"Cattle" in the Book of Mormon

By George Potter


Both the Jaredites (Ether 9:18) and the Nephites (Enos 1:21) raised cattle. This Book of  Mormon fact puzzles many students of the book because the ancient inhabitants of North and Central America only domesticated dogs and turkeys. (Charles Mann, 1491, New Revelations of the Americas, 109). To find the answer to this puzzle, one only needs to understand that the Book of Mormon history probably transpired in South America and that the term "cattle" meant something different to the translator of the Book of Mormon than what the term generally means today.


The Andes mountains of South America is the home of four members of the camel family: the llama, the alpaca, the pacuña, and the vicuña. At least the llama, alpaca, and pacuña were domesticated in large numbers in South America during Book of Mormon times. Further, Joseph Smith would have been 100% correct in translating a Reformed Egyptian word meaning various types of camels as "cattle."  Noah Webster's 1828 American Usage Dictionary defines "cattle" as: "In its primary sense, the word includes camels, horses, asses, all the varieties of domesticated horned beasts of the bovine genus, sheep of all kinds, and goats." This broader meaning of the word "cattle" was understood by both the Bible and Book of Mormon prophets. For example, Nephi quoted Isaiah 7:25 "sending forth of oxen, and the treading of lesser cattle (italics added; see 2 Nephi 17:25).


Since the Jaredites raised "all manner of cattle," it is important to remember that there were at least four types of camels in South America during the Jaredite and Nephite period. This is something Joseph Smith probably had no knowledge of and attests to the accuracy of his  translation of the Book of Mormon.