Brigham Young made an interesting statement regarding Book of Mormon Geography.
“Nor do I expect we shall stop at Arizona, but I look forward to the time when settlements of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will extend right through to the city of Old Mexico, and from thence on through Central America to the land where the Nephites flourished in the Golden era of their history, and the great backbone of the American continent be filled, north and south, with the cities and temples of the people of God. In this great work I anticipate the children of Nephi, of Laman and lemuel [native Indians] will take no small part.” -Brigham Young, 11 January 1876, Letterbook 14:124-26
So, according to Brigham Young, “through Central America” is the land where the Nephites flourished. I assume he is referring to the account in the Book of Mormon where the Nephites had peace and prosperity after Christ visited him.
I don’t think this necessarily proves without a doubt that the Book of Mormon happened around Mexico. When we gather all of the statements made by early Church leaders into context, it’s pretty obvious that they believed in a Hemispheric model for the Book of Mormon. Meaning to them, the Book of Mormon happened over all of North, Central and South America.
I thought the same thing when I first gained my testimony. When you see Panama, it’s hard not to think “narrow neck of land”. But I believe if those early leaders would have lived into our times, with better research methods and less persecution, that they would have seen things differently.
Going back to the letter, surely Joseph Smith would have had some influence on Brigham Young and his thoughts about the Book of Mormon. Could Joseph have passed vague ideas to Brigham about where it took place? Brigham knew Joseph for about 14 years. And he most certainly looked up to and admired Joseph after the martyrdom and after becoming the prophet. Because of their close relationship, I think of this quote in light of what Joseph might have passed, or not passed, to Young. Certainly, it shows that Joseph didn’t tell Brigham that “The Book of Mormon only happened in the United States and no where else.”
The quote is from a letter written in 1876. I found it on a great blog called Ethers Cave. Here is the blog.
[Brigham Young to William C. Staines, 11 January 1876, Letterbook 14:124-26, cited in Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, 382.].