Where might the Nephites and Jaredites have made their last stand?
The most important terrain feature in both extinctions was a hill, called Hill Cumorah by the Nephites, and Hill Ramah by the Jaredites. We get this information from the Book of Mormon itself:
- Nephite civilization ended in extinction near Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6)
- Jaredite civilization ended in extinction near Hill Ramah (Ether 15:11–34)
- Mormon hid up the plates in a place called Ramah (Ether 15:11) by the Jaredites and Cumorah by the Nephites (Mormon 6:6) centuries later.
Where might this hill be located?
The scriptures provide a few contextual clues:
And it came to pass that we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents around about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; and here we had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites. — Mormon 6:4
From this scripture we learn:
- The hill and the surrounding region were militarily and economically important due to the presence of water
- Armies could camp around it, at least the Nephites could on their side (Moroni 6:4), meaning the base of the hill was accessible.
We also note that:
- The hill must have been fairly prominent or strategically important to be noticed in these accounts.
- Mormon was able to view the fallen armies from the hill. (need reference)
- A vast sea or ocean was accessible to the north of the hill (Ether 15:8–11).
I’m not going to make a case for a Baja California Book of Mormon model here but if we assume that’s where it all happened, then where might be the Hill Cumorah?
Well, if you consider that the numbers grew so much, there was a lot of northward migration, etc. then you eventually find yourself off the peninsula. It was a place that had a lot of water compared to what they were used to on the Baja Peninsula. The two places with substantial water just north of the peninsula are (a) San Diego and (b) the Colorado River Delta and its intermittent inland seas (ancient Lake Cahuilla/Salton Sea).
Choosing between San Diego and the Colorado River Delta
The Colorado River delta would have been impressive in its time before modern humans tapped all its water and prevented it reaching the sea. Certainly it would fit the bill of “many rivers and fountains” (Mormon 6:4). I, however, prefer San Diego for the following reasons:
- Correctly placed bodies of water surrounding it. Hill Cumorah requires northward access to a body of water called Ripliancum (“large, or to exceed all”; Ether 15:8–11). This favors San Diego because the Pacific Ocean can be accessed to the north at Oceanside but it could also fit the Colorado River delta because anciently there was an intermittent lake fed by the Colorado called Lake Cahuilla that would have been to the north/west of the Colorado River delta. Hill Cumorah/Ramah would also have a sea to the east during the time of the Jaredites (Ether 9:3). This suits the San Diego area best because the Salton Sea/Lake Cahuilla area lies directly to the east. There is no sea to the east of the Colorado River delta but parts of the coast around the Sea of Cortez that the Colorado feeds into are to the east of the delta, which could also fit. I do think San Diego is a better fit for bodies of water mainly because the Pacific Ocean seems to better fit the name, “large, or to exceed all.”
- Consistent terrain across time. Hill Cumorah/Ramah requires enough consistency that the terrain would still be recognizable and mostly unchanged following the destruction at Christ’s death, changing water flows, etc. 1,000 years later because it was the location of the destruction of both the Jaradites and the Nephites. This favors San Diego because the San Diego river valley in the Santee area has remained relatively unchanged for about 2 million years. On the other hand, the Colorado River is prone to constant shifts in its course and the sea near it (ancient Lake Cahuilla/Salton Sea) was prone to fill and dry intermittently. The Colorado River delta is actually just a massive plain of sand. Thus it’s not comparable in terms of consistency to the granite hills of the San Diego area.
- Strategic area of defense. Hill Cumorah/Ramah would provide a strategic location to defend a civilization from an invading army. The granite hills surrounding the Santee area in San Diego would provide a natural wall of defense. While the people in the valley would benefit from the valley’s abundance, invading armies would be forced to come over and around desert hills surrounding it. The Colorado River delta does not provide any such strategic locations because it is mostly just open and flat. You wouldn’t even be able to see the invading armies coming if there was vegetation taller than the height of a man. The granite hills in San Diego not only would provide fortification but also a great point of observation, keeping the citizens in the valley safe.
So where in San Diego then?
Once you narrow the location down to the San Diego area, it is actually fairly straightforward to determine the most likely location of the final battles. Santee Valley is a fertile valley that was the home base of the Kumeyaay people. It is an incredibly desirable, well-sheltered plain/valley. The San Diego River and all of its tributaries flow into and through the valley. Conversely, much of the rest of Southern California and the Baja Peninsula are quite dry. Interestingly, on the West side of the valley, you have the mission hills, which would create a natural barrier for the valley. The most militarily strategic point in the entire area is the point where the San Diego River flows between these hills. This would provide a natural point of conflict because both armies would be reliant on the San Diego River for sustenance. North of the river, the hill, South Fortuna Mountain, can not be easily bypassed. On the south side of the river, the hill, Kwaay Paay, can be passed on both sides, making it a free-standing hill of tremendous military and economic importance. Kwaay Paay is potentially the Hill Cumorah.
Here are the strengths of the Kwaay Paay model:
- Incredible military/economic importance of the hill and the plain to the east of it (Santee area) due to (a) San Diego River and its tributaries and (b) the desert hills and mountains that act as natural barriers around the valley.
- Presence of what would be considered a substantial array of rivers and fountains to someone migrating north from the Baja Peninsula.
- Traditional Kumeyaay homeland. “Kumeyaay” may in fact be a modern form of the word “Cumorah.”
- Ocean is accessible to the north (Oceanside area).
Kwaay Paay model of Hill Cumorah/Ramah in context
- Cumorah/Ramah Mount Kwaay Paay in San Diego area
Mormon 6:4 And it came to pass that we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents around about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; and here we had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites.
- Ablom City on the shore of ancient Lake Cahuilla (modern-day Salton Sea is a remnant of the lake)
Ether 9:3 [Omer] came over by the place where the Nephites were destroyed, and from thence eastward, and came to a place which was called Ablom, by the seashore, and there he pitched his tent.
- Ripliancum Pacific Ocean near Oceanside, California
Ether 15:8–11 And it came to pass that he came to the waters of Ripliancum, which, by interpretation, is large, or to exceed all; wherefore, when they came to these waters they pitched their tents…they caused them to flee before them; and they did flee southward, and did pitch their tents in a place which was called Ogath. And it came to pass that the army of Coriantumr did pitch their tents by the hill Ramah; and it was that same hill where my father Mormon did hide up the records unto the Lord, which were sacred.
- Narrow neck of land Northern Baja Peninsula
Mormon 3:5 And it came to pass that I did cause my people that they should gather themselves together at the land Desolation, to a city which was in the borders, by the narrow pass which led into the land southward.
About the author
Aaron Charlton studied ancient military history and pre-history at BYU as an undergraduate. He also served as an air defense officer and an infantry officer in the U.S. Army with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. This model is based on his military and history background and attempts to match the geography up to what is described in the Book of Mormon as closely as possible.