When I was 6 and my sisters were 5 and 3, we read the Book of Mormon with my parents as a family. I was already very geographically minded and the book cries out for a map. So make a map we did.
Mustering the tools of choice for the preschool set — crayons, construction paper, markers, scissors and paste — and marshalling my sister Carol’s and my artistic skills, we boldly tackled the project. As the oldest, it looks like I claimed the right to draw all the Nephites and Nephite cities, leaving the Lamanites and their cities to Carol.
The narrative begins with the ship — a double-masted cog, resembling nothing so much as Columbus’s Nina or Pinta — which landed on the southwest coast of the Land Southward. Details in this area include Lehi’s tombstone, a delightfully cross Lamanite (with striped pants) and an Elephant (Cumom) eating peanuts with his trunk.
A dotted line follows Nephi’s trek inland…
The Land of Nephi is represented by a beautiful walled, Arabesque city, with tall towers and onion domes — not a hint of Chichen Itza to be had. In front of the city is Nephi’s tombstone along with Abinadi, who is being burned at the stake by King Noah. The first path from Nephi leads northwest past a frolicking herd of horses — make no mistake, there were horses in the Land of Promise! — and past a Lamanite Queen with her two children. Paths for Zeniff, Limhi’s scouts and Ammon come back to the city and a second path away is blazed by Alma to the Waters of Mormon.
In the northeast corner of the Land Southward (near the narrow neck) is Zarahemla — complete with a “Z” emblazoned on the wall. In front of the city, the Nephites in tents listen to King Benjamin preach from a tall tower. (Nearby the city of Ammonihah is labelled “destroyed.”)
The main feature of the Land Northward is the Land of Desolation, where Limhi’s scouts in yellow robes discover 24 plates.
Taking the map as a whole, the Land Northward’s obvious United-States-like shape leaves little doubt that we understood the text to encompass the entire Western Hemisphere. It’s clear that as a Mormon family in 1976, we had a very traditional picture of Book of Mormon geography — one which today has been recaste as just one of several “theories.”