer, they have sworn to maintain.” I am pleased to say that this covenant has been kept, as there has been peace between Chile and Argentina ever since.
An Interesting Country
In crossing the Andes Mountains we entered the Argentine Republic, which we found a most interesting country. The great pampas or plains of South America extend from the foot of the Andes to the Atlantic Coast, and from Brazil on the north to Patagonia on the south. It is a very level country for thousands of miles. We often speak of the prairies, which we Mormon emigrants crossed years ago with ox teams and handcarts from the Missouri River toward the Rocky Mountains. These plains were about five hundred miles across, but they become very insignificant when compared with the great pampas of the Argentine Republic. I have seen nothing like it since I crossed the Russian steppes in Siberia thirteen years ago.
In becoming acquainted with conditions in the Argentine, I discovered that a great deal of greed and selfishness had been associated with the early settlement of that country by the Spaniards, and I could not help contrasting these conditions with what I had witnessed in the United States.
The Christians should be the most unselfish people on the earth, as their creed teaches these to love their neighbors as themselves. When President Brigham Young arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847 with his pioneer company, he had the best opportunity of securing the best land for himself and friends and making a monopoly of the water in the valley to the detriment of those who should follow, but Brigham Young and his pioneers, being true Christians, took no advantage of this situation. In surveying Salt Lake City and the adjacent country, he only claimed what building lots and lands he actually needed for himself and family and left the country open for future settlers. His policy was that every man with a family should have a lot in the city and in addition to that, if he were a mechanic, a five-acre lot for farming purposes; and if he was a farmer, ten acres of land further away from the city. This accounts for our five-acre plat and our ten-acre plat south of this city. In view of the fact that the land had to be irrigated it was considered that ten acres of land was about all a man could consistently take care of and use to advantage.
A different arrangement was made in the settling of the Argentine Republic. When the Spaniards took the land away from the Indians and divided it among themselves, the Spanish king seemed to be very liberal with his nobles and assigned to them as special gifts very large tracts of land, which today are owned by their descendants, and thus it is very difficult for people who even at the present time emigrate from Europe to the Argentine to become owners of the soil, as these original land grants are kept as regular monopolies, preventing bona fide settlers from deriving the benefits from the country to which their toil naturally would entitle them.
I cannot help comparing these selfish actions on the part of the Spaniards with what we as Latter-day Saints endeavored to do in these valleys of the mountains when they were first settled. I believe I am justified in saying that we acted as true Christians should act, and that we tried to live and let live and were perfectly willing to divide the advantages of nature with our fellowmen.
The beautiful city of Buenos Aires has a population of about two million people, or about one-fifth of the entire population of the republic. By this, we are reminded that one-fifth of the entire population of Utah resides in our capital, Salt Lake City, and similar conditions exist in Denmark, where also one-fifth of all the inhabitants of the country reside in the city of Copenhagen. Thus it seems that Utah, the Argentine, and Denmark are concentrating a great percentage of their population in their capitals, and that they take special pride in making these as beautiful as possible, as well as making them the center of government and trade. Buenos Aires has beautiful streets, extensive parks, and fine public buildings, but in many respects it is very much like some of the capital cities of Europe, especially Paris.
The Coffee Belt
On our voyage from Buenos Aires to New York we visited Montevideo, the fine capital of the Uruguayan Republic, and also visited Santos and São Paulo in Brazil. These two cities are the centers of the greatest coffee-producing districts in the world. Rio de Janeiro, the capital of Brazil, is one of the prettiest cities that I have ever seen. It is situated on a beautiful bay at the foot of lofty mountains. There is no other city like it in the world. In the Argentine Republic everything is flat, but in the country around Rio de Janeiro there is grand mountain scenery and the city itself has many beautiful parks, palm avenues, and palatial residences. While the Argentine Republic has less than nine million people, the total number of inhabitants in Brazil is about thirty million five hundred thousand.
In all the Central American and South American republics there is perfect religious liberty, though the Roman Catholics are nearly everywhere in the majority. We Latter-day Saints can appreciate religious liberty, especially those of us who have been imprisoned and banished in different countries of Europe because of our faith.
At present there are twenty-one republics in what we generally call Latin America. The aggregate population in these republics, and a few small colonies belonging to England, France, and Holland, is about one hundred million, and of these nearly one-half or fifty million people, are descendants of the House of Israel, from the viewpoint of a Latter-day Saint, who believes in the divinity of the Book of Mormon.
In consideration of these facts it appears to me that there is a splendid opportunity for opening up Latter-day Saint missions in Central and South America, and any of our young men who can speak or learn to speak the Spanish language can preach the gospel in all Latin America. Even in Brazil, where the Portuguese language is the language of the country, a great number of the people can speak and understand Spanish. We cannot tell how willing the people in Latin America will be to listen to the restored gospel, but among so many, it is reasonable to suppose that at least a small percentage would be interested in the declaration that God has raised up a prophet in our day and generation.
While visiting some of the larger cities in South America, I spent some time in the national libraries endeavoring to learn what I could in regard to the history of the different republics, and I found there was a great sameness in the experiences of nearly all of them. When the Spaniards conquered the country and subdued the Indians, they used force in introducing the Roman Catholic religion among the aborigines and also compelled them to learn the Spanish language.
We Latter-day Saints think it is wrong to force any kind of religion, be it true or false, upon any people, be they Indians or whites. We believe that God has given His children their free agency, and the messages that He, from time to time, has entrusted His servants, the prophets, His own son, and others to deliver to His sons and daughters in mortality, has not interfered with the free agency of men. The true religion of Jesus Christ was preached to both Jews and Gentiles one thousand eight hundred years ago, it was not forced upon any of the nationalities of that day. The announcement was, “He that believeth and was baptized shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.”
“Every Soul Is Free”
Of course any one who rejects God and his message must take the consequences, but under no circumstances should a people be forced to accept of any religion. This is in perfect harmony with the popular hymn which we Latter-day Saints so frequently use in our public assemblages:
“Know this, that every soul is free,
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is given:
That God will force no man to heaven.
“He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light:
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.”
By studying what we generally term ecclesiastical history, we find that it is perverted or false Christianity viewed in the light of the word of God that has been forced upon people, but never true Christianity. I believe that I am safe in saying that our elders, in their endeavors to preach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people, have never resorted to force or endeavored to coerce people to accept their testimony.
In my reading of histories of South American countries I have almost reached the conclusion that the introduction of Latin Christianity among the Indian tribes of America has not improved the condition of the natives. It seems that the Indians of Peru were better off under the rules of their own Inca rulers than they subsequently were under Spanish dominion, and even after they became an independent republic their conditions morally, socially, and religiously have become worse instead of better in many instances.
An Earlier People
I will now briefly revert back to my thoughts in regard to the ruins of cities, walls, and temples in Central and South America. The all-important question is, “Who built these great structures which are now in ruins?” Archeologists who have thoroughly examined the ruins in Mexico agree that the Aztecs, who inhabited Mexico when Cortez conquered the country and caused the great Emperor Montezuma to be put to death, did not build the temples and walls that are now found in ruins in different parts of that country, but the learned ascribe their erection to the earlier inhabitants who are generally known by the name of Toltecs, and when the Toltecs are mentioned in this connection, we Latter-day Saints at once think of the Nephites, or the Jaredites, as the possible builders. In Peru the Incas became known to the Spaniards as an intelligent class of rulers who governed their subjects in righteousness. They were very successful rulers and taught the people agriculture, and were also skillful in building. Nevertheless, the men who have made a study of these ruins and also the people now living there came to the conclusion long ago that the great fortifications of Cuzco, and the great fortifications around Lake Titicaca, could not have been built by the Incas. They must have been built by a race that was more ancient than they. The natives say they do not know who they were, and that is what we heard when we started inland. “What is the use of going there?” they would say. “You can go in and see these ruins, but you can’t get any knowledge in regard to who built them. So it will give you very little satisfaction.” I said, “Perhaps we will find more satisfaction than any of the rest of you, because we have a book that tells us where these ancient people came from, and who built the temples and other structures that are now in ruins.” When these people heard our statement, they were somewhat astonished.
Came from Jerusalem
I desire to draw attention to just a few paragraphs contained in the Book of Mormon in regard to a people called Nephites. All students of the Book of Mormon know something about the Nephites, and to those who do not I will simply explain that they were a people who came from Jerusalem six hundred years before the birth of the Savior. They were led in what we call a miraculous way across the great waters and landed somewhere upon the west shore of America. We further find by reading that record that they divided into two great tribes; that the one people called Nephites were a God-fearing people, and that the other tribe, called Lamanites, were wicked, and that in a short time there was war in that land; that the wicked Lamanites tried to kill the Nephites who were righteous. So we find that the Nephites, who were anxious to defend their wives and children and their homes and their possessions, took steps to protect themselves against their enemies, and very early in the days of the Nephites we find this matter recorded.
In the days of Jarom, a great-grandson of Lehi, about two hundred years after Lehi left Jerusalem, there were continued wars between the Nephites and Lamanites, and Jarom writes, “We withstood the Lamanites . . . and began to fortify our cities, or whatsoever place of our inheritance” (Jarom 1:7).
In the record of Zeniff, we read, “And we began to build buildings, and to repair the walls of the city, yea, even the walls of the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom” (Mosiah 9:8). This was about two hundred years before the birth of Christ, or four hundred years after Lehi and his family had left Jerusalem.
About seventy-two years before Christ, Moroni, the great Nephite general, “had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands: yea all round about the land” (Alma 48:8).
In Alma 50:10, we read, “And he [Moroni] also placed armies on the south, in the borders of their possessions, and caused them to erect fortifications that they might secure their armies and their people from the hands of their enemies. And thus he cut off all the strongholds of the Lamanites in the east wilderness, yea, and also on the west, fortifying the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi, from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon— the Nephites possessing all the land northward; yea, even all the land which was northward of the land Bountiful” (Alma 50:10–11).
It is also recorded in Alma 51:23–27, that Amalakiah, the apostate Nephite, who led the Lamanite armies, took “possession of all. . .the Nephite fortifications” in the land of Moroni and other lands and cities. “And thus had the Lamanites obtained, by the cunning of Amalakiah, so many cities, by their numberless hosts, all of which were strongly fortified after the manner of the fortifications of Moroni; all of which afforded strongholds for the Lamanites.”
In Alma 52:2, it is recorded that the Lamanites “retreated with all their army into the city of Mulek, and sought protection in their fortifications.” In the 17th verse it is recorded that Teancum, a Nephite general, intended to attack the Lamanites, but he decided that he could not “overpower them while they were in their fortifications.”
In Alma 53:7, it is recorded that General Moroni employed his men in preparing for war and “making fortifications to guard against the Lamanites.”
Later, Moroni caused Lamanite prisoners to “labor in strengthening the fortifications round about the city Gid” (Alma 55:25). And he made preparations to attack the city of Morianton which the Lamanites had fortified so that it was an “exceeding stronghold” (Alma 55:33).
Antipus, another Nephite general, and his men were “toiling with their might to fortify the city” of Judea (Alma 56:15).
The Lamanite people of Antiparah left that city and “fled to their other cities, which they had possession of, to fortify them” (Alma 57:4).
Moroni “fortified those parts of the land which were most exposed to the Lamanites, until they were sufficiently strong” (Alma 62:42).
About thirty-five years before Christ, “the Nephites and the armies of Moronihah were driven even into the land of Bountiful; and there they did fortify against the Lamanites from the west sea, even unto the east, it being a day’s journey for a Nephite, on the line which they had fortified and stationed their armies to defend their north country” (Helaman 4:6–7).
In the sixteenth year after the birth of Christ, Lachoneus, a Nephite governor, who was warring against the Gadianton robbers, “caused that fortifications should be built around about them [he gathered Nephites], and the strength should be exceeding great” (3 Nephi 3:14). “And they did fortify themselves against their enemies” (3 Nephi 3:25).
The Nephite prophet and general Mormon, three hundred and twenty-seven years after the birth of Christ, writes, “We did fortify the city [Angola] with our might, but notwithstanding all our fortifications the Lamanites did come upon us, and did drive us out of the city (Mormon 2:4). In Mormon 2:21, we are told that the Nephites fortified the city of Shem, and in Mormon 3:6, it is stated that the Nephites fortified against the Lamanites with all their force.
Who Built Fortifications?
These are only a few of the passages found in the Book of Mormon, showing that the people called Nephites, and also the Lamanites, built fortifications. Then we ask, “Who built the fortifications in Central America and South America of which we today find the ruins?” We cannot tell positively, because there are no records, but to us Latter-day Saints it seems plain as daylight that some of them at least are the remnants of the work of that ancient God-fearing and liberty-loving people called Nephites, and that they built these fortifications to defend themselves against the Lamanites, who were ever trying to destroy them.
It is a strange thing that intelligent people will not at least give the Book of Mormon a thought and a trial. They may not give its narrative full credence at once, but that book is the only book that gives us any important clue as to who these pre-historic people were. If they were not the Nephites of the Book of Mormon, they must have been a people like them. Then why not consult the Book of Mormon as the only record known that points in the direction of solving the problem in regard to who these pre-historic temple-builders and fortification-builders were?
Speaking about temples, we think of the Temple of the Sun at Cuzco, and there were many other temples in ancient America of which we find ruins today. We call several of them Temples of the Sun, and the Book of Mormon does not convey the idea that the Nephites were worshipers of the sun. But I want to draw attention to the fact that in the land of Judea or Canaan, even when Elijah the prophet and other prophets were alive, it was not uncommon for the covenant peoples, the Israelites, to forget the God of their fathers and worship Baal, or the sun-god of the Assyrians or Syria, or Bel of Babylon; even the Egyptians worshipped the sun god.
Old Nephites Built Temples
Now if the people of Israel in the days of the prophets could fall away into such idolatry at that time and worship the sun, is it so absurd to think that the people of South America, after their prophets had been dead for hundreds of years, could forget the God and teachings of their forefathers? Was it unnatural for those Lamanites, after the Nephites had been slain, to drift away from their Jehovah-worship and become worshippers of the sun? These temples were no doubt built by a people who worshipped the true God, but in due course of time their descendants may have apostatized and become worshipers of the sun. Now to the point: Did the Nephites build temples? The prophet Nephi, the son of Lehi, about thirty years after the family had left Jerusalem, and after they had located in the land of Nephi, has left us this record: “And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceeding fine” (2 Nephi 5:16).
Jacob, the brother of Nephi, taught his people in the temple which Nephi had built (Jacob 2:2–11).
King Benjamin taught his people in the same temple, about one hundred and twenty-four years before the birth of Christ (Mosiah 1:18; 2:1, 5–7).
King Limhi also taught his people in the same temple (Mosiah 7:17).
King Noah “caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass” (Mosiah 11:10).
In Further Proof
In further proof of the Nephites being temple-builders, I will read the following: “And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings” (Helaman 3:9).
Jesus Christ appeared to the Nephites in the temple in the land Bountiful after his resurrection from the dead (3 Nephi 11:1).
I have other quotations which I could read, but I shall not take the time to do so.
I hold in my hand a book on South America, written by Isaiah Bowman, which I used much in my recent travels, and I found in it a very fine description of the Incas and of another people generally called the pre-Inca people. Sir Clements Markham, who wrote a book entitled The Incas of Peru, published in New York in 1910, mentions by names a number of priests, soldiers, lawyers, mestizos (half-castes), and pure-blooded Indians who have written about the Incas and given details of their civilization and past history, so far as it could be obtained from memory, for the Incas, when the Spaniards found them, had no written language.
A Higher Civilization
Some of those authors, who were prejudiced, wrote against the Indians, while others wrote in their favor, but all goes to prove that although the Inca nation was an intelligent people and had a higher civilization, other people who lived in the land before them were more intelligent than the Incas. Sir Clements Markham speaks about the Lake Titicaca, which lies between two chains of the Andes Mountains, namely the main chain on the east and the coast chain on the west. Thus is formed a basin with Lake Titicaca and a lower lake as the center—a basin similar to the Great Interior Basin of North America with extensive salt marshes. It was in that basin that the pre-Inca people dwelt. Speaking about that he says: “These cities were 13,000 to 14,000 feet above the level of the sea with a lake called Titicaca or Intecaca in its center. Titicaca is the largest lake in South America. It was formerly much larger. The surface of the lake is 12,508 feet above the level of the sea, that of the plateau being on an average several hundred feet higher. The surrounding mountains form a region of frost and snow. The hardy llamas and alpacas live and breed amidst the tufts of coarse grass, called ychy and the graceful vicunas can endure the rigorous climate at still higher elevations.”
Then the author states that such a region was only capable of sustaining a small population of hardy mountaineers and laborers, and that the mystery consists in the existence of ruins of a great city on the southern side of the lake—the builders being entirely unknown. “The city,” he says, “covered a large area, built by highly skilled masons and with the use of enormous stones. One stone is thirty-six feet long by seven, weighing one hundred and seventy tons; another twenty-eight feet by sixteen by six. Apart from the monoliths of ancient Egypt there is nothing to equal this in any other part of the world. The movement and the placing of such monoliths point to a dense population, to an organized government, and consequently to a large area under cultivation, with arrangements for the conveyance of supplies from various directions. There must have been an organization combining skill and intelligence with administrative ability. The point of interest next to the immense size of the stones is the excellence of the workmanship. The lines are accurately straight, the angles correctly drawn, the surfaces level” (The Incas of Peru, 21–24).
Then follows a minute description of the monoliths and the following: “But the grandest and most imposing work of the magalithic builders was the fortress at Cuzco. The Sacsahuaman Hill on which the fortress stood, overlooking the city, was practically inaccessible on two sides, and easily defensible on another, but the eastern face was exposed to easy approach and here the great cyclopean work was constructed. It consists of three parallel walls, three hundred and thirty yards in length each, with twenty-one advancing and retiring angles, so that at every point an attack could be enfiladed by defenders; the outer wall, at its salient angles has stones of the following dimensions: fourteen feet high by twelve; another ten feet by six. There must have been some good cause for the erection of this defensive work of which we know nothing. The Incas knew nothing. Garellasso (one of the Inca historians) refers to towers, walls, and gates built by the Incas and even gives the names of the architects; but these were later defenses, built within the great cyclopean fortress. The outer lines must be attributed to the magalithic age. There is nothing else that can be compared to them in any other part of the world. At Chavin, in the valley of the Maranon, there is cyclopean work and also in Chacapoyas.”
Convinced of Truth
We are anxious that the Book of Mormon should be read, and we feel satisfied that anyone who will read it without prejudice will find something in it that will cause them to think and perhaps bring them to the task of praying, as in the case of many of us. For an answer to prayers some of us have been convinced that the Book of Mormon is true and that such a people as the Nephites did really live on this continent, and furthermore, that some of these monuments and ruins are the workmanship of their hands, and that of the Jaredites.
Brethren and sisters, we are commissioned to preach the gospel in all the world. I am not here to dictate to the authorities of the Church as to what they should do, but there certainly is a great field in Central America and South America, beyond the borders of Mexico, for possible missionary work, and if young men who can use the Spanish language were sent down there to preach the restored gospel, it seems to me that among fifty million people, descendants of the House of Israel, they would find some who would embrace the gospel. There is a tendency already down there among a certain class of the people to break away somewhat from religious tyranny, if you will permit me to call it such.
I met a Salvation Army captain in Bolivia, who had charge of all the Salvation Army work in that republic, and he said the people there had begun to look for true Christianity, or that kind of Christianity which was calculated to elevate people. He said that the moral status of Bolivia was something deplorable, and that the representatives of the dominant church there winked at these things, and when the Salvation Army workers tried to do something to uplift the people and teach them a better Christianity, so far as morals were concerned, and to bring them up from degradation and shame and make them better men and women, it was looked upon as an interference with old conditions. For the people had been taught that if they committed sin, they could get forgiveness by making confession to the priests, and these did not like to have their operations in the city of La Paz, or in any of the Bolivian cities, interfered with.
We know that Christian life will lead to prosperity, peace, and happiness, but that to indulge in vice means destruction, many people having already been destroyed in just that way. Many so-called semi-civilized people in the world are copying the vices of so-called Christians and not their virtues, and this will ultimately lead to their destruction. There are many remnants of people upon the face of the earth today who were formerly strong and virtuous, but the fruits of false Christianity have destroyed them, until there are only a few of them left.
I am a believer in true Christianity, and I claim to be a practical Christian. I believe in Christ and his teachings, for I know that his teachings lead to righteous lives, when they are reduced to practice. There is no religion in the world anywhere that can compare with true Christianity in excellence, but theoretical Christianity adopted by people who honor God with their lips only, and whose hearts are far removed from him, does not count toward salvation.
Brethren and sisters, I am convinced that what we want in this world of ours, be it in South America or North America, or Europe, Asia, or Africa, is true Christianity. We need men and women who will endeavor to be Christians both in words and in deeds, who will love their neighbors as themselves, who will lead pure and virtuous lives, and who, being honest, will follow the example which Christ has set. I want to bear my testimony to you, that after traveling in foreign lands as I have done, and having now become acquainted with the conditions in South America, as well as in Europe and in other lands, I have come to the conclusion that the people in South America and Central America need the true gospel of Jesus Christ just as much as the people in Europe need it today, and I hope the time is near when the Latter-day Saint elders will have an opportunity to preach that true gospel of Jesus Christ in all the world—the real, practical gospel of the Redeemer that gospel which makes mankind better, that lifts them from a low to a high moral standard, inspires them to be good and clean, leads them to noble deeds, and causes them to live righteous lives before God, for that is the aim of Christianity, and that is the mission of the Latter-day Saints. May God help us to be true and faithful to our mission is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
 Andrew Jenson, “Ancient Ruins in South American Lands Held to Be Evidence of Divine Authenticity of Book of Mormon,” Deseret News, June 6, 1923, 7. This was an address delivered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Sunday, May 27, 1923, as reported by Frank W. Otterstrom.