Columbus Day 2017

Valdalized statue of Columbus in Central ParkStatues of historical characters have become the focus of controversy in recent months. While statues of Confederate generals were the initial focus, statues of Christopher Columbus have also been targeted. This Columbus Day will again draw ample criticism from Columbus detractors for whom the discoverer has become a symbol for oppression and genocide. In all the vitriol, there will not be much interest or mention of intellectually honest historical analysis or discussion.

Not to say that there will not be ample references to historical material. Dylan Matthews, writing for Vox, lists “9 Reasons why Columbus was a Murderer, Tyrant, and Scoundrel.” Every reference he makes is to a modern secondary source, Columbus: the Four Voyages, by Laurence Bergreen, which is largely a retelling of previous modern publications. Matthews, citing Bergreen citing Columbus, includes this comment:

Settlers under Columbus sold 9- and 10-year-old girls into sexual slavery

This one he admitted himself in a letter to Doña Juana de la Torre, a friend of the Spanish queen: “There are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid.”

This is an accurate quote, but it is inaccurate – and intellectually dishonest – to suggest that Columbus condoned such behavior. The sentence is excerpted out of context from a portion of a letter in which Columbus is lamenting the terrible evils being perpetuated by the Spanish settlers. Here is the quote in context:

A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general, and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid. I assert that the violence of the calumny of turbulent persons has injured me more than my services have profited me; which is a bad example for the present and for the future. I take my oath that a number of men have gone to the Indies who did not deserve water in the sight of God and of the world. (1)

In 1504, writing from Jamaica, Columbus lamented, “I never think of Hispaniola or Paria or these other countries without tears in my eyes. I thought that our settlement there would be an example to others. But on the contrary, they are in a state of exhaustion.” (2)

In December of that year he wrote to his son, “The Indies are being lost, they are in a thousand flames.” (3) Eighteen months later, the Admiral died, still discouraged over the depredations of the Spaniards in the New World.

Much of what you read or hear about the cruelty of the early Spanish settlers this Columbus Day may be true, but very little of it is true about Columbus personally. The most serious accusation against Columbus is that, during the brief period he served as governor in Hispaniola, he failed to control the greed and cruelty of the early settlers. He was a master mariner, but a poor administrator on land. Nevertheless, as the contemporary historian Las Casas observed, even “the Archangel Gabriel would have been hard put to govern people as greedy, selfish, and egotistical as the early settlers of Hispaniola.” (4) In fact, Columbus’s successors as governor did not fare much better as governors, and they were certainly more cruel. The contemporary historian Oviedo wrote that any early governor of Hispaniola, “to succeed, must be superhuman.” (5) Neither Columbus nor his successors were superhuman, and a great deal of destruction resulted from the inability to govern the early settlers.

Columbus Statue in Columbus Circle, New York

Columbus Statue in Columbus Circle, New York

In all of the argument and polemics about Columbus this Columbus Day it is easy to lose sight of the tremendous impact he had on the world. As the historian Samuel Eliot Morison observed, “This night of October 11-12 was one big with destiny for the human race, the most momentous ever experienced  aboard any ship in any sea.” October 12, 1492, marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Modern Age. One would be hard pressed to find any other single historical person of the past 2000 years who has had such a dramatic effect on world history and civilization. Perhaps for that reason alone, we should take a few minutes this Columbus Day to reflect, honestly and dispassionately, upon the life and achievements of Christoper Columbus. For better or for worse, we live in a world that in large measure was created by his daring voyage of 1492.

(1) Consuelo Varela and Juan Gil, Cristóbal Colón, Textos y documentos completos, Alianza Editorial, Madrid (2003), p. 434. Translation from “Letter of Columbus to the Nurse of Prince Juan,” Document No. AJ-067, Wisconsin Historical Society (2003), p. 378. The letter was written in 1500.

(2) Varela and Gil, p. 499.

(3) Varela and Gil, p. 512.

(4) Morison, The Southern Voyages, p. 135.

(5) West and Kling, Libro de la Profecías, p. 105.


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Christopher Columbus: Saint or Sinner?

This Columbus Day is likely to bring a flood of comments over social media and news media about the evil nature of Columbus. As has been the case for the past few decades, pundits will use Columbus Day as an opportunity to revile its namesake, portraying him as a greedy, vain, arrogant, and evil man bent on enslaving and murdering the inhabitants of the New World. He will be singled out as personally responsible for  the genocide of Native Americans and the destruction of the pristine environment of the Americas. And there will be endless commentaries that his claim of “discovery” was an insult to earlier inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere and ignorance of earlier explorers.

St Christopher

Portrait of St. Christopher

Was Christopher Columbus actually one of the most evil men of recorded history? If the accusations this Columbus Day are similar to those of past years, he will be compared to Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, and those three will be made to look like innocents compared to this 15th century despot.

How things have changed over the past century! During the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, Columbus enjoyed widespread popularity, lending his name to the nation’s capital (the District of Columbia), two state capitals (Columbus, Ohio and Columbia, South Carolina), and a prestigious university. He was even proposed for sainthood in the Catholic Church (once in 1866 and again in 1909). And lest we forget, a national holiday still carries his name (though if modern advocates of political correctness have their way, as they already have in many states and cities, that is likely to change).

There is no doubt that the year 1492 opened an era of destruction for the inhabitants of the Americas. Their contact with Western Europe resulted in their nearly total destruction – complete destruction in the case of some tribes. The events which followed Columbus’s historic voyage are unprecedented in modern history in terms of scope, if not in their nature. But is it accurate to hold Columbus personally responsible for all that went wrong in the New World? Or for that matter, for all that went wrong in the modern age (which really began in 1492)? We don’t, for example, revile Albert Einstein or Enrico Fermi, holding them responsible for the deaths of thousands at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or for the disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Yet without their pioneering efforts none of those disasters would have happened, and the threat of nuclear war would be unheard of. Just as we separate Einstein and Fermi personally from the aftermath of their discoveries, perhaps we should be a little less passionate and more analytical about separating Columbus from the aftermath of his discovery.

This essay attempts to look at Columbus, the man by looking at his writings and the writings of his contemporaries. Was he the sinner portrayed in the current news, or the saint portrayed a century ago?

ColumbusLike almost everyone, he was neither perfect nor perfectly evil. The vast diversity of opinions regarding Columbus over the past five centuries is evidence of his complexity. He was a man of contradiction and paradox – devout in his religious duties but heretical in his ideas, a brilliant navigator who had trouble making an accurate reading of the North Star, an uneducated man who spoke four languages and wrote extensively in two of them.

The inability to categorize Columbus into a neat, consistent portrait results, in part, from the age in which he lived. He was born into a world that was still dominated by medieval thought and institutions. But it was a world that was changing, and he would become one of the primary agents of change. By the time of his death in 1506, he Renaissance was well under way. Columbus lived with one foot firmly planted in the Middle Ages and the other in the modern world. He was a man of both the Old World and the New World in space, time, and thought.

Some of his decisions and actions – particularly those for which he is criticized today – were rooted in medieval culture, custom and law. For example, while he never owned slaves, it is true that on three occasions he authorized sending captured Indians back to Spain to be sold as slaves. This was in keeping with the standard European practice of enslaving those who fought against an army (and lost). When the city of Malaga fell to the Christian armies of Isabella, the queen enslaved the defenders of the city and sent several slaves to the Pope as a gift. This was Columbus’s world.

Columbus was also criticized by his contemporaries for his poor administration of the Spanish New World. It is a fair criticism. While there is ample evidence that Columbus tried to restrain the greed and cruelty of the early Europeans in Hispaniola – “their Highnesses desire more the salvation of this people by making them Christians,” he instructed the early adventurers, “than all the riches that can be obtained from them” –  his efforts were spectacularly unsuccessful. It was a task at which his successors failed even more spectacularly (if they tried at all). The contemporary historian, Bartholomew de Las Casas, opined that even “the Archangel Gabriel would have been hard pressed to govern people as greedy, selfish, and egotistical as the early settles of Hispaniola.”

Columbus was not without his faults, but he was also not without redeeming qualities.


If there is any one thing about Columbus on which historians agree, it is that “he was an exceptionally gifted sailor.” Columbus did what no predecessor had been able to do, something that, until it was done, seemed impossible to achieve with the technology of the day. Time and again, when his pilots and fellow captains disagreed with his navigation, Columbus was proven to be correct. His confidence in his seafaring abilities enabled him to initiate the era of open sea navigation – he was the first European who was willing and capable of sailing purposefully with no sight of the coastline or a predetermined landfall. He was, by all accounts, the greatest mariner of his age. It was his gift.IMG_7691A STUDENT AND LIFE-LONG LEARNER

Columbus was a voracious reader and a remarkable student. He had a knack for learning, and he took full advantage of the opportunity to acquire and read books, an opportunity that appeared in his lifetime. “Mine is a calling,” he wrote, “that inclines those who pursue it to desire to understand the world’s secrets. Such has been my interest for forty years.” He acquired a sizeable library; nine volumes owned by him are still extant, and those nine volumes contain 2500 margin notes. He was conversant with Ptolemy, Aristotle, Seneca, Plato, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and scores of other classical authors. He was a dedicated student of the Bible.


La Rabida, Palos de la Frontera, Spain, where Columbus lived and studied while preparing for his voyage of discovery.

He read, but he also learned by observation and analysis. He decoded the Atlantic trade winds – a discovery that became the most disruptive technology of the age. He recorded detailed descriptions of flora and fauna. He had a remarkable ability to grasp complex ideas and to develop reasoned explanations for unfamiliar phenomena. As historians Delno West and August Kling observed, “He was an unlettered man with superior intellect.” Paolo Taviani put it more succinctly: “The man was a genius.”


His son, Ferdinand, said of Columbus, “In matters of religion he was so strict that for fasting and saying all the canonical offices he might have been taken for a member of a religious order. And he was so great an enemy to swearing and blasphemy that I never heard him utter any other oath than, ‘By San Fernando!'” Contemporary historian Bartholomew de Las Casas, who knew Columbus personally, said, “He observed the fasts of the Church most faithfully . . . [he] hated blasphemy and profane swearing.” Columbus expressed one of his great concerns in a letter written while marooned on Jamaica with no hope of rescue: “Here in the Indies I am cut off form the prescribed forms of religion, alone in my troubles, sick, in daily expectation of death . . . and so far from the Holy Sacraments of the Blessed Church that my soul will be forgotten if it leaves my body.”

And his Christianity was not just an outward demonstration. Las Casas observed, “He was a man of courageous spirit and lofty thoughts . . . patient and long-suffering, a forgiver of injuries, and wished nothing more than that those who offended against him should recognized their errors, and that the delinquents be reconciled with him.”


His tenacity was legendary. Even though, as he said, “all who found out about my project denounced it with laughter and ridiculed me,” he was undeterred. His proposal to sail west to find the East was rejected by the king of Portugal, and continuously rejected by the Court of Castile for seven years. While lobbying Castile, he sent his brother to England and France to seek royal backing and permission to sail. When his men mutinied in the Atlantic, he pressed on, telling the crew that it was “useless to complain since he had come to find the Indies and thus had to continue the voyage until he found them.” He was a man with a mission, unshakable and unstoppable.


What emerges from Columbus’s own words in his letters, journals, and other writings, is a man of deep and abiding faith in God. That faith was clearly the driving force and foundation of his life, and it sustained him through disappointment, rejection and deep discouragement. He was, as Las Casas noted, “longsuffering in the challenges and adversity that always beset him, which were incredible and infinite, always with great faith in the divine Providence.” He prayed with faith and received answers through faith: “I prayed to the most merciful Lord concerning my desire,” he wrote, “and He gave me the spirit and intelligence for it.” Alone and sick off the coast of Panama, he received comfort from a Celestial voice assuring him that “mercy is infinite,” that the promises “God gives are fully kept,” and admonishing him, “Fear not, have faith.”

Columbus was a man who was far from perfect, but in the end, his achievements and universal fame are a reflection of his personal faith. “Peter stepped out upon the water,” he wrote, “and to the extent that his faith remained firm, he walked upon it. . . No one should be afraid to undertake any project in the name of our Savior, if it is a just cause and if he has the pure intention of his holy service.” Columbus’s faith remained sufficiently firm to enable him, like Peter, to step our upon the water.

Based on excerpts from Christopher Columbus: A Man Among the Gentiles, Deseret Book, 2014.




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Why Columbus Matters

Some thoughts about Christopher Columbus and the Restoration


October 12, 2015, marks the 523rd anniversary of the an event that changed the world. Three small wooden sailing ships from Palos, Spain, dropped anchor in a bay on the westward side of a small Carribean island which they named San Salvador. It was the beginning of an uninterrupted contact between what became known as the Old World and the New World. And it profoundly changed the course of human history. Though there may be both good and evil spoken about Columbus this Columbus Day, there is little doubt that he had a more dramatic impact on world history than perhaps any other modern man.


Columbus’s great achievement was not just that he discovered America, but that he discovered the route there and back, and by so doing launched a process that was irreversible. Others may have preceded him – almost certainly the Vikings and perhaps the Chinese – but no one prior to Columbus knew how to replicate and institutionalize the round-trip journey. Part of Columbus’s great genius was his discovery and use of the Atlantic wind patterns that allowed him not just to reach the New World, but to return to Old, and then repeat the round trip voyage again and again and again. Plans for a second voyage began within days of his return, and the route he developed on that voyage was followed by sailing ships until the age of steam. Even today, yachts crossing from Europe to the Caribbean follow his route. He didn’t just stumble across the ocean and bump into a new world, he built the highway.

If others did, in fact, reach the Americas before Columbus, they failed to inform the rest of the world, and a discovery that is unknown is no discovery at all: informing others is an essential element of discovery. While there is solid evidence that at least the Vikings reached the shores of America long before Columbus, their voyages had no impact on history partly because there was no contemporary record informing the world of their accomplishment. “Only with Columbus’s undertaking,” wrote historian Paolo Taviani, “did Europe, Islam, India, China, and Japan learn of the existence of a New World. And that changed the course of human history profoundly.”[1] Any voyage prior to Columbus is relegated to a footnote in history.


Columbus’s historic voyages marked a turning point in world history. Prior to 1492, the world was highly fragmented and diverse. Plant and animal life had developed independently – some plants, like sweet potatoes and corn, grew only in the Western Hemisphere, while others were unique to Asia. In fact, it was the presence of unique but highly desirable spices in Asia and their absence in Europe that was one of the drivers of fifteenth century exploration. “The world was divided among sundered cultures and divergent ecosystems,” observed Fernandez-Armesto:

Every continent had its peculiar repertoire of plants and animals. Life-forms grew apart, even more spectacularly than the differences that grew between peoples, whose cultural variety multiplied, and whose appearance and behavior diverged so much that when they began to reestablish contact, they at first had difficulty recognizing each other as belonging to the same species or sharing the same moral community.

With extraordinary suddenness, in 1492 this long-standing pattern went into reverse. The aeons-old history of divergence virtually came to an end, and a new, convergent era of the history of the planet begin. [2]

With the First Voyage of Columbus, the world began to be connected in ways not seen since the days of Noah. In our modern age, the same crops and species are found in similar climates on every continent. Even people and racIMG_0318es have become mixed in a way never before known.[3] In the post-Columbian world, tomatoes, which originated in Mexico, became a staple of Italian cuisine; chocolate, another Aztec food, became a signature product of Belguim and Switzerland; chili peppers bIMG_0319ecame an integral part of Thai dishes; and potatoes became the major crop of Ireland. Air travel and electronic communications have been layered onto Columbus’s achievement such that fashions and fads spread with the speed of light around the globe.The fact that one can purchase a Coca-Cola or a Big Mac in almost every country of the world
is, in certain respects, the legacy of Columbus. Of greater significance, the presence of Latter-day Saint congregations on every continent is made possible, in part, by events set in motion with Columbus’s world-changing voyage of 1492.


The Western European world into which Columbus was born was, by many measures, a world in decline. Two years after his birth, the great city of Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, making trade with the Indies difficult and dangerous and isolating Europe from the Levant. Morison observed that “at the end of 1492 most men in Western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future.”[4] The great empires of China and Islam the most advanced and dominant civilizations on the planet. Europe was, by contrast, a cultural backwater. The rise of Islam in the east was shrinking both the territory and influence of the Christian nations. Continued efforts to recover control of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem had failed, and successive calls by the popes for a new crusade were seen as opportunistic devices to raise money.

There was no real country or empire in Europe comparable to the empires of the ancient world. Europe consisted largely of a number of city-states vying with each other for power and constantly at war. The Holy Roman Empire was a distant memory. The relatively wealthy city-states of Genoa and Venice competed for the remaining trade in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic, capturing each other’s ships and confiscating cargos. Spain did not exist as a nation. Its two largest kingdoms, Castile and Aragon, remained separate and distinct kingdoms even though their monarchs were married, and a large portion of modern Spain was wrested from the Moors in 1492 only after a long and costly war. Castile and Aragon would continue to be ruled separately, with separate laws, finances and bureaucracies for many years.


But when Columbus’s little storm-battered ship floated into Lisbon in March 1493, it was as if someone had struck a match in dry tinder. The news spread across Europe with remarkable speed, and as old ideas faded, a new landscape – not just geographical but intellectual, artistic, and spiritual – emerged. Within a few years, a united Spain would rule a new empire that extended across the sea to Latin America and the Philippines, a breadth of dominion eclipsing anything in history. France and England, jealous and fearful of Spain’s new wealth, would soon challenge Spain both in the New World and in Europe.

The Catholic Church was the ostensible source of unity among the factions of Europe, but the decline and corruption of the Church reached what some consider its peak with the ascension to the papacy of Rodrigo Borgia in 1492. A native of Xátiva in Valencia, the new Pope Alexander VI had already fathered at least three illegitimate children during his tenure as a Cardinal, and would father at least four more as Pope.

On other fronts, too, Europe was in decline. No significant advances in science or technology had been made in a century. University enrollment was in decline across the continent. Not a single new institution of higher learning was founded in Spain in the fifteenth century. The best highways in Europe were those built by the Roman Empire centuries earlier. The basic technologies that would ultimately change the world were developed first in China, not Europe. Paper and printing, gunpowder, steel – inventions that would define the modern world – all originated in China. But the expansive opportunity of a new continent enabled Europe to refine and employ these technologies in a way that they gave shape to a new world era in much the same way that an expanding American frontier in the eighteenth and nineteenth century would expand and inspire the spirit of America.

Within a generation, Spain would emerge from a cultural backwater and virtually bankrupt amalgam of kingdoms to the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth. It would be the dominant geopolitical force for a century. Though it would squander its wealth, power and prestige, its influence would continue for centuries. When a new nation was founded in the New World in 1776, the new nation’s official currency would continue to be the Spanish dollar.


TOFor Europeans in 1492, the world consisted of three continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia, each settled by one of the sons of Noah. This was often depicted in what is now called a T-O map. The “O” represented the world, which was divided by the “T” into the three parts, separated by bodies of water: the Mediterranean between Europe and Africa, the Nile/Red Sea between Africa and Asia, and the Aegean and Black Seas between Europe and Asia. Jerusalem was at the center where the three land masses joined. The idea of a fourth continent had no place in this theo-geography. The Book of Mormon explains “that after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord.”[5] It was a land that was “preserved”[6] from the days of Noah, and hidden from all except those whom the Lord led there. Lehi explained that “there shall none come unto this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.” The land would be “kept… from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land.”[7] Delno West wrote, “The secret of the Ocean Sea had not been penetrated earlier because God wanted it hidden until He was ready.”[8] George Q. Cannon stated that, “For centuries [America] was hidden from all the nations of the earth. It was not until the fifteenth century that God inspired Columbus to go forth and seek a passage across the Atlantic.”[9] Orson Hyde, in declaring that Moroni guided Columbus’s three ships across the sea, indicates “an important reason why the discovery should be made: The history and record of a fallen people, containing light . . . and truth from heaven, were buried in the soil of the Western Continent; and although engraven on golden leaves in a strange and unknown tongue, still they must come forth.”[10]

IMG_0322The existence of the Americas had been so well hidden over the millennia that the idea of a three-continent world was deeply engrained in the medieval mind. It would take years for Columbus and his contemporaries to comprehend the geographic implications of his discovery. When Peter Martyr, in a letter dated 1 November 1493, referred to “Colonus ille Novi Orbis repertory – “that famous Columbus, the discoverer of a New World,” – it is clear that by “new world” he meant new portions of Asia. Columbus himself used the term “otro mundo” – “another world” – when writing about his First Voyage, but, again, it is clear that by this he meant simply a new part of Asia. It was not until the Third Voyage that Columbus encountered the coast of the mainland and realized he had come upon a different and new continent, and not until the Fourth Voyage that he realized that this continent, as a practical matter, blocked access to the Orient. The existence of a previously unknown and unimagined continent shattered the existing conceptions of world geography. Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe in 1519 to 1522 would finally cement this new geography in the minds of Europeans.

Columbus’s initial discovery spawned a proliferation of new voyages. As early as 1494, others began making voyages to the New World and within a very few years additional settlements were established. When Fernando Cortés was 36 years old he conquered the great Aztec empire of central Mexico, a civilization that was unknown on a continent that was unknown at his birth. Within 42 years of Columbus´s return from the Voyage of Discovery, men had sailed around the world, the empires of the Aztecs and Incas had been discovered and conquered, and great new cities had been established in Peru and Mexico. Spain had emerged from a war-weary and nearly bankrupt amalgamation of medieval kingdoms into the wealthiest and most powerful empire on earth. Over the span of single generation, the world had been transformed, and events had been set in motion that ultimately shaped the world in which we now live.

Bartolomé de Las Casas, who as a boy had gazed in wonder upon the first Indians to appear in Europe, recognized the momentous import of First Voyage: “Is there anything in the world comparable to the opening of the tightly shut doors of an ocean that no one dared enter before?”[11]


Not only did Columbus unlock the gates of the Ocean Sea, his accomplishments were a decisive factor in unlocking the intellectual and spiritual darkness that had encompassed Europe for centuries and was just beginning to fade. An awakening of the human spirit would be felt across Europe and manifest in many ways. In 1517, Martin Luther would publish his 95 theses, daring to speak out against corruption in Rome and forcing reforms in the Church. Luther would later translate the Bible into German, a work that would have enormous impact on German culture.

Luther’s work would be followed by William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible into English in 1525, the publication of which would change not only English history but the English language. Henry VIII, as a result of his desire to divorce the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, would break with Rome in 1534, and create the Church of England. With new protestant churches in Germany and England, the Reformation would become the Protestant revolution.

Additional English editions of the Bible, notably the Geneva Bible, would bring the Bible to a wider audience, including many English citizens who separated themselves from the Church of England. Some of those Separatists, as they called themselves, carried copies of the Geneva Bible with them across the Ocean Sea, as foreseen by Nephi,[12] where they founded a small colony on Cape Cod. Strangers in a strange land, they would be known by successive generations not just as pilgrims, but as The Pilgrims. Their literal and spiritual descendants would ultimately break from England, declaring themselves a free and independent nation, a declaration that would be defended by a long and difficult war against what was by then the most powerful nation on earth. Improbably and miraculously, they would prevail and create a new nation. In the early days of that new nation, a family descended from one of the early immigrants to Cape Cod would, through a series of seemingly unremarkable circumstances, relocate to a small rural area near a hill known anciently as the Hill Cumorah. And from that hill, the young Joseph Smith would take the record written by Nephi, translate it, and publish it to the world. With the publication of the Book of Mormon, Nephi’s prophecy, which Columbus had never read but which he so clearly understood and so faithfully fulfilled, would be published to the world and the fullness of the gospel would begin to flood the earth.

It was not just Columbus’s voyage but what it led to that caused Francisco López de Gómara to proclaim that it was “the greatest event since the creation of the world, save the incarnation and death of Him who created it.”[13] Columbus turned the keys given him by the Almighty and opened a new age. Perhaps no other single individual did more to prepare the way for the last dispensation than did Christopher Columbus, Xpo Ferens.St Christopher

Excerted from Christopher Columbus: A Man Among the Gentiles, published 2014 by Deseret Book.

[1] Taviani, Columbus, p. 262.
[2] Fernandez-Armesto, 1492, p. 2.
[3] One of the signs of the last days is that “the whole earth shall be in commotion” (D&C 45:26). An interesting manifestation of this commotion is the movement of people around the globe. Walking the streets of nearly any large city (and many smaller towns) in North America or Europe, one can easily identify people from a variety of nationalities and races. This mixing of peoples is an important element in the spreading of the Restored Gospel. For example, a young missionary serving in the Spain Barcelona Mission during the first decade of the 2000s spoke with natives of 87 different countries during less than 24 months in Spain. Convert baptisms in that mission came from such diverse nations as Egypt, China, Equatorial Guinea, and Burkina Faso. (Data in possession of the author).
[4] Morison, p. 3.
[5] Ether 13:2
[6] Ether 2:7
[7] 2 Nephi 1:6-7
[8] Libro, p. 63.
[9] George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, 23:103.
[10] Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses, 7:108. The remarks are contained in speech delivered on 4 July 1853. Hyde does not mention Moroni by name in this speech but refers to “the Spirit Angel.” However, it is clear from his remarks on 4 July 1854 (Journal of Discourses, 6:368) that he is referring to Moroni. Hyde’s assertion about Moroni’s role in guiding Columbus and others is consistent with the declaration in Doctrine and Covenants 27:5 that Moroni was sent to Joseph Smith “to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel,” and that Moroni held “the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim.” Elder Russell M. Nelson declared, “One specific angel held keys of responsibility for the Book of Mormon. That angel was Moroni!” (Ensign, November 2007).
[11] Las Casas, Vol. I, p. 47.
[12] See 1 Nephi 13:20-25.
[13] Gómara, Francisco Lopez de, Historia General de las Indias, Vol. I, p. 4, 1922 edition. Also Jane, p. xv.
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Twelve Treasures at the DUP Museum

As part of our Pioneer Days celebrations we took our four Cincinnati-based grandchildren to the DUP Museum (Daughters of Utah Pioneers) on Saturday (the first time in more than a decade that I have been to the museum.


As anyone knows who has visited this museum, it is more warehouse than traditional museum. The sheer quantity of artifacts on display is overwhelming – dozens of framed art mainfloor5 CarriageHouse2pieces made from human hair, countless quilts, thousands of photographs, a staggering number of spoons, forks, and knives, more pump organs than a brigade of traveling circuses, and enough articles of clothing to make make Macy’s seem impoverished by comparison. Yet scattered throughout the tens of thousands of artifacts stuffed into glass display cases, furniture jammed into small rooms, and old bricks and bric-a-brac just sitting on the floor, are some remarkable treasures. Finding them is an exercise in diligence, serendipity, perseverance and luck. But here a few worth finding.

First, though, a little background.

  • Though commonly known as the DUP Museum, the formal name is the Pioneer Memorial Museum.
  • The DUP also owns a number of “satellite museums,” smaller structures scattered across three states: three in Nevada, seventeen in Idaho, and a whopping 108 in Utah!
  • Do you have a pioneer ancestor? The DUP probably has a photograph of them, and you can order copies online. You can also submit copies of photographs you own.
  • The building itself is a replica of the old Salt Lake Theater.
  • The museum houses the world’s largest collection of artifacts on one subject.

And it is the sheer size of that collection that can be so daunting. So here is a sampling, twelve treasures from the DUP Museum:

1. Brigham Young’s wagon. Yes, the very wagonCarriageHouse5 in which he entered the Salt Lake Valley and from which he said, “It is enough. This is the right place.” The wagon is perhaps the museum’s best known artifact. There is a photograph next to the wagon showing the wagon being driven in a parade celebrating the Jubilee – July 24, 1897.

2. Not as well-known as the wagon but located in the same room are three original handcarts used by pioneers crossing the plains.

3. A chair build by Brigham Young’s father in Mendon, New York, about 1834.

4. Jim Bridger’s walking stick and snow shoes. The same Jim Bridger who alledgedly  offered a thousand dollars to the man who could grow a bushel of corn in the Salt Lake Valley.

5. Brigham Young’s white vest which he wore to the dedication of the St. George Temple. In the same display case are Brigham Young’s white temple slippers.

6. A ticket to the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple. Next to the ticket is an usher badge from the dedication.

7.  A needlepoint stool or ottoman. Wilford Woodruff purchased the needepoint in England, brought it to Salt Lake, and had Henry Dunwoody build the stool.

8. The original Eagle which adorned the Eagle Gate on State Street.

9. An adobe brick from the original foundation of the Salt Lake Temple. Realizing that adobe would not endure sufficiently, the original adobe stones were removed and replaced with granite from Little Cottonwood Canyon.

10. A staff owned by Willard Richards, believed to have been used by him to fend off the guns at the door of the Carthage Jail.

11. Emma Smith’s spinning wheel. How did it get to Utah?

12. Original gowns worn by the Days of ’47 Royalty at the centennial celebration in 1947. The brocaded beehives and pioneer wagons adorning the dresses are pretty amazing.

Let’s make it a baker’s dozen and add the original Minerva Teichert painting, “The Water Hole.” I’m not sure it has ever been reproduced. And maybe I should mention the collection of Dan Weggeland paintings.

And did I mention that entrance to the museum is free? Go already!

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The Legacy of Joseph Smith

June 27, 1844

At about 5:00 p.m. local time on June 27, 1844 – 171 years ago today – an armed mob attacked the jail in Carthage, Illinois, and murdered Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum. The murderous mobocrats undoubtedly hoped that the death of the charismatic Prophet would ultimately put an end to “Mormonism.” That hope was a manifestation of their absolute failure to understand Joseph Smith and his work: “Mormonism” did not end, but went on to flourish.

Though grief stricken, the Latter-day Saints moved forward and continued to build the great temple of Nauvoo, a project initiated by Joseph Smith under divine command and inspiration. The enemies of the church redoubled their efforts, ultimately forcing the Saints out of the beautiful city of Nauvoo. That exodus marked the beginning of an historic migration that would see tens of thousands of people from North America, Europe, and other distant lands gather in the Intermountain West, where the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gained a foothold in the desert, and from which it has spread around the globe.

June 27, 2002

Exactly one hundred fifty eight years after the tragic events at Carthage, President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the recently completed Nauvoo Temple, a magnificent building that recreates much of the original building constructed by Joseph Smith and his successor, Brigham Young. The Nauvoo Temple stands as a monument to the memory of the work of Joseph Smith, a work that has spread throughout the world. Few, in any, remember the names of those who killed Joseph Smith, but the prophetic declaration that Joseph’s “name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” has been fulfilled in our day.

June 27, 2015

Yet for me, the greatest witness of the divine legacy of Joseph Smith happened today in a simple ceremony in a neighborhood church building in Salt Lake City. At about 9:30 this morning, a dear friend of mine was baptized by immersion, received the gift of the Holy Ghost, and was confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

His is an unusual story. He grew up in an active family and served a mission at age 19. We first met in the mission field, and continued our friendship in the years following our missions. We were college roommates for two years and kept in touch after we each moved away for graduate school, and after we married. But through a series of tragic mistakes and circumstances, my friend found his life in ruins, excommunicated from the church and cut off from his wife and children.

In these difficult circumstances, my friend met and married a wonderful woman whose life had also been scarred by tragedy and poor choices. They were, as he describes it, two souls with broken lives who came together and began to build a life together. They supported each other in remarkable ways. My friend, an attorney by training, slowly established a successful law practice; for thirty years his wife worked with him every day as his paralegal. She was a baptized member of the church, but held hard feelings against the church and some its members and wanted nothing to do with church. But both my friend and his wife were good people. They were religious people, and participated in other churches. And they found a degree of happiness together.

Then tragedy struck again. My friend’s wife, the person who had helped him rebuild his life, succumbed to cancer. Left alone, my friend – whose faith had wavered but who had never really doubted – began to realize that if he wanted to be with his dear wife in the next life, he needed to make some changes: he needed to participate in the saving ordinances restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. With the help of a wonderful bishop, wonderful ward, and a wonderful pair of missionaries, he worked to rebuild his faith in Jesus Christ, to repent, and to qualify himself for baptism.

As I witnessed his baptism today, I felt like Ammon: “Have we not reason to rejoice?”

I am grateful, on this 27th day of June, for the legacy of Joseph Smith, and for the great redeeming work of the gospel of Jesus Christ which was restored again to the earth in its fulness though the great Prophet of the Restoration.

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Paella: It’s Personal

“Paella,” according to Wikipedia, “is a Valencian rice dish with ancient roots that originated in its modern form in the mid-nineteenth century near Albufera lagoon, a coastal lagoon in Valencia, on the east coast of Spain. The dish is widely regarded as Spain’s national dish, but most Spaniards consider it to be a regional Valencian dish; Valencians regard paella as one of their identifying symbols.”

But as anyone knows who has been to Valencia, there is paella and there is paella. What virtually all paellas have in common is rice (though some use pasta instead). Beyond that, different recipes call for a variety of ingredients: rabbit, snail, chicken, sausage, shrimp, langostino, mussels, squid, monkfish, peas, peppers, lima beans, artichoke hearts, and a thousand other items. That is one of the beauties of paella: it’s personal. You can add what you like and eliminate what you don’t like, and come up with the perfect personal paella.


Here is ours. I am including the full recipe because some of you have asked for it, although you can find a thousand recipes on the Internet and in hundreds of cookbooks. This recipe starts with Paella Parellada from Barcelona: Authentic Recipes Celebrating the Foods of the World, published by Williams-Sonoma, which we have then altered to suit our personal tastes. You may want to add other items: calamari, monkfish, chicken breast (we often add this), rabbit, port loin. Remember, it’s personal.


As with most foods, the quality of the ingredients is key. This is especially important in paella. Use mediocre ingredients and you will get a mediocre product. Still, we make many compromises based on cost/benefit. Quality matters more for some ingredients than for others.

IMG_19874 cups chicken stock. We use some homemade stock (from boiling chicken) and usually amplify it by adding a good chicken bouillon paste.

Artichoke hearts. We used either one or two cans of artichoke hearts, quartered. You can, of course, use fresh artichokes, but this increases the complexity of the preparation and adds only minimally to the quality of the finished product.

Course sea salt

IMG_19881 teaspoon saffron threads. These are expensive but essential. You can pick up some great quality saffron at a good price in the Boqueria in Barcelona, but if you are not near the Ramblas, Costco sometimes carries saffron at a reasonable price. You can also find sources on But whatever you do, don’t use a cheap substitute (yellow coloring): saffron is essential.

3 cloves garlic. Use only garlic cloves, not powdered garlic.

6 chicken thighs and legs. Buy these from the butcher, bone in. Have the butcher cut the thighs into small pieces, about 1″ square, leaving the bone in. Keep the legs (drumsticks) whole. The bones in the chicken provide important flavor.

slide_ground_rules1 lb pork sausage. Choose a high quality fresh sausage that you like. We use Creminelli – it is of the highest quality, delicious, and is manufactured by our son-in-law! (A shameless pitch, but check it out. This is really good stuff!) We actually use more than a pound because we love sausage in paella.

1 cup olive oil

1 yellow onion (sometimes known as Spanish onion…)

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into long strips

IMG_19892 ½ cups short-grain rice. Getting the right rice is critical – don’t use ordinary long-grain rice! The best rice is Bomba and can sometimes be purchased at Whole Foods. However, the Bomba rice is ridiculously expensive, and we usually use Valencian rice from Whole Foods: cheaper but still works very well.

1 cup of shelled peas. If you can find fresh peas, they are much better than frozen, but frozen peas are better than no peas.

2 cans lima beans. We love lima beans in paella, but you may or may not like them. It’s personal.

12 medium or large fresh shrimp in shells. Check the fresh fish section of your market. We were able to buy fresh Mexican shrimp in shells for $8.99/lb last week at Harmon’s Emigration Market.

24 large mussels. You can usually find these in the fresh fish section of a good market. We got ours at Harmon’s. But be advised: mussels in the United States don’t compare to mussels in Spain. All U.S. mussels seems scrawny and flavorless compared to those giant, plumb (and cheap) Spanish mussels. Still, some mussels are always better than no mussels.

1-2 fresh lemons cut into wedges. Use these to squeeze juice on shrimp and mussels when eating the paella.

Fresh Italian parsley. This is used as a garnish on the finished product.


  1. Bring the stock to a gentle simmer and keep on low heat.
  2. Using a mortar and pestel, grind 1 teaspoon of salt with the teaspoon of saffron until it forms a fine powder.
  3. Place a 16″ paella pan (or large frying pan with a heavy bottom) over high heat and add about ½ cup of olive oil. Sauté the chicken legs, thighs, and sausage until golden brown, then set aside.
  4. In the same pan, sauté the onion, then add the artichoke hearts.
  5. Stir a little of the stock into the saffron/salt mixture and mix into a paste. Then pour the paste into the stock and let it continue to simmer.
  6. Add the chicken and sausage to the onions and artichoke hearts in the paella pan and add a couple of ladlefuls of hot stock.
  7. Add the rice to the paella pan, then add the peas and lima beans and mix together. Arrange the drumsticks in a radial pattern. Add the remaining stock (saving about ½ cup in reserve). Place the shrimp, mussels, and red pepper strips on top of the rice mixture.
  8. Let the paella simmer for about 20-30 minutes until the rice is tender but not too soft. If it appears to dry out before the rice is tender, add additional stock.
  9. When it appears ready (and shrimp are pink and mussels are open), turn off the heat, cover the pan with a clean dry kitchen towel, and let stand for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle thoroughly. Garnish with parsley and lemon and serve.
  10. Serve with toast garnished with olive oil and salt, then rubbed with garlic and tomato.

IMG_1980Expect to spend a couple of hours preparing and cooking the paella (and a couple of hours shopping for the ingredients).  Preparing the paella is almost as fun as eating it! A 16″ paella will serve about 8 people.


Make and eat this paella, and you, too, will be a food master!

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My Spain: The Food Tour

OK, I already Instagrammed more than enough photos of food from Spain, so this is just a summary. In all of our planning for our recent trip to Spain, somehow we didn’t even think about food – we were focused on Columbus sites, our missionary reunion, and visiting the Paces and attending Barrio 2 in Barcelona. The food caught us by surprise. We had forgotten how much we loved Spanish food and how much we missed it!


Our first napolitana… It was a very basic napolitana, purchased at the train station of Atocha.


Bocadillo de jamon – also at Atocha.


Memories of many meals at the AutoGrill, but this time we were not at a rest stop on the autopsista, but in the train station.
Tortilla de patada. Need I say more?
Thank you, Corte Ingles, for that wonderful yogurt, Vieja Fabrica raspberry jam, and a good baguette. Heaven!
Choc0-Bran! Why is there so little chocolate in American cereal boxes?
Couldn’t wait to drink this, the photo had to wait. Fanta de limon!
We first discovered Llao Llao in Valencia, and re-discovered it in Madrid! Still the best yogurt shop in the world – tart yogurt, hard-shell chocolate, and a variety of toppings. Won’t somebody please get a franchise in the USA?
A quick trip to the grocery store enabled us to make this most typical of all Spanish meals: tortilla, tuna sandwiches on crustless bread, olives, chips, and gazpacho. Eating like natives!
Probably the best gazpacho we have ever eaten…
No visit to Spain would be complete without a visit to Bar Tomas in Sarria where they make the very best patatas bravas in the world. So good to be back in the neighborhood!
Dessert at Pinotxos in the Boqueria: mel i mato, a typical Catalan postre made from curds and raw honey…
And speaking of Pinotxos, the maestro himself posing for a photo!
Chuches at the Boqueria. I’m partial to the fried eggs.
I know you can now get Magnum bars in the USA, but somehow they are better in Europe.
Mussels! We ordered them three times: once at Pinotxos (chilled), once at Sinatras (steamed in saffron sauce), and once at Tapas Tapas (sautéed in olive oil, pictured above).
Hacendado: the house brand of every missionary’s favorite grocery store.
More napolitanas, but not just any napolitanas. These are from La Mallorquina at Puerta del Sol in Madrid, perhaps the only place other than Beatriz of Pamplona where napolitanas of this caliber can be obtained. Like bravas from Tomas, they are an essential part of any trip to Spain. Really, they are the purpose of the trip. #whywecame
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My Spain: Missionary Reunion

One of the principle reasons we went back to Spain this fall was to hold a reunion with some of our missionaries who live there. About 70% of our missionaries were from North America, and most the rest were from Europe, primarily Spain. Most of those European missionaries are scattered around Europe – some of those who are from Spain are living in England or elsewhere, and those from other European nations are generally back in the home countries, but we have a small cluster of missionaries around Madrid that we knew we could meet with.

Like other aspects of our trip, this reunion exceeded our expectations! After four days in Sevilla, we took the AVE to Madrid, arriving on Saturday afternoon in time to get to the temple and meet our missionaries for a session in the Madrid Temple. What fun!


After the temple session, we gathered in a room at the stake center for a “mini  zone conference / reunion” and had a wonderful time getting updated on what these remarkable elders and sisters are doing. They are moving forward with their lives in wonderful ways; three of our former elders have “novias,” two of whom joined us for the reunion. Kleuska Mancera traveled from Malaga to be with us, and Daniel Da Silva came in from Badajoz. It is interesting to note that all of the former missionaries either have worked at the CCM (MTC) or currently work there. We are very proud of each of them, and were able to see several of them on Sunday and Monday before leaving Madrid.

Our brief stay in Madrid was wonderful. Saturday night following our missionary reunion, we walked over to the Lidl grocery store near the temple to get some food for the weekend. In the store we met several friends (or friends of friends) – it was like going to Dan’s in Foothill Village on a Saturday night: you are sure to run into someone you know!

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My Spain: Columbus in Barcelona

In the spring of 1493, the Royal Court was in Barcelona, in residence at what is now known as the  Palau Reial facing the Placa del Rei. In April of 1493, Columbus traveled overland from Sevilla to Barcelona to make his report to the monarchs. We have often visited the Placa where Columbus and his entourage – including colorful parrots, native Indians, and gold artifacts – approached the steps of the palace.

Barc Palace

Palau Reial and the Placa del Rei. We arrived on the Diada, September 11, and the Catalan flag was on display throughout the city. Columbus would have climbed the stairs in this photograph to greet the monarchs.

The palace, including the great hall, the Salo de Tinell, is part of the Museu d’historia de Barcelona, and can be entered from the museum. The hall is usually the site of an exhibit, and on our recent visit the exhibit centered around the world of the 15th and 16th centuries.


Interior of the Salo de Tinell. It was likely in this great hall that Columbus made his formal report to the sovereigns.

We had visited the hall before, but other rooms of the palace are typically closed. By good fortune, a special exhibit was being shown in the former Royal Chapel, and for the first time we were able to enter this historic room. Following Columbus’s report to the monarchs, he accompanied them to the Royal Chapel where Te Deum Laudamas (“We Praise Thee, O God”) was sung and, according to contemporary accounts, great tears of joy fell from the eyes of the monarchs and their admiral as they gave thanks for the great miracle of the voyage. The Ocean Sea had at last been crossed.

IMG_0444 IMG_1682

The Royal Chapel at the Palau Reial
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My Spain: Columbus in Castile

After four days in Andalusia, we took the AVE to Madrid. Our primary focus was to meet with former missionaries – more on that later – but we also rented a car and drove north to visit Medina del Campo, Tordesillas, Simancas, and Valladolid, cities which were important stops on our “Camino de Colon.”

Medina del Campo-1-3 Medina del Campo-1-2

Medina del Campo: the room and the building where Queen Isabella died. “My hand falls to my side for sorrow,” wrote Peter Martyr. “The world has lost its noblest ornament.” Columbus had certainly lost his noblest friend.
Tordesillas Casa
The Treaty House in Tordesillas. Following Columbus’s First Voyage, Spain and Portugal negotiated and signed the Treaty of Tordesillas in this building, dividing the new world between the two Iberian kingdoms.
The national archives in Simancas housed many documents related to Columbus and his voyages.
Valladolid ayuntamiento
Town Hall on the Plaza Mayor in Valladolid. Columbus died in 1506 in a small house or monastery in Valladolid, and was interred in the monastery which stood on this plaza.
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