Oxen in the New World

Oxen in the New World   by John Tvedtnes

When Nephi states that he and his family journeyed in an uninhabited
region (“wilderness”), how was it possible for them to find oxen roaming in the wilds (1 Nephi 18:25; see also 2 Nephi 21:7; Ether9:18)? Did the author of the Book of Mormon fail to realize that an ox is in fact a castrated bull? If nobody was inhabiting the land, who castrated the bulls?

Your question includes the erroneous assumption that "nobody was inhabiting the land."  There is plenty of evidence for others living in the land when Lehi arrived. But that point is minor compared to the fact that those who raise this question are wrong about the meaning of the term “ox.” Here is the entry for “ox” in Webster’s 1828 dictionary, which reflects usage in American English in Joseph Smith’s time:


  The male of the bovine genus of quadrupeds, castrated and grown to his size or nearly so. The young male is called in America a steer. The same animal not castrated is called a bull. These distinctions are well established with us in regard to domestic animals of this genus. When we speak of wild animals of this kind, ox is sometimes applied both to the male and female, and in zoology, the same practice exists in regard to the domestic animals. So in common usage, a pair of bulls yoked may be sometimes called oxen. We never apply the name ox to the cow or female of the domestic kind. Oxen in the plural may comprehend both the male and female.

A number of wild bovines are native to the New World. Garcilasso Inca
de la Vega, writing in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth
century, noted that there were small hornless animals like cows in the
Andes mountains. Richard Shutler found at Falcon Hill, Nevada, bones
of the so-called shrub ox (euceratherium), in association with manmade
baskets. The bones were found beneath items belonging to the Lovelock
culture of 2000-500 B.C. Similar bones found in New Mexico were dated
to 5470 B.C. +370.

The most common bovine (ox/cow) found in the New World is the bison
(mistakenly called “buffalo” by most Americans). In light of the
evidence for late survival of the bison as far south as Nicaragua into
recent historical times, there is no reason to doubt the late and
limited survival of some of the species down to the sixth century B.C.
Bison were still present in northern Mexico into the eighteenth
century and were still present in Michoacán, Mexico, until a few
centuries before the Conquest. Lord Kingsborough wrote that “In
Sibola, a large territory to the north of Mexico, where buffalo were
domesticated by Indians, milk was their common diet.”

See the discussion in John L. Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived in
the Land, Did They Fine Others There?” Journal of Book of Mormon
Studies 1/1 (1992) and Matthew Roper, “Nephi’s Neighbors: Book of
Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations,” FARMS Review 15/2
(2003). See also John A. Tvedtnes, “Idolatry in the Book of Mormon

Tvedtnes, John A.