Who Are the Lamanites?
Who Are the Lamanites?
by Joseph L. Allen
Copyright © 2014
On August 3, 2014, following the Tabernacle Choir Broadcast, a documentary on the subject of the mission to the Lamanites taken from the Joseph Smith Papers was aired on Channel 5 television (NBC). The question posed was, “Who are the Lamanites?”
One report states the following:
In a revelation given before the Book of Mormon was completely translated, the Lord said that the plates were preserved “that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their Fathers & that they may know the Promises of the Lord that they may believe the Gospel & rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ” (see Doctrine and Covenants 3:19–21). As the principal scribe of the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery knew that the book was written primarily “to the Lamanites” who were “the remnant of the house of Israel.”
Three sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, two given in September (sections 28:8; 30:5–6) and the third in October (section 32:2–3) in the year 1830, just a few months after the organization of the Church, tell of four missionaries who were called to preach the gospel to the Lamanites. One of the missionaries was Parley P. Pratt, the grandfather of Rey L. Pratt, whom I will talk about later. The calling to Parley reads as follows:
And now concerning my servant Parley P. Pratt, behold, I say unto him that as I live I will that he shall declare my gospel and learn of me, and be meek and lowly of heart. And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall go with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites. And Ziba Peterson also shall go with them; and I myself will go with them and be in their midst; and I am their advocate with the Father, and nothing shall prevail against them. (Doctrine and Covenants 32:2–3)
On their journey from Fayette, New York, to Ohio, they met briefly with some Seneca Indians. However, the Indian Removal Act passed in May 1830 and signed by President Andrew Jackson required the removal of five Indian tribes living in the southern part of the United Sates to be sent west of the Mississippi River, beyond the borders of the United States and into the territory that later became Oklahoma and Kansas. Therefore, the predetermined destination of the missionaries was to that area. Without any doubt, at least in the minds of the missionaries, the American Indians were descendants of the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon. The words of Enos and Moroni affirm the importance of taking the gospel to the Lamanites, which included a book written by the descendants of Lehi (see Enos 1:13, Moroni 1:4, and 10:1).
In Ohio, the missionaries found great receptivity—not with Lamanites (Indians) but with the Christians (Gentiles), who included such men as Sidney Rigdon, Edward Partridge, and Levi Hancock. These disciples of Christ embraced the restored gospel; and, within a short time, the Church moved its headquarters from New York to Ohio.
Frederick G. Williams, who later became a counselor to the Prophet Joseph Smith, joined the four missionaries on their continued quest to fulfill their mission to the Lamanites. The year 1831 became known as the winter of the deep snow, and the journey by foot was extremely difficult. Arriving at Independence, Missouri, the western boundary of the United States at that time, two of the missionaries remained to work for a season. The other three, Cowdery, Pratt, and Williams, went into Indian territory.
The documentary continues as follows:
They first preached to the Shawnees and then to the Delawares. Speaking through an interpreter, Oliver Cowdery shared the essential message of the Book of Mormon. Part of his message, as recorded by Parley P. Pratt, was that “the Lord commanded Mormon and Moroni, their last wise men and prophets, to hide the Book in the earth, that it might be preserved in safety, and be found and made known in the latter day to the pale faces who should possess the land; that they might again make it known to the red man; in order to restore them to the knowledge of the will of the Great Spirit and to His favor.”
The Delaware Indians were receptive, and the chief requested that the missionaries return in the spring when “you shall read to us and teach us more concerning the Book of our fathers and the will of the Great Spirit.” However, because of an order by a federal agent, the missionaries were expelled from Indian Territory. Seeking unsuccessfully to get authorization from William Clark, the superintendent of Indian affairs in the area, the missionaries were no longer able to proselytize in Indian Territory.
The documentary then outlines what was accomplished by the missionaries who were sent to preach the gospel to the Lamanites:
Although the Lamanite mission thus ended, it had helped chart the course the fledgling Church would follow during the coming decade. The missionaries had established the Church in the Kirtland area, and they prepared the way for Joseph Smith to go to Ohio in early 1831, and then call for the Saints in the east to move there as well. Later in 1831, Joseph himself traveled to Jackson County, where he identified the location of the New Jerusalem and, on August 3, 1831, near the Independence courthouse, laid a cornerstone for the temple.
The wording may sound like the mission to the Lamanites was a failure, and cynics may even wonder if the words of the revelation were fulfilled—that is, “nothing [would] prevail against them.”
But not so fast. Let’s see what happens next—or, as Paul Harvey used to say, “And now for the rest of the story.” The Saints did go to Ohio, and they built a temple. They went to Missouri and dedicated a temple lot, and they went to Nauvoo and built another temple. From there, they went to Utah and built four more temples; and, as time passed, fifteen temples were built in Mesoamerica (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador).
And what about Parley P. Pratt, who was called to preach the gospel to the Lamanites? He had a son named Helaman who went to Chihuahua, Mexico, to get away from the law against polygamy. Like his father, he was also called on a mission to the Lamanites—not to Oklahoma and Kansas but to the Indians of Mexico. He served as mission president in Mexico. He had a son named Rey Lucero Pratt, who had only one wife because polygamy had been discontinued in the Church. Her name was Mary (May) Stark. She bore him fourteen children. Rey L. Pratt, the grandson of Parley and the son of Helaman, was called to be the mission president in Mexico, succeeding his father. Rey L. Pratt served in that calling for twenty-four years (1907–31), and in the last six years, he also served in the First Council of the Seventy until his death in 1931. He was fifty-three years old at the time of his death, which came about as a result of complications following an operation.
Rey L. Pratt’s missionary service encompassed the years of the Mexican Revolution (1910–17). Following the revolution, he traveled from El Paso, the exiled mission headquarters of the Mexican Mission, to Mexico City, where the headquarters had been prior to the revolution. The Saints of Mexico had suffered dearly. “In spite of such hardships, these humble people remained faithful. They kept the branches running with the long-range instructions from Pratt, and they scrupulously saved a tenth of their income for tithing, even when doing so meant going without food.”
Rey L. Pratt “always spoke highly of the Indian people. His talks and writings constantly refer to Book of Mormon prophecies on the birthright of the Lamanites. In an especially incisive article for the Young Woman’s Journal in 1914 and in a series for the Improvement Era in 1928, he interpreted the Mexican Revolution and other signs of the times as heralding the day of that birthright. The Lamanites were ready to assume a position of leadership, and it was the duty of the Church to train them and place them there. He often chided the press and public opinion for their prejudiced view of the Indians, especially of those in Mexico, and declared to Church members that their missionary sons, far from working among the savages, were living among a courteous and gently people.”
I, Joseph Allen, encourage everyone to read the life story of Rey L. Pratt, a man who was greatly loved by the Mexican people. His memory still lingers to this day. We should consider all he did and realize that he did it all in fifty-three years, at which time he was taken from this life. His twenty-four-year mission among the Lamanites, like the mission of the sons of Mosiah, bore great fruits and may be considered an extension of the first mission to the Lamanites in these latter days by his grandfather, Parley P. Pratt.
I served as director of the Institute of Religion at the University of Texas at El Paso from 1970–74 and was in the same ward as Gerald Pratt, a nephew of Rey L. Pratt, a grandson of Helaman, and a great-grandson of Parley. Gerald became the bishop of the Fifth Ward and then the stake president. In the year 2000, he and his wife, Vera Whetten Pratt, became the president and matron of the Juarez Mexico Temple. In 2006, a statistical report showed 19,350 descendants of Parley P. Pratt.
Question: Can anyone today legitimately say that the mission of Parley Pratt and his companions to the Lamanites in 1830 was a failure?
Another question: By the way, Who are the Lamanites of the latter days?
Simple, valid answer: By their fruits ye shall know them (Matthew 7:20).