Wayne May Distorts Facts about Hill Cumorah

Wayne May Distorts Facts about Hill Cumorah

by Duane Dahlem   
January 2010

Materials, concepts, maps


In 2006, I attended the LDS Family Expo, held in Exhibit Hall 1, at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah - Saturday, April 1, 2006; an LDS General Conference weekend.  I attended the workshop listed as "Book of Mormon Archaeology in North America."  The official program of the Expo on page 13 stated the following:
  Wayne May from Ancient American Magazine --- How do thousands of Native American archeological sites support the Book of Mormon?  Author, historian, and explorer Wayne May will demonstrate similar parallels between two distinct ancient cultures of North America and will match them with the Jaredites and the Nephites......  Wayne's deep insight into ancient people and lands has come from 13 years as publisher of Ancient American magazine,....  The Book of Mormon will come alive as you ponder the data for a North American setting.

During the lecture/slide presentation, a slide photo of a letter dated June 10, 1954, to Riley Lake Dixon from J. Golden Jensen was shown on the screen.  It was a typescript of the letter on pages 147-149 of JUST ONE CUMORAH by Riley Lake Dixon, Bookcraft, Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah, 1958.  Wayne May also reproduced the letter on pages 91-92 of his own book: THIS LAND They Came from the EAST, by Wayne N. May, Hayriver Press, Colfax, Wisconsin, July 2005.

With the slide photo on screen, Wayne May referred to Elder James E. Talmage being a geologist by profession, and then read the following portion of the letter for the audience of what J. Golden Jensen wrote that Elder [Apostle] James E. Talmage said as he [Elder Talmage] stood on the crest of the hill near Palmyra, New York in Jensen's presence in 1920.

  ....At this time he stated that he had found as a result of a survey and extensive analysis made by him [Talmage], while a student in an eastern university, the soils of the surrounding area to be very rich in calcium, and phosphate content, in the soils particularly adjacent to the Hill Cumorah.  With further investigation he discovered that there was a lack of these elements in the land which lay further than a few miles in radius in any direction from the Hill Cumorah.  To him, this discovery was indicative of the fact that there was decaying of bones of the Nephite and Lamanite armies that perished there...."    (Dixon pg 148)

Then Wayne May again commented that James E. Talmage WAS A GEOLOGIST, reinforcing what J. Golden Jensen wrote as being FACT and thereby providing proof that the hill near Palmyra, New York is the original Hill Cumorah.  I was surprised that Talmage might have been a geologist and questioned that he might have done an "extensive analysis" of the soils. 

Therein began my investigation:

James E. Talmage was an outstanding Geologist

At the end of his Lehigh University studies [1882-83], James E. Talmage received a Certificate of Studies:

  "....attesting full university credit for the following courses of study,....

    Freshman classes: German, botany, elementary chemistry.
    Sophomore:  Qualitative [chemical] analysis, physics, German,
    chemical preparations, assaying, blowpipe analysis.
    Junior:  Chemical philosophy, toxicology, quantitative analysis,
    anatomy and physiology, crystallography, organic chemistry,
    iron metallurgy, mineralogy.
    Senior: General metallurgy, quantitative analysis, chemistry
    applied to arts, medical chemistry, agricultural chemistry,
    historic, dynamic, and economic geology....."

(The Talmage Story - Life of James E. Talmage - Educator, Scientist, Apostle, by [son] John R. Talmage, Bookcraft, Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah, 1972; pg 43; photograph of  Certificate of Studies, pg 44)

James E. Talmage next attended Johns Hopkins University [1883-84] pursuing further studies in chemistry, biology, and further training in chemistry laboratory work.  Talmage, at page 161 states the following:

    "...Services [1897 - 1900] of competent geologists capable of evaluating
    mineral claims and deposits were in demand, and the demand continued
    to grow....   ...Dr. Talmage soon became known as one of the most
    valued and highest paid consulting geologists in the West...."

Talmage did not perform an extensive soil analysis of the Hill Cumorah

What J. Golden Jensen wrote [although written thirty-four years after the purported event] might be compelling evidence for the hill outside Palmyra, New York, being the original Hill Cumorah --- IF what J. Golden Jensen wrote was actually stated, while he stood on the hill crest during the summer of 1920 and if the tests were actually performed by Talmage.  Considering that what Wayne May so forcefully read may not be factual, I went to work researching for original chronological source documentation that might prove or disprove what Wayne May presented as being factual.

Immediately after Wayne May's lecture/slide presentation, I purchased a DVD copy of ANCIENT ARTIFACTS, which Wayne assured me contained the same material he had just presented.  (WAYNE MAY - ANCIENT ARTIFACTS, December 2005, "...taped before a live audience...")  In watching the DVD, I observed that Wayne May presented, almost verbatim, the same material with the same voice inflections while reading the above quoted portion of the Jensen letter at the Expo.

On May 7, 2006, I wrote a letter to Wayne May respectfully requesting him to direct me to original chronological source documentation which substantiated the fact that James E. Talmage did a survey and extensive analysis of soils surrounding the Hill Cumorah while he was a student at an eastern university and declared that to be evidence proving it to be the same hill where the last great battle of the Nephites and Lamanites occurred.

Wayne May returned my letter, but did not provide any original chronological source documentation.  Instead he attached a photocopy of an October 16, 1990, letter from F. Michael Watson (Secretary to the First Presidency) to Bishop Darrell L. Brooks in Moore, Oklahoma, stating:

  I have been asked to forward to you for acknowledgment and handling the enclosed copy of a letter to President Gordon B. Hinckley from Ronnie Sparks of your ward.  Brother Sparks inquired about the location of the Hill
Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, where the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place.
The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New Yorkstate is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon...."  (Photocopy in my    possession)

I located this same letter reprinted on page 87 of THIS LAND Only One Cumorah! Volume II, by Wayne N. May, Hayriver Press, Colfax, Wisconsin, April 2004.  On May 15, 2006, I responded to Wayne May, commenting:

".... The significant contrast being -- the statement is F. Michael Watson's response referencing the "...writings of General Authorities..." and not based on specific archaeological evidence....

The Church's position on this subject is clear that it takes no position, and any general authority who makes any statement about it is only speculating and it is not doctrine or factual.  Mark E. Petersen's address to educators, 24 August 1954, states:

  We have had speculation, for instance, on the part of some with respect to Book of Mormon geography, and it is plain, unadulterated speculation and not doctrine.  And if a General Authority has speculated on Book of Mormon geography he did not represent the view of the Church while doing so.
I am interested in hard evidence and not speculations or misinformation.  On May 23, 2006, Wayne May returned my original letter with a hand-written note on the bottom of page 2:  "I only have Jensen's personal testimony.  You can contact him.  Good Luck.  Wayne"

Assuming that missionary J. Golden Jensen was 20 years old during the summer of 1920 when the purported statement was made to him by Elder James E. Talmage as he stood on the crest of the Hill Cumorah, Jensen would have been about 106 years old in 2006.  It was not only absurd to suggest contacting Jensen, but he did not provide any information as to how to locate him or his family.  Via email, Wayne May admitted he had no idea where to locate him.  With no way to locate Jensen, even if he were still alive; and May admitting to having no independent substantiating, verifying evidence -- my investigation expanded.

A likely place to start was reading the book:  THE TALMAGE STORY - Life of James E. Talmage - Educator, Scientist, Apostle by [son] John R. Talmage, Bookcraft, Inc., 1972.  Although descriptions are given of his studies at Lehigh and Johns Hopkins there is no mention of any soil sample analysis trip to the Hill Cumorah near Palmyra, New York, while a student.

I called James A. Talmage, son of John R. Talmage, on April 5, 2006.  After reading the soil sample analysis portion of the Jensen letter to him, James A. Talmage commented that he has no knowledge of any soil samples taken around the Hill Cumorah and/or within a several mile radius, or extensive analysis made of said sample by his grandfather….  He suggested that I call Shannon Howells, the Talmage family historian,    (Telephone conversation notes in my possession).

Based on Jim Talmage's suggestion, I immediately called Ms. Shannon Howells (Talmage family historian) at her home and after explaining the purpose of my call and reading the same portion of the Jensen letter to her; she also said she has no knowledge of her great-grandfather having engaged in soil sample analysis that Jensen describes while James E. Talmage was attending an eastern university, or at any other time.  She said she would check his journal for the summer of 1920 and call me back that same evening.  When she called back, she went over journal entries of James E. Talmage's summer 1920 visit to Palmyra, the Joseph Smith home, the Sacred Grove, and the Hill Cumorah.  She named Willard Bean and Pres. George W. McCune as being there, but no mention was made of J. Golden Jensen being present.  Ms. Howells said she would send me a photocopy of the typescript Journal entries.  (Telephone conversation notes in my possession)

That same evening I wrote a thank you letter to Ms. Shannon Howells, and included a photocopy of the J. Golden Jensen letter from Riley L. Dixon's book -- Just One Cumorah.  On April 7, 2006, I received the photocopies of Elder James E. Talmage's journal entries for his summer 1920 trip to New York.  (Elder James E. Talmage journal entries photocopy in my possession)

Elder James E. Talmage's journal entry for Aug. 11, Wed. [1920], merely states his personal beliefs and speculations and contains no facts or revelations about soil samples or tests.  It reads:

  President McCune and I went early to the Grove.  Later we were conveyed by auto to the Hill Cumorah by Brother Bean.  We climbed the hill and traversed it back and fore and examined it with interest and care.  It is the largest of the many glacial drumlins of the locality, and is the most prominent of all the elevations in the neighborhood.  Aside from the fact that the plates of the Book of Mormon were taken from this hill, I was greatly interested in looking from its summit over the surrounding region and in contemplating the tremendous battle-scenes of the past, whereby first the Jaredites and later the Nephites were exterminated as nations.  I believe the Book of Mormon account without reservation or modification.  I believe, also, and express it as my personal conviction, that many ancient records, possibly those from which Mormon made his abridgment, are still concealed in that hill.  I believe also that they will be brought forth in the Lord's due time, and  that until that time no man will succeed in finding them.

    (James E. Talmage journal entries, 1920, pg 132-133).

This journal entry mentioned Brother [Willard] Bean being with Elder Talmage and Pres. George W. McCune at the Hill Cumorah.  I read E. Cecil McGavin and Willard W. Bean's compiled book: Book of Mormon Geography, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1948, and found no statement made in reference to any "extensive soil sample analysis" comment being made by Elder Talmage.

On April 10, 2006, I visited the LDS Church Historical Department and reviewed the microfilm of Willard Washington Bean 1868-1949 -- Autobiography [ca. 1947].  There was nothing on the microfilm referencing the Elder Talmage and Pres. McCune visit to Palmyra and Hill Cumorah. (Historical Department request slip and hand-written notes in my possession.)

While still at the LDS Church Library on April 10, 2006, I filled out a Historical Department - Archives Division Request For Use of Restricted Material, which included the following information:

  Main Entry:  James E. Talmage
Title:  Journals
Research topic:  James E. Talmage trip to Hill Cumorah during 1882 - 1884 when student at Lehigh Univ. and Johns Hopkins Univ.
Purpose of research:  Trying to find if Elder Talmage took any soil samples on and around Hill Cumorah in a radius of several miles.
How will this material aid your research:  It has been said that Elder Talmage did extensive soil analysis.  I am trying to verify this.  (Photocopy of request form in my possession)

May 3, 2006, a letter arrived from Ronald G. Watt (Church Archives), dated May 1, 2006:
  We received your request to read the James E. Talmage journals for 1882-1884 when he was a student at Lehigh University and Johns Hopkins University to see whether he took soil samples at the Hill Cumorah.  We read through the journal for those years and found that he did not visit the Hill Cumorah or the northern New York Church sites in those years."
(signed) Ronald G. Watt
Church Archives
(Letter in my possession)

 In a June 16, 2006 email, Wayne May commented:
  .... Why would Br. Jensen make this up?  Everything that takes place surely, isn't recorded all the time.  His testimony is just that, a personal testimony while being with Talmadge [sic].      Wayne"    (Email copy in my possession.)

On January 10, 2010, I sent an email to Wayne May.  I focused on Wayne's lecture/slide presentation inclusion of James E. Talmage "...being a geologist by profession..." in order to attach validity to what Jensen attributed to Elder Talmage as saying.  I asked the following:
    1.  To date [January 2010] have you located any independent evidence to substantiate/verify what J. Golden Jensen wrote....?
    2.  Have you received any reply from your "New York source" -- to the data previously posted to you on this soil sample analysis issue?
    3.  Do you still show the Jensen letter photo slide in your lecture/slide presentation?

On January 11, 2010, Wayne May responded via email:
    "I use it and point out that he [James E. Talmage] was a Geologist by profession.  I have not been able to find a second source from [sic] J. Golden's letter.     Wayne"    (Email in my possession.)


Based on the lack of independent substantiating evidence, it is my conclusion that the factual content of the J. Golden Jensen letter [June 10, 1954 to author Riley L. Dixon] is not only highly questionable but does not provide physical evidence that the hill near Palmyra, New York is the original Hill Cumorah --- Wayne N. May's uncorroborated and continuing use of this letter in his lecture/slide presentations as evidence that the Hill Cumorah in New York is the same hill where the last battle took place is a distortion of the facts and not valid evidence.  Had Elder Talmage really performed the claimed soil analysis tests and had those tests really proven the facts as claimed, he, being the reputable and renowned geologist, historian, and apostle that he was, would certainly have published the information.

It seems to me that if Wayne May truly desired to be accurate, honest, and not deceptive that he would simply have a reputable university or qualified scientist, do a "real" "extensive soil analysis" of the Hill Cumorah in New York and the surrounding area and corroborate his highly speculative and erroneous conclusions.

Dahlem, Duane