Is Cain Bigfoot? The Truth Behind 5 Mormon Folklore Stories

Is Cain Bigfoot? The Truth Behind 5 Mormon Folklore Stories

5. The White Horse Prophecy

“The constitution will hang by a thread.” We’ve all heard this phrase, which is contained in the White Horse prophecy—a prophecy attributed to Joseph Smith about how the people of the Rocky Mountains (or, the Church members) will save the Constitution, among other things.

The problem? This prophecy was written over 50 years after the Prophet’s death. Scholars have identified the “prophecy” as having been a pieced-together embellishment on statements the Prophet Joseph made on several different occasions, as journaled by a man named Edwin Rushton. It has been officially refuted by the Church on several occasions.

One of the first (and most impressive) examples of this was with Elder Joseph Fielding Smith Jr.’s general conference talk in October 1918:

In my travels in the stakes of Zion, my attention has been called, on a number of occasions, to a purported revelation . . . supposed to have been received by President Smith . . . in regard to events of great importance dealing with the nations of the earth and the Latter-day Saints. Many things in that purported vision, or revelation, are absurd. . . . When a revelation comes for the guidance of this people, you may be sure that it will not be presented in some mysterious manner contrary to the order of the Church. It will go forth in such form that the people will understand that it comes from those who are in authority.

President Joseph F. Smith, who spoke after his son at that conference, re-emphasized his son’s remarks by calling the content of the prophecy “trash.” He said, “It is simply false. That is all there is to it.” The Church, in 2010, once again re-emphasized this position with two separate official statements.

That being said, several reliable sources (Brigham Young, Eliza R. Snow, among others) did report hearing the Prophet say that the LDS people would in some way save the Constitution from grave danger. “It’s unfortunate that [the Constitution statement] has to be always connected with the White Horse Prophecy—as if that’s where [the statement] comes from,” says Mike Hunter. “But actually, it doesn’t come from that; the White Horse Prophecy took that, and a lot of other things, and blended them together.”

In other words, historical evidence suggests that one can reasonably believe in the "Constitution will hang by a thread" bit without putting any stock in the White Horse Prophecy.

So even if those stories about mysterious appearances from the Three Nephites or famous statements didn’t actually happen, they can still reveal a deeper principle. And they’re certainly still fun to hear.

This story originally ran in print in May 2011. Click here for more great print stories!
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