[This post is part of a series about possible evidence or clues in LDS theology that the Flood of Noah was a local event, rather than a globally-covering deluge. This particular clue is from Church History]
I still remember the moment I pulled my dad’s copy of The Miracle of Forgiveness off the shelf and feverishly searched it for the legendary story of the guy in Church history who saw Cain. To my delight, I eventually found it.
I don’t remember why or exactly when, but earlier that day someone had told me that an early apostle in the Church had seen the biblical figure Cain, the son of Adam–and he was still alive after all these years, never having died; he was covered in hair all over, and he could possibly be Bigfoot himself!–Wait, Bigfoot?! My early teenage mind was officially blown. For someone who had repeatedly checked out the same book about mysterious cryptozoological creatures from the elementary school library, a gospel explanation for Sasquatch was right up my alley.
David Wyman Patten was one of the original twelve apostles, ordained in 1835. While travelling on horseback in Paris, Tennessee that same year, he met a rather strange man along the way (1). The following account was given of the encounter:
“As I was riding along the road on my mule I suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me. … His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair. … I asked him where he dwelt and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men. About the time he expressed himself thus, I rebuked him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, and commanded him to go hence, and he immediately departed out of my sight.”
This “very remarkable person,” as the story goes, “had represented himself as being Cain”, the Biblical, murderous son of Adam and Eve. According to this source, Cain showed himself to David Patten, and he was still alive after all these years. Cain had never tasted death (2).
And get this: David Patten wasn’t the only latter-day saint who saw this mysterious visitor. Apparently–if you believe the stories–quite a few Saints were visited by a person who was identified as Cain. Rumor has it that between the years 1835 and 2000, Cain has appeared to apostles, mission presidents, bishops, missionaries, Boy Scouts in the woods, and teenage boys playing demonic board games. One of the mission presidents who claimed a sighting of this mysterious figure was even E. Wesley Smith, the brother of Joseph Fielding Smith. When Wesley wrote to his brother Joseph about the experience, Joseph replied that Wesley’s assailant was probably “Cain . . . whose curse is to roam the earth seeking whom he may destroy.” (4)
And it’s this curse Joseph Fielding Smith speaks of that makes these stories so interesting. From what I learned in my youth, it was Cain’s curse that he would never die, but would have to roam the earth with no rest until judgment day–thus making it possible for him to appear to David Patten on the road at an assumed age of 6,000 years or so. The origins of this belief, I presume, are from Moses 5:37-40, where, after Cain has murdered his brother Abel, the Lord says to Cain, “A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.” Clearly distraught, Cain laments that those people who find him will kill him for what he’s done, but the Lord promises, “Whosoever slayeth thee, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And so the Lord places a mark upon Cain, “lest any finding him should kill him.”
So, the logic goes, if nobody can kill Cain, and he’s forced to be a vagabond, then he must still be alive today, wandering around the wilderness scaring people from time to time. And this belief has sprouted into the rumor that Cain is Bigfoot, or rather, Bigfoot is Cain–a tall, hairy, man-like being who roams through the North American forests in elusive secrecy, allowing only frustratingly minimal photographic evidence.
Even though I am related to David W. Patten (he’s my 6th-great uncle), I’m skeptical that he actually saw a real-life, embodied Cain. But, let’s assume that Patten’s tale is true, and Cain really did visit him, a being who for several millennia had never died, not even once. If we assume this, then there are some interesting implications. (6)
If Cain survived the flood, then:
- Genesis was wrong when it said “every man” “upon the earth” was “destroyed” in the Flood, besides “Noah only … and they that were with him in the ark.” (Genesis 7:21-23)
- The Apostle Peter was wrong when he said that only “eight souls”—presumably Noah and his sons and their wives—survived the flood while all others perished. (1 Peter 3:20)
- Lots of people were wrong when they said the Flood, as a baptism of the earth, cleansed all wickedness off the face of it (because clearly, Cain, the first murderer on Earth, and the first one we know of to be cursed by God, wasn’t swept away). (7)
- And Genesis must have been wrong when it said the whole earth, including “the mountains”, were “covered” in “fifteen cubits upward” of water. (Genesis 7:18-20)
Basically, the implication is that if Cain never died, then what we learn about Noah’s Flood killing every single living thing on Earth besides Noah, his wife, his sons, and his daughters-in-law is false. If Cain never died, then someone needs to explain how he survived an all-consuming deluge that only eight people were supposed to survive.
And don’t tell me that Cain’s curse to not be killed by another man means that a catastrophic flood that reshaped the face of the planet couldn’t kill him either. That still doesn’t explain how he could tread water for forty days, or breathe underwater. Perhaps he had his own boat? Maybe an airtight, underground bunker? Unless Cain had undergone a process of translation similar to the three Nephites (and as far as I can tell, translation is only for righteous people, not the man who slaughtered his brother, called himself “Master Mahan”, and “gloried in his [own] wickedness” (Moses 5:30-31)), he should have drowned easily in a worldwide flood that caused canyons to form, continents to split apart, and sedimentary layers to entomb the fossils of Earth’s life forms in stone all over the globe. Saying that no man could kill Cain is not the same thing as saying no thing could kill Cain. A Flood is not a man, especially a Biblical Flood. In order to comply with scripture, Cain, if he had lived until the deluge, must have died in the Flood if it covered the whole planet. But, if the Flood was merely a local event, only then could Cain—the man who had “earnestly sought death”—have avoided it.
Is it possible that God caused some otherworldly physics or physiological change in Cain to keep him from drowning in the diluvial fury? Yes, of course; but I think it’s safer to say that a wicked man, no matter how cursed, would have died in a planet-engulfing deluge designed precisely for destroying wicked men.
Now, I’m not saying for certain that David Patten’s Cain story is true; but if it is, then Noah’s Flood was local and not global in scale, and obviously more people survived it than just eight. So yes, you can believe in these sightings of a never-deceased Cain, but if you do, you have to reject the idea of a worldwide flood.
For more on Noah’s Flood, GO HERE.
Sources and Notes
- Quoted by Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 127-128.
- Possible image of David Patten?: https://alchetron.com/David-W-Patten
- A Mormon Bigfoot: David Patten’s Cain and the Concept of Evil in LDS Folklore Matthew Bowman, starts at page 62 here: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1051&context=mormonhistory. Also: https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Question:_Does_Cain_still_roam_the_earth,_and_does_this_account_for_stories_about_%22Bigfoot%22%3F; https://www.ldsliving.com/When-Cain-Appeared-to-Joseph-Fielding-Smith-s-Brother-And-Talked-with-Apostle-David-W-Patten/s/83424; http://www.mormonthink.com/glossary/bigfoot.htm
- Photo of Bigfoot, from Bigfoot video shot by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jimdobson/2019/11/22/in-search-of-bigfoot-a-televised-expedition-may-prove-the-elusive-beast-is-real/#65d071ce3ddd
- David Patten is the brother of my 5th great grandfather, John Patten
- For some examples of members teaching that Noah’s Flood was a baptism of the earth to cleanse it from wickedness: Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “Now a word as to the reason for the flood. It was the baptism of the earth, and that had to be by immersion. If the water did not cover the entire earth, then it was not baptized, for the baptism of the Lord is not pouring or sprinkling.” Brigham Young said: “It has already been baptized. You who have read the Bible must know that that is Bible doctrine. … The Lord said: ‘I will deluge (or immerse) the earth in water for the remission of the sins of the people’; or if you will allow me to express myself in a familiar style, to kill all the vermin that were nitting, and breeding, and polluting its body; it was cleansed of its filthiness; and soaked in the water, as long as some of our people ought to soak. The Lord baptized the earth for the remission of sins, and it has been once cleansed from the filthiness that has gone out of it, which was in the inhabitants who dwelt upon its face.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, p. 274); Orson Pratt taught: “Another great change happened nearly 2,000 years after the earth was made. It was baptized by water. A great flow of water came, the great deep was broken up, the windows of heaven were opened from on high, and the waters prevailed upon the face of the earth, sweeping away all wickedness and transgression–a similitude of baptism for the remission of sins. God requires the children of men to be baptized. What for? for the remission of sins. So he required our globe to be baptized by a flow of water, and all of its sins were washed away, not one sin remaining.”(Journal of Discourses, vol. 21, p. 323); All of these are quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, pages 320-322, emphasis in original. https://askgramps.org/was-the-flood-a-form-of-baptism-for-the-earth/