Rocky Mountain Prophecy

MYTH: Joseph Smith prophesied that the LDS Church would be established in the Rocky Mountains were the Saints would become a mighty people.


There was a prophecy recorded in the Documentary History of the Church [DHC], dated August 1842, in which the prophet Joseph Smith is said to prophesy that the Saints would settle in the Rocky Mountains and become a mighty people. The prophecy, as found in the DHC, states:

I prophesied that the Saints would continue to suffer much affliction and would be driven to the Rocky Mountains, many would apostatize, others would be put to death by our persecutors or lose their lives in consequence of exposure or disease, and some of you will live to go and assist in making settlements and build cities and see the Saints become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains. [1]

In a Sunday, October 5, 2008 General Conference session, LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard referenced this prophecy, affirming that the Saints had fulfilled Smith’s prophecy that they would “build cities” and “become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains.”[2]

This prophecy was allegedly recorded five years before the Mormons began their migration west, and indeed, would be an impressive prophecy – if Joseph Smith had truly made the statement.

But, is there undeniable evidence that Smith did indeed utter this prophecy and that it was recorded prior to the Saints settling in Utah?

LDS historian Davis Bitton states:

There is no such prophecy in the handwriting of Joseph Smith, or published during the prophet's lifetime, but it was referred to in general terms during the trek west. After the arrival in the Salt Lake Valley the prophecy became more specific as time went on.[3]

In 1971, LDS historian Dean C. Jessee alleged that the page containing this prophecy had not been originally written until July of 1845,[4] three years after the prophecy was said to have been given, and a year after Smith’s death. This indicates that the entry itself cannot be accepted as definitive proof that Smith made the prediction.

If the prophecy was not recorded during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, then the real question is whether the prophecy was added to Church historical manuscripts before or after the Saints moved to Utah.

In 1920, Author Nephi Morris wrote a book defending Joseph Smith’s prophecies. In reference to the “Rocky Mountain Prophecy” Morris writes, "The earliest printed publication of this prophecy, known to the writer, is to be found in the Deseret News, in 1852." [5] Interestingly, the photograph of the prophecy from that paper which Morris includes in his book was from the 7 November 1855 issue.

If the date on the paper was correct, then the first publication of the prophecy was not publicly printed until eight years after the Mormons settled in the Salt Lake Valley.

According to Dean C. Jessee, the LDS history books had been packed up in Nauvoo, Illinois, on 4 February 1846 and were not unpacked in Salt Lake City until 7 June 1853. The work on compiling and finalizing the History did not begin in earnest until 10 April 1854 under the direction of the new church historian George A. Smith.[6] The prophecy was printed for the first time in the 7 November 1855 issue of the Deseret News.[7]

It appears that many of the leaders of the Church, including Brigham Young, were not aware of Joseph’s alleged prophecy. In a circular published by the LDS Church in October 1845, Brigham Young stated that the Church would move to a "far distant region of the west." However, he did not include the Rocky Mountains as one of the proposed destinations. He continued, "There are said to be many good locations for settlements on the Pacific, especially at Vancouver's Island, near the mouth of the Columbia."[8]

LDS historians James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard asserted that when the saints left Nauvoo for the west, Brigham Young’s intended destination was to be “Upper California.”[9]

Elder W.W. Riter, a Mormon pioneer who traveled to the Salt Lake Valley with Brigham Young, confirmed that the Saints did not intend the Rocky Mountains as their final destination, and thus were not aware of Joseph’s alleged prophecy. As published in the Improvement Era, Riter states:

You will remember that when our people started from Nauvoo they only followed the setting sun. They did not know where they were going. There was an indefinite idea that they were going to California; for you may remember that in some of the old editions of our hymn book there is a hymn: 'In Upper California—Oh, that's the land for me!'

The hymn in question, written by John Taylor and sang by the Mormon pioneers as they traveled west, included the following verse:

The Upper California, Oh that's the land for me!
It lies between the mountains and the great Pacific Sea;
The Saints can be supported there,
And taste the sweets of liberty.
In the Upper California, that's the land for me!

Additionally, in 1846 LDS Church leaders considered petitioning the government of England to cede to them part or all of the Island of Vancouver, on the west coast of America. Missionary Oliver B. Huntington recorded in his journal on October 16, 1846:

…it was the intention of the Twelve, here, or the authorities of the Church in England to petition the [English] government, to cede to us as her subjects a part or the whole of the Island of Vancouver, on the western coast of America; and also ship us there. This was given as the intended course to be taken by the Church. [11]

President Young later confirmed that he had no intentions of settling in the Rocky Mountains. In a 1857 sermon Young acknowledged:

When I was written to in Nauvoo by the President of the United States, through another person, enquiring, 'Where are you going, Mr. Young?' I replied that I did not know where we should land. We had men in England trying to negotiate for Vancouver's Island, and we sent a shipload of Saints round Cape Horn to California

From Young’s own statements, and the actions of the members of the church at the time, it does not appear that they were aware of Joseph’s alleged prophecy.

It is possible that Joseph Smith did in fact prophesy of the Mormon settlement in the Rocky Mountains, but the evidence indicates that the “prophecy” was written and expanded after the Mormon settlement of Utah. One thing is certain, there is no concrete evidence whatsoever to support the myth that Joseph Smith predicted that the Saints would settle in the Salt Lake Valley.

[1] Documentary History of the Church (DHC) 5:85, August 1842
[2] M. Russell Ballard, LDS General Conference, Sunday October 5, 2008
[3] Davis Bitton, Changing World of Mormonism, p.406,
[4] "The Writings of Joseph Smith's History," BYU Studies, Summer 1971, pp. 456-458, 468-70
[5] Nephi Morris, Prophecies of Joseph Smith, p.139
[6] "The Writings of Joseph Smith's History," BYU Studies, Summer 1971, pp. 456-458, 469-470
[7] Ibid., p.273
[8], “Mormon Publications: 19th and 20th Centuries,” Circular, To The Whole Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, October 1845
[9] James B. Allen, Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, p.226
[10] Improvement Era, "Correct Placing of the Monument, Pioneer View", 1921
[11] Journal of Oliver B. Huntington 1:34
[12] Journal of Discourses 5:230-231

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