Destroyer on the Waters: The Missouri River Revelation

*As usual, an exploratory essay.  If you like what you read, you can purchase my book, Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables, here

In 1831, Joseph Smith received a revelation identifying water as the devil’s domain.  The revelation has been used as a rationale to explain the policy prohibiting missionaries from swimming.  It’s a rationale that has seeped into Mormon memory.  Yet for claiming to believe the doctrine, modern Mormons don’t actually live it.  The role of water in Mormon history reveals a compelling story of settlers’ struggles to situate themselves against the wilds of a natural environment ill-disposed towards settlement.  Historian Donald Worster has argued that understanding the environment’s role in defining historical events is crucial to accurate interpretation.  The environment represents the “ground level” of the story.  If left out, the story becomes distorted (Worster, “History as Natural History,” in The Wealth of History, 36.) Continue reading