After Amaleki wrote about the departure of the Nephites from the land of Nephi down to Zarahemla, the group led by Mosiah I, he told how some wanted to return up to the land of Nephi in these words: “And now I would speak somewhat concerning a certain number who went up into the wilderness to return to the land of Nephi; for there was a large number who were desirous to possess the land of their inheritance.” We read that the outcome of this first trip was not good: “Wherefore, they went up into the wilderness. And their leader being a strong and mighty man, and a stiffnecked man, wherefore he caused a contention among them; and they were all slain, save fifty, in the wilderness, and they returned again to the land of Zarahemla” (Omni 1:27-28). They had gone into the wilderness to try to retake land from their enemies, and yet they couldn’t even get along as a group themselves and so their trip ended in bloodshed with all but 50 dying (we don’t know how many originally went). The only explanation that Amaleki gave for the fighting was that their unnamed leader was “a strong and mighty man, and a stiffnecked man”—what a tragedy that the stiffneckedness of one man would cause such bloodshed among a group who all chosen to go together in the first place!
We learn more about this group and what happened to them from Zeniff. He was among them and opened his record describing the disastrous event. He said that “having had a knowledge of the land of Nephi, or of the land of our fathers’ first inheritance, and having been sent as a spy among the Lamanites that I might spy out their forces, that our army might come upon them and destroy them—but when I saw that which was good among them I was desirous that they should not be destroyed.” From this we gather that their group consisted of an army, and the original intention was to destroy the Lamanites, not simply find some land to attempt to peacefully inhabit as Zeniff would later do. Apparently once the group got close to the Lamanites, Zeniff was sent to spy out the Lamanites and see their forces, but he saw something that “was good among them” and he didn’t want his group to fight them. Zeniff wrote, “Therefore, I contended with my brethren in the wilderness, for I would that our ruler should make a treaty with them; but he being an austere and a blood-thirsty man commanded that I should be slain; but I was rescued by the shedding of much blood; for father fought against father, and brother against brother, until the greater number of our army was destroyed in the wilderness; and we returned, those of us that were spared, to the land of Zarahemla, to relate that tale to their wives and their children” (Mosiah 9:1-2). So Zeniff returned from his reconnaissance mission and told his leader that they should work peacefully with the Lamanites instead of fighting them, and this sparked a controversy and ultimately major fighting amongst themselves such that they were mostly killed. Ironically the one who was commanded by the leader to be killed, Zeniff, was not, but it appears that hundreds of others were. This group was apparently composed of mostly (or solely) men, for they had to return back to Zarahemla to inform the wives and children of the catastrophe.
From what we gather in the record, Zeniff’s actions in this event were noble and showed that he was not a bloodthirsty man. To stand up for his enemies in trying to protect them from an unnecessary attack by the Nephites was certainly courageous. But what happened next is where he made his mistake—he went back! After all that had happened in this event, I can’t imagine that he would want to go back and try again, but he did. He admitted that he was “over-zealous to inherit the land of our fathers” and “collected as many as were desirous to go up to possess the land” (Mosiah 9:3). Instead of learning from the original catastrophe that what is most important is not land or possessions but rather life and family and peace and their faith, he went back to try to get the land again. He who originally sought to prevent war with the Lamanites, ultimately got caught up in several battles with them and saw much bloodshed, all because of his inordinate focus on possessing property.