On the suggestion of John L. Sorenson, a ten-day expedition was conducted between December 27, 1989 and January 6, 1990 to the Gulf of Mexico side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico. The principal objective of this trip was to find a plausible site for the Book of Mormon city first called "Bountiful" (Alma 52:17). After a number of flights over the Isthmus area near the Gulf Coast, and visits (some interesting and some disappointing) to various sites, and through careful study of the scriptures, this group came to believe that the City Bountiful might have been located at the present city of Tonala. On the assumption that Tonala was the City Bountiful and that the City of Mulek was associated with the ruins of La Venta, and assuming that cardinal directions in Book of Mormon times were rotated so that north was essentially west-northwest, the group reviewed the battle scenario that is chronicled in Alma 52. The following represents their thoughts (see also Map #2 below).
The battle plan developed under the direction of Moroni had the objective of luring the Lamanites out of the town of Mulek, which was practically surrounded by water (Alma 52:21). The second objective was to wear them out on a very long march (Alma 52:28). The third objective was to surround them with fresh troops (Alma 52:29). To accomplish this, Captain Moroni had his men march by night (Alma 52:22) to a place that would appear south on our current map, but essentially was west by his directions. The hook to lure the Lamanites out was the potential to overcome a small band of men led by Teancum. Teancum must have come within five kilometers of the city to have initiated much action from the occupying Lamanties. Teancum's band led them towards the coast and then to the left by the seashore (Alma 52:23). The distance to the seashore is approximately fourteen kilometers; it is necessary to go due north to avoid the Laguna Chicozapote. Further, it was probably Teancum's desire to have them go as far as possible to wear them out. The distance to the Tonala River is about six kilometers from where Teancum's band and the Lamanties army would have first reached the coast.
It would be quite tiring for the Lamanties soldiers to complete a hurried march like that then begin a battle against the fresh troops of Captain Lehi that were waiting to surprise them. Lehi's men were apparently hiding on the eastern side of the River Tonala at the time of the Lamanite arrival (Alma 52:27). The Lamanties began an urgent retreat (Alma 52:28). By the time that they got close to their starting point of La Venta, the would have been exhausted, having travelled at least 30 kilometers at high speed. At that point they were met by Moroni's army in the front and were attacked from the rear by Lehi's army (Alma 52:31). Moroni's strategy of wearing them out before battle worked and the Nephites won the contest (Alma 52:32-40).
In Alma 53:3 it states that after the Lamanites had finished burying the victims of the war, "they were marched back into the land Bountiful." This could have been at any point along the River Tonala, though the logical spot would have been at the mouth of the river which, as mentioned previously, was fordable during the dry season. (Note* Today, however, the river has been dredged at the mouth by the PEMEX company.) Crossing at this location would have led them directly into Tonala (the city Bountiful). It is logical that the city Bountiful would be located close to the coast because of the routes described in the text. [David A. Palmer, Robert E. Fisher, and Octaviano Tenorio, "Trip Report--Bountiful Expedition," submitted March 17, 1990, used by permission from the files of Robert E. Fisher and John L. Sorenson] [See the commentary on Alma 52:17]
Alma 52:21-40 (Geographical Scenario for Moroni's Battle Plan) [[Illustration]]: Map #2, illustrating the battle plan chronicled in Alma 52 as it relates to Tonala and La Venta. [David A. Palmer, Robert E. Fisher, and Octaviano Tenorio, "Trip Report--Bountiful Expedition," submitted March 17, 1990, used by permission from the files of Robert E. Fisher and John L. Sorenson]