Joseph Smith Treasure Seeking — Rich Kelsey

Joseph Smith treasure seeking at night under the moon

Joseph Smith Treasure Seeking Accounts:

Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the LDS (Mormon) Church, is well known for discovering golden plates, but how many of us know about Smith’s history of treasure seeking? In this article we look into accounts of Joseph Smith as a seer, guiding money diggers in their quest for buried treasure.

Treasure Here, Treasure There:

“I, Peter Ingersoll, first became acquainted with the family of Joseph Smith, Sen. in the year of our Lord, 1822. — I lived in the neighborhood of said family, until about 1830; during which time the following facts came under my observation.

The general employment of the family, was digging for money.

Joseph, Sen. told me that the best time for digging money, was, in the heat of summer, when the heat of the sun caused the chests of money to rise near the top of the ground. You notice, said he, the large stones on the top of the ground — we call them rocks, and they truly appear so, but they are, in fact, most of them chests of money raised by the heat of the sun.” (Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed, Painesville Ohio: Telegraph Press, 1834, pp. 232-237)

The rocks which Joseph Sen. claimed were actually chests of money which were near the top of the ground, are described in the same way as the stone box which contained the golden plates:

“On the west side of this hill, not far from the top, under a stone of considerable size, lay the plates, deposited in a stone box. This stone was thick and rounding in the middle on the upper side; and thinner towards the edges, so that the middle part of it was visible above the ground; but the edges all around was covered with earth.” Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845, Page 84 ( [edited to remove the words ages.]

Treasure Everywhere:

William Stafford, who was a neighbor of the Smith family, said:

“They [the Smiths] would say, for instance, that in such a place, in such a hill, on a certain man’s farm, there were deposited keys, barrels and hogsheads of coined silver and gold — bars of gold, golden images, brass kettles filled with gold and silver — gold candlesticks, swords, &c. &c. They would say, also, that nearly all the hills in this part of New York, were thrown up by human hands, and in them were large caves, which Joseph, Jr., could see, by placing a stone of singular appearance in his hat, in such a manner as to exclude all light; at which time they pretended he could see all things within and under the earth, — that he could see within the above mentioned caves, large gold bars and silver plates — that he [Joseph Jr.] could also discover the spirits in whose charge these treasures were, clothed in ancient dress.” — William Stafford (Mormonism Unvailed, E.D. Howe, pp. 237-238)

The second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also gave this account of treasure in a cave:

“When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room… They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls.” (Sermon from LDS President Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 19:38)

Treasure Seeking Rules to Follow:

William Stafford was informed by Joseph Smith Sen. that he was the right person to take to get buried treasure which Joseph Smith Jr. had located while looking in his glass.[1]

Bringing the right person was an early theme in the golden plates accounts.

People seeking treasure had to follow rules imposed by the spirits guarding the treasure, bringing the right person was one such rule. Speaking, muttering or cursing during a dig was not allowed. And the sacrifice of sheep was practiced at times.

William Stafford owned a black sheep, and to gratify his curiosity, he let the Smiths have it.

Joseph Smith walked the animal, bleeding from its neck, in a circle around the spot where the treasure supposedly was.

“But some new ‘mistake in the process’ again resulted in disappointment.”[2]

1826 Glass Looking Trial Testimony:

William D. Purple Account:

In 1826, Joseph Smith was brought to court for deceiving people into believing he could see underground by looking into his stone and charging people money for his services. That court case is commonly called the Joseph Smith 1826 Glass Looking Trial.

Albert Neely was the judge presiding over the case. Justice Neely asked his friend William Purple to take notes:

“The following scene was described by this witness [Mr. Thompson], and carefully noted: Smith had told the Deacon that very many years before a band of robbers had buried on his flat a box of treasure, and as it was very valuable they had by a sacrifice placed a charm over it to protect it, so that it could not be obtained except by faith, accompanied by certain talismanic influences. So, after arming themselves with fasting and prayer, they sallied forth to the spot designated by Smith. Digging was commenced with fear and trembling, in the presence of this imaginary charm. In a few feet from the surface the box of treasure was struck by the shovel. on which they redoubled their energies, but it gradually receded from their grasp. One of the men placed his hand upon the box, but it gradually sunk from his reach, After some five feet in depth had been attained without success, a council of war, against this spirit of darkness was called, and they resolved that the lack of faith, or of some untoward mental emotions was the cause of their failure. In this emergency the fruitful mind of Smith was called on to devise a way to obtain the prize. Mr. Stowell went to his flock and selected a fine vigorous lamb, and resolved to sacrifice it to the demon spirit who guarded the coveted treasure. Shortly after the venerable Deacon might be seen on his knees at prayer near the pit, while Smith, with a lantern in one hand to dispel the midnight darkness, might be seen making a circuit around the spot, sprinkling the flowing blood from the lamb upon the ground, as a propitiation to the spirit that thwarted them. They then descended the excavation, but the treasure still receded from their grasp, and it was never obtained.”

That testimony, which included a lamb being sacrificed to appease the supposed treasure guardian,

“… was declared under oath, in a Court of Justice, by one of the actors in the scene, and not disputed by his co-laborers.” (The Joseph Smith Papers, Appendix: Reminiscence of William D. Purple, 28 April 1877)

The Obvious Question:

Could Joseph Smith really see hidden treasure by looking in his seer stone?[3]

If the answer is



■ Joseph Smith was misleading people for financial gain.

If the answer is



■ There really was a box of treasure on Josiah Stowell’s property.

■ The treasure was actually being watched over by a spirit.


■ That spirit had the ability to move the treasure from here to there, just like in early accounts of the golden plates.[4]

In today’s world, anyone claiming they can see buried treasure by looking into a seer stone would be considered irrational. And claims that a spirit can move treasure from here to there are nonsense. The problem: Reality did not change in the last 200 years; Joseph Smith’s claims were as untrue in his day as they are in modern times.

Almost Seven Years of Treasure Seeking:

It turns out that after almost seven-years of treasure seeking, none of the men using Joseph Smith as their guide obtained any of the treasure they were seeking. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

The last great day of treasure seeking was on September 22nd, 1827, the Autumn Equinox. According to Martin Harris, Mr. Stowell was at the Smith family home digging for money,[5] and Joseph Smith was obtaining the golden plates and then hiding them in an oak tree.

What Joseph Smith actually came home with on September 22nd, 1827, was another story.

About Those Golden Plates:

In October of 1827, Joseph Smith explained to Martin Harris that he had found golden plates:

He found them by looking in the stone found in the well of Mason chase. The family had likewise told me the same thing.” (Interview with Martin Harris in Tiffany’s Monthly / Mormonism p. 169)

This was a life changing event for Martin Harris, Martin dedicated his life to telling the world about the golden record and he became satisfied that it was the Lord’s work.

Martin Harris asked Joseph Smith for a view of the plates while serving as his scribe:

“… he [Martin Harris] began to request Joseph to permit him to look upon the plates for he desired a further witness …“ (Lucy Smith History: First Draft, Biographical Sketches, chapter 25, author paraphrase)[6]

Harris was obsessed with the plates. During the translation process they were supposedly in a cherry box, sitting on the table right in front of him. However, when asked how he saw the golden plates, Martin Harris replied:

“… by the power of God I have seen them.”[7]


If the golden plates were two feet away, in a box on the table, why was the power of God needed for Martin Harris to see them? Was Joseph Smith trying to hide something?[8] Perhaps Joseph’s story of finding golden plates lacked substance?

One thing is certain: It is well documented that the three witnesses saw the plates and other sacred items by faith:


“The Prophet inquired of the Lord, and this revelation was given in answer, through the Urim and Thummim. 1 – 4, By faith the Three Witnesses shall see the plates and other sacred items

Verse (1) Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my [God’s] word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban [etc.] …”

And Martin Harris claimed that he never saw the golden plates with his natural eyes.[9]

Treasure Seeking, Conclusion:

The golden plates were supposed to be actual earthly objects, dug up from a stone box. In reality, there is no evidence that Joseph Smith obtained golden plates, and some of the witnesses who supposedly handled the plates ended up doubting their experience:

“Some of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, who handled the plates and conversed with the angels of God, were afterwards left to doubt and to disbelieve that they had ever seen an angel. One of the Quorum of the Twelve – a young man full of faith and good works, prayed, and the vision of his mind was opened, and the angel of God came and laid the plates before him, and he saw and handled them, and saw the angel, and conversed with him as he would with one of his friends; but after all this, he was left to doubt, and plunged into apostacy, (sic) and has continued to contend against this work. There are hundreds in a similar condition.” (Brigham Young, JOD: vol. 7 p. 164, June 5, 1859)

The Bottom Line:

The Whitmer home is known as the:

“Cradle of Mormonism.”[10]

Joseph Smith spent the last month translating the Book of Mormon at the Whitmer home. John Whitmer, who was one of the eight witnesses claimed:

“I now say, I handled those plates; … they were shown to me by a supernatural power.” (History of the Church, Vol. 3, p. 307)

The reason why John Whitmer was shown the golden plates of Mormon tradition,

“… by a supernatural power,”

is because Joseph Smith did not have any golden plates to show him, as documented in Stephen Burnett’s 1838 letter to Lyman Johnson:

“… when I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them [the plates] & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way …” (Letterbook 2, Page 64 (

Other Works & Articles of Interest:

○ Joseph Smith Money Digging Accounts

■ Enchantment, Magic and Money Digging — Rich Kelsey

■ LDS Urim and Thummim — Rich Kelsey

■ The Golden Plates of Joseph Smith — Rich Kelsey

LDS Series


  1. Joseph Smith, Sen., came to me one night, and told me, that Joseph Jr. had been looking in his glass, and had seen, not many rods from his house, two or three kegs of gold and silver, some feet under the surface of the earth; and that none others but the elder Joseph and myself could get them. (Mormonism Unvailed p. 238)
  2. Lippincott’s Magazine, August 1880
  3. “… he had a certain stone, which he had occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were.” (Joseph Smith 1826 Glass Looking Trial, Miss Pearsall Account)
  4. On the 22d of September 1824, Joseph again visited the place, where he found the plates the year before; and supposing, that the only thing required in order to possess them until the time for their translation, was, to be able to keep the commandments of God, and as he firmly believed that he could keep every commandment which had been given him, he fully expected to carry them home with him. Therefore, having arrived at the place and uncovered them, he put forth his hand and took them up; but, on starting off with them, the unhappy thought darted through his mind: that probably there were something else in the box besides the plates, which would be of some advantage in a precuniary point of view; So, in the moment of excitement; he laid them down very carefully to cover the box, lest some one might happen that way and get whatever there might be remaining in it; and, after covering it, he turned around to take the record again, but behold it was gone, and where he knew not, neither did he know by what means it had been taken from him. (Lucy Mack Smith History 1845 pp. 87-88)
  5. “After this, on the 22d of September, 1827, before day, Joseph took the horse and wagon of old Mr. Stowel, and taking his wife, he went to the place where the plates were concealed, and while he was obtaining them, she kneeled down and prayed. He then took the plates and hid them in an old black oak tree top which was hollow. Mr. Stowel was at this time at old Mr. Smith’s, digging for money.” (Interview with Martin Harris in Tiffany’s Monthly)
  6. “When it was became necessary for Martin to return home ) remained with my son and wrote dilligently untill he had transcribed nearly 116 pages of the record when it <then> became necessary for him to return home—he now began to requested Joseph to permit him to look upon the plates for he desired a further witness that of their work <actual existance and> that he might be better able to give a reason for the hope that was within <him> of seeing great things come to pass in the last days—“ (Lucy Smith History: First Draft  Biographical Sketches, chapter 25, verse 1).
  7. “These plates were usually kept in a cherry box made for that purpose, in the possession of Joseph and myself. The plates were kept from the sight of the world, and no one, save Oliver Cowdrey, myself, Joseph Smith, jr., and David Whitmer, ever saw them. Before the Lord showed the plates to me, Joseph wished me to see them. But I refused, unless the Lord should do it. At one time, before the Lord showed them to me, Joseph said I should see them. I asked him, why he would break the commands of the Lord! He said, you have done so much I am afraid you will not believe unless you see them. I replied, ‘Joseph, I know all about it. The Lord has showed to me ten times more about it than you know.'” — Here we inquired of Mr. Harris — How did the Lord show you these things! He replied, “I am forbidden to say anything how the Lord showed them to me, except that by the power of God I have seen them.” (Interview with Martin Harris in Tiffany’s Monthly) / Mormonism p. 166
  8. Harris was told that it would arouse the most terrible divine displeasure, if he should attempt to draw near the sacred chest, or look at Smith while engaged in the work of decyphering (sic) the mysterious characters.” (1827 — Account of Martin Harris given to the Rev. John A. Clark, as related in his 1842 book Gleanings by the Way, W.J. & J.K. Simon, pp. 222ff). [Microfilm copy]
  9. “Martin was in the office when I finished setting up the testimony of the three witnesses, – (Harris–Cowdery and Whitmer) I said to him, – ‘Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?’ Martin looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, ‘No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.” (Statement from John H. Gilbert, the man who did most of the typesetting for the original 1830 Book of Mormon)
  10. The Peter Whitmer Log Home: Cradle of Mormonism | Religious Studies Center (