Based on the archaeological and historical records of the Americas, neither the Nephites nor the Lamanites had horses. Yes, horses lived in the Americas in archaic times—but not during Book of Mormon times. Horses, as known in the twenty-first century, came to the Americas with the Spanish conquistadors. Yet the words horse and horses occur fourteen times in the Book of Mormon in connection with thirteen different verses and five situations or events. As a result, if a Book of Mormon scholar were to teach openly that the Nephites did not have horses, he or she might be accused of being a heretic. This article contains reflections about the words horse and horses in the Book of Mormon and a rebuttal to individuals who adamantly think that the Nephites possessed and used horses. Watch for comments about Joseph Smith’s translating the Book of Mormon in direct relation to his vocabulary, environment, and perceptions. 

            According to the archaeological and historical records of the Americas, horses simply were not extant anywhere in the Americas during the time periods of either the Jaredites or the Nephites. But if the Book of Mormon is indeed a real account about real people who lived somewhere in the Americas, readers of the Book of Mormon should naturally expect logical explanations for occurrences of the words horse and horses in the Book of Mormon.

            Two basic premises justify the content of this article: (1) the archaeological and historical records of the Americas are accurate and (2) logical, legitimate explanations can be made for the use of horse and horses in every instance in the Book of Mormon.

            In reviewing Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, by Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling,1 Martin Naparsteck makes the following comment:

Sometimes the Ostlings present facts they clearly believe should embarrass [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]. . . . One example: “The Book of Mormon presents major historical anachronisms, that is, cultural and physical evidence dropped into the wrong period of history. [For example,] the horse came to the New World with the Spanish conquest.”2

            Naparsteck is referring to Book of Mormon usage of the word horse as an indication that the Book of Mormon cannot be true because horses did not exist in the New World during Book of Mormon times. As history books of today clearly point out, horses in the Americas originated with the Spanish conquistadors. The resulting rationale, therefore, is that Joseph Smith did not translate the Book of Mormon from ancient records but rather authored the book himself. In other words, Joseph Smith, as one Protestant minister described him, was “a sly charlatan with a very creative imagination”; and, in this instance, Joseph Smith made a critical faux pas that identifies his misguided imagination rather than his translation expertise.3

            Readers of the Ostlings’ book will discern that they are not using the horse as a vehicle to impugn the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon but rather are reporting the facts about the word horse as a minor point of interest. Critics of the Book of Mormon have for years used the horse as an example of Joseph Smith’s purported errors in writing the book. The critics’ thinking is straightforward and to the point, and their reasoning goes something like the following: The Book of Mormon states that Book of Mormon peoples had horses. However, horses did not exist in the Americas during Book of Mormon times. Therefore, Joseph Smith made a fatal error in authoring the book rather than translating it. Consequently, the Book of Mormon is false, as is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both are products of the influence of Satan.

            Latter-day Saint missionaries in some geographic areas sometimes experience this thinking when investigators of the Church of Jesus Christ talk to their Protestant ministers about the Book of Mormon. In response to efforts by the missionaries to teach investigators about the Book of Mormon, the ministers likely as not will give the investigators anti–Mormon literature that denigrates the Book of Mormon for various reasons, including the content about horses. When missionaries run into such situations without having first been warned about them, they can easily be perplexed by their heretofore unknown knowledge that archaeological and historical evidences seem to support the ministers’ and critics’ claims about the mention of horses in the Book of Mormon. However, missionaries and their investigators can bolster their faith with the following reflections:

  • Millions of readers of the Book of Mormon testify that the Book of Mormon is indeed what it claims to be—a translation of an ancient record and not a figment of Joseph Smith’s imagination.
  • Millions of readers have gone through the motions themselves of verifying the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon; and although they might have questions, they do not have doubts.
  • The most important content of the Book of Mormon is its message that Jesus is the Messiah; and the Book of Mormon is indeed, therefore, another testament of Jesus Christ.
  • The Book of Mormon is a real account about real people who lived somewhere in the Americas.
  • The Book of Mormon is true. Issues such as this one about the word horse have a logical explanation that will, in time, be resolved—just as similar issues such as the one related to the word cement in the Book of Mormon have been resolved.

If these millions of readers can go through the motions of proving to themselves that the Book of Mormon is true, anyone else can do the same—including the critics who undoubtedly have not truly attempted to determine the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

             Readers of the Book of Mormon who are trying to deal with the accounts of horses in the Book of Mormon should initially say something like the following: “The thinking of some critics of the Book of Mormon is certainly shallow. If the best they can come up with in attempting to disprove the Book of Mormon are issues such as that of the horse, they obviously are overlooking totally the deeper ramifications of the words of the Book of Mormon.”

The issue of the words horse and horses in the Book of Mormon is summarized succinctly by Sidney Sperry:

Now, what is the problem raised by the mention of the domestic animals [such as the horse] . . . in the Book of Mormon? The problem is that modern scholars believe that most of the domestic animals . . . mentioned by the Nephite record did not exist in America during historic times, but were introduced on this continent . . . by Europeans after the advent of Columbus. That is to say, scientists have not as yet found the material remains or art representations of domestic animals [such as the horse,] which our Book of Mormon assumes were existent during historic periods.4
            Such accounts as that of the Ostlings’ cry out for a definitive discussion that deals with the words horse and horses as they are found in the Book of Mormon. The issue itself is trivial; but if it indeed is an issue, it must have a logical explanation.

            Below are the results of one analysis of the issue—an analysis that supports the thinking that the Book of Mormon was translated “by the gift and power of God” rather than authored by someone who was “a sly charlatan with a very creative imagination.”

The Words Horse and Horses in the Book of Mormon

The words horse and horses occur fourteen times in the Book of Mormon in connection with thirteen different verses and five situations or events. Sequentially, the words occur as follows for the thirteen different verses:

  1. 1 Nephi 18:25: And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men.
  2. 2 Nephi 12:7: Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.
  3. 2 Nephi 15:28: Whose arrows shall be sharp, and all their bows bent, and their horses’ hoofs shall be counted like flint, and their wheels like a whirlwind, their roaring like a lion.
  4. Enos 1:21: And it came to pass that the people of Nephi did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses.
  5. Alma 18:9: And they said unto him: Behold, he is feeding thy horses. Now the king had commanded his servants, previous to the time of the watering of their flocks, that they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth to the land of Nephi; for there had been a great feast appointed at the land of Nephi, by the father of Lamoni, who was king over all the land.
  6. Alma 18:10: Now when king Lamoni heard that Ammon was preparing his horses and his chariots he was more astonished, because of the faithfulness of Ammon, saying: Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man; for even he doth remember all my commandments to execute them.
  7. Alma 18:12: And it came to pass that when Ammon had made ready the horses and the chariots for the king and his servants, he went in unto the king, and he saw that the countenance of the king was changed; therefore he was about to return out of his presence.
  8. Alma 20:6: Now when Lamoni had heard this he caused that his servants should make ready his horses and his chariots.
  9. 3 Nephi 3:22: And it came to pass in the seventeenth year, in the latter end of the year, the proclamation of Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance, and did march forth by thousands and by tens of thousands, until they had all gone forth to the place which had been appointed that they should gather themselves together, to defend themselves against their enemies.
  10. 3 Nephi 4:4: Therefore, there was no chance for the robbers to plunder and to obtain food, save it were to come up in open battle against the Nephites; and the Nephites being in one body, and having so great a number, and having reserved for themselves provisions, and horses and cattle, and flocks of every kind, that they might subsist for the space of seven years, in the which time they did hope to destroy the robbers from off the face of the land; and thus the eighteenth year did pass away.
  11. 3 Nephi 6:1: And now it came to pass that the people of the Nephites did all return to their own lands in the twenty and sixth year, every man, with his family, his flocks and his herds, his horses and his cattle, and all things whatsoever did belong unto them.
  12. 3 Nephi 21:14: Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots;
  13. Ether 9:19: And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms.

            The five situations involving the word horse are as follows:

            Situation 1. For purposes of this analysis, the numbered items two, three, and twelve above are not relevant to the issue of horses among Book of Mormon peoples. Items two and three (2 Nephi 12:7 and 2 Nephi 15:28, as recorded by Nephi) are quotations from Isaiah, and item twelve (3 Nephi 21:14, as recorded by Mormon) is a quotation from Jesus when he visited the New World. Items two and three clearly refer to the concrete noun horse, for which most people can easily form a clear mental picture. The same is true for item twelve. Therefore, these three verses can be deleted from this analysis. That is, horse as used in these verses clearly refers to true horses as people of the twenty-first century know them (Equus equus).

            Situation 2. Items one and four are related. Item one (1 Nephi 18:25, 589 BC, as recorded by Nephi) deals with reports of animals the Nephites found as they explored the wilderness. Item four (Enos 1:21, perhaps around 544 BC, or about fifty years later, as recorded by Enos) reports the Nephites’ domestication of the animals noted in 1 Nephi 18:25.

            Situation 3. Items five, six, seven, and eight (Alma 18:9–12, 20:6, about 90 BC, as recorded by Mormon) deal with Ammon’s association with king Lamoni, a Lamanite king in the land of Ishmael near the land of Nephi.

            Situation 4. Items nine, ten, and eleven (3 Nephi 3:22, 4:4, 6:1, between AD 17 and AD 26, as recorded by Mormon) deal with the gathering of the Nephites and their provisions in Bountiful and Zarahemla as a defense against the Lamanites.

            Situation 5. Item thirteen (Ether 9:19, perhaps somewhere around 1500 BC, as recorded by Moroni) deals with the translation of the Jaredite record.

            Obviously, horse in the Book of Mormon is associated with vastly different situations and widely divergent time periods. Sequentially, the time periods and writers for the four critical situations are as follows:

            Situation 5             Around 1500 BC                          Moroni

            Situation 2             589 BC to about 544 BC              Nephi and Enos

            Situation 3             90 BC                                            Mormon

            Situation 4             AD 17 to AD 26                           Mormon