Harold Lee wrote:
When I was TBM I had a voracious appetite and read all kinds of things I can't remember anymore. Like now I'm trying to remember an account about a cave in the hill Cumorah. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Basically it's an eyewitness account (or maybe a friend of JS's recounting something he said) about how in a cave in the hill Cumorah the angel Moroni re-deposited the plates, on a wooden table. IIRC from wall to wall were rolled up scrolls and plates, ancient scriptures, that were promised to be translated at a later date. They left and sealed the cave back up and supposedly they're going to be translated when the 2/3 of the Book of Mormon is translated (from the Journal of Discourses, I remember the sealed 2/3 I think Orson Hyde said was all about the 3 hours the Lord talked to the Brother of Jared. So like probably 1000 more pages from 3 hours. They were just talking really fast.)
You are remembering mostly correctly about legends of a cave within Cumorah. However, the story actually begins a few years earlier than the Smith's treasure seeking in hill Cumorah.
The Smith family was first making excavations, probably in company with Lumen Walters, in a hill close to Cumorah on the land of Abner Cole and subsequently Enoch Saunders. According to later owners of the property, the Smith's and their compatriots dug a sizable cave into the side of the hill. According to Wallace Miner, who later inherited the land, the Smith's "dug a 40 ft. cave" into the hill and Orson Saunders claimed at the back of the cave there was "quite a large chamber many feet in extent, with the marks of the pick plainly visible in the light of his candles" and that passageway was "eight feet wide ad seven feet high". The Smith's even had a wooden door attached to the entrance to keep people out of the underground cavern.
Joseph Smith Jr. was acting as a guide in the dig and according to some accounts the Smith's claimed the hill held the remains of an ancient Nephite
king. For example Lorenzo Saunders reported that "Jo. [Jr.] could see in his peep stone what there was in that cave" and that "young Joe could ... see a man sitting in a god chair. Old Joe said he was king i.e. the man in the chair; a king of one of the ... [Indian] <tribes> who was shut in there in the time of one of their big battles." Corroboration of this story comes from Sylvia Walker's account which says that "Jo [Smith] claimed to receive revelation to dig forty feet into a hill about two miles north of where he pretended to find the gold plates of the 'Book of Mormon,' where he would find a cave that contained gold furniture, chars and a table." Thus the construction of an underground cavern was a motif within the Smith family's psyche.
The origin of this idea may actually be Masonic legends. According to Masonic legend, Solomon's temple was built on top of an underground temple complex built by none other than Enoch himself. Masonic legend states Enoch's underground temple complex was the storage site for the Ark of the Covenant along with its various treasures including the Rod of Moses, the breastplate, the Urim and Thummim and most importantly a Gold Plate on which was written the שם המפורש or the sacred name of God in Enochian script, a script which Joseph Smith believed was related to the Royal Arch Cipher and the Kabbalistic AIQ BKR cipher.
After being told that the nearby hill was unholy ground, the Smith's moved their excavations to the hill Cumorah. While the excavations there were likely never as extensive as those in the previous hill, the Smith's may have planned a similar cave in Cumorah. Even if this is not the case, the early Mormons believed the hill contained pre-existing underground passageways and cavernous rooms. This is evidenced by the stories propagating amongst Mormons in later years. According to numerous accounts Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery returned the gold plates to these internal caverns within Cumorah, and while there, they observed other Nephite records and artifacts.
William Horne Dame Diary, 14 January 1855 wrote:
Attended meeting a discourse from W. W. Phelps. He related a story told him by Hyrum Smith which was as follows: Joseph, Hyrum, Cowdery & Whitmere went to the hill Cormorah. As they were walking up the hill, a door opened and they walked into a room about 16 ft square. In that room was an angel and a trunk. On that trunk lay a book of Mormon & gold plates, Laban's sword, Aaron's brestplate.
Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses, 28 September 1856 wrote:
How does it compare with the vision that Joseph and others had, when they went into a cave in the hill Cumorah, and saw more records than ten men could carry? There were books piled up on tables, book upon book. Those records this people will yet have, if they accept of the Book of Mormon and observe its precepts, and keep the commandments.
Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 5 May 1867 wrote:
President [Heber C.]Kimball talked familiarly to the brethren about Father Smith, [Oliver] Cowdery, and others walking into the hill Cumorah and seeing records upon records piled upon table[s,] they walked from cell to cell and saw the records that were piled up. . . .
Wilford Woodruff Journal, 11 December 1869 wrote:
President Young said in relation to Joseph Smith returning the Plates of the Book of Mormon that He did not return them to the box from wh[ence?] He had Received [them]. But He went [into] a Cave in the Hill Comoro with Oliver Cowdry & deposited those plates upon a table or shelf. In that room were deposited a large amount of gold plates Containing sacred records & when they first visited that Room the sword of Laban was Hanging upon the wall & when they last visited it the sword was drawn from the scabbard and [laid?] upon a table and a Messenger who was the keeper of the room informed them that that sword would never be returned to its scabbard untill the Kingdom of God was Esstablished upon the Earth & untill it reigned triumphant over Evry Enemy. Joseph Smith said that Cave Contained tons of Choice Treasures & records.
Elizabeth Kane Journal, 15 January 1873 wrote:
I asked where the plates were now, and saw in a moment from the expression of the countenances around that I had blundered. But I was answered that they were in a cave; that Oliver Cowdery though now an apostate would not deny that he had seen them. He had been to the cave. . . . Brigham Young's tone was so solemn that I listened bewildered like a child to the evening witch stories of its nurse. . . .
Brigham Young said that when Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were in the cave this third time, they could see its contents more distinctly than before. . . . It was about fifteen feet high and round its sides were ranged boxes of treasure. In the centre was a large stone table empty before, but now piled with similar gold plates, some of which lay scattered on the floor beneath. Formerly the sword of Laban hung on the walls sheathed, but it was now unsheathed and lying across the plates on the table; and One that was with them said it was never to be sheathed until the reign of Righteousness upon the earth.
Jesse Nathaniel Smith Journal, February 1874 wrote:
I heard him [Brigham Young] at an evening meeting in Cedar City describe an apartment in the Hill Cumorah that some of the brethren had been permitted to enter. He said there was great wealth in the room in sacred implements, vestments, arms, precious metals and precious stones, more than a six-mule team could draw.
Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 17 June 1877 wrote:
Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. 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. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. 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. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: "This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ." I tell you this as coming not only from Oliver Cowdery, but others who were familiar with it, and who understood it just as well as we understand coming to this meeting. . . . [Don] Carlos Smith was a young man of as much veracity as any young man we had, and he was a witness to these things. Samuel Smith saw some things, Hyrum saw a good many things, but Joseph was the leader.
Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet, 1877 wrote:
It was likewise stated to me by David Whitmer in the year 1877 that Oliver Cowdery told him that the Prophet Joseph and himself had seen this room and that it was filled with treasure, and on a table therein were the breastplate and the sword of Laban, as well as the portion of gold plates not yet translated, and that these plates were bound by three small gold rings, and would also be translated, as was the first portion in the days of Joseph. When they are translated much useful information will be brought to light. But till that day arrives, no Rochester adventurers shall ever see them or the treasures, although science and mineral rods testify that they are there.
David Whitmer, Deseret Evening News, 16 August 1878 wrote:
[Poulson]: Where are the plates now?
[Whitmer]: In a cave, where the angel has hidden them up till the time arrives when the plates, which are sealed, shall be translated. God will yet raise up a mighty one, who shall do his work till it is finished and Jesus comes again.
[Poulson]: Where is that cave?
[Whitmer]: In the State of New York.
[Poulson]: In the Hill of Comorah?
[Whitmer]: No, but not far away from that place.
Orson Pratt, The Contributor, September 1882 wrote:
But the grand repository of all the numerous records of the ancient nations of the western continent, was located in another department of the hill, and its contents put under the charge of holy angels, until the day should come for them to be transferred to the sacred temple of Zion.
Note that in the above statements David Whitmer says this was not Cumorah, but instead the nearby hill where the cave was dug. Personally, I believe what we have here is a joint, likely subjective, visionary experience by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery describing the return of the Gold Plates to the hill Cumorah. Of course to this day there is no physical evidence for a cave in Cumorah.
Vogel, D. The Locations of Joseph Smith's Early Treasure Quests. Dialogue
(2010) vol. 27 (3) pp. 197-231.
Packer, C.C. Cumorahs Cave
. Journal of Book of Mromon Studies
(2004) vol. 13 (1) pp. 50-57