Grampa Bill's General Authority Pages
Parley P. Pratt Parley P. (Parker) Pratt

1807 - 1857

  • Born 1807 Burlington, New York
  • Married Thankful Halsey 1827; later practiced plural marriage; thirteen children
  • Baptized 1830
  • Ordained an Elder, 1830
  • Participated in Zion's Camp, 1834
  • Ordained an Apostle, 1835
  • Martyred 1857 near Van Buren, Arkansas

    Parley P. Pratt was born April 12, 1807, in Burlington, Otsego County, New York. He was the third son of Jared Pratt and Charity Dickinson, and a descendant of Lieutenant William and Elizabeth Pratt, who were among the first settlers of Hartford, Connecticut, arriving in 1639.

    In 1826, Parley P. Pratt left New York state and settled some thirty miles west of the town of Cleveland, in Ohio, and laid the foundation of a wilderness home. In 1827, he returned to Canaan, Columbia County, New York, the home of his parents and was married and then he and his wife, Thankful Halsey Pratt, returned to his home in Ohio. Later Parley would practice plural marriage. He has thirteen children of record.

    Some eighteen months later Sidney Rigdon who was connected with Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott and others in the reformed movement called "Disciples," but known as "Campbellites," came to his home preaching the doctrines of the "Disciples." As these doctrines conformed more closely to what he thought was found in the Bible, he joined the organization and became a minister in that church, and determined to take up the ministry as his life's labor.

    Parley intended to commence among his own relatives but while at Newark, New York, he heard of the Book of Mormon, and without delay he hastened to Palmyra where he met Hyrum Smith, and from him learned the particulars about the coming forth of that book. In company with Hyrum Smith he went to Fayette where he met Oliver Cowdery and being convinced, about the first of September of 1830 was baptized and was ordained an elder. He continued on his journey to his kindred, but not as a preacher for the "Disciples," as he started out. On this journey he baptized his younger brother Orson Pratt, then a youth of nineteen years of age. He returned to Fayette in time to attend this conference in September, and there met the Prophet Joseph Smith, and was called as a Missionary to the Lamanites. This mission took Parley and his companions to the area of Kirtland, Ohio where their singular success resulted in the Church's movement to and establishment in that area.

    In 1834 Parley Participated in Zion's Camp, the military mission to relieve the suffering Saints in Missouri. Though the mission was of limited military success, it was from this group of dedicated members that many of the future Church leaders were called. Parley was selected by the Three Witnesses to be one of the original Twelve Apostles of the restoration. He was ordained an Apostle February 21, 1835.

    Parley proselytized extensively in Upper Canada, leading to the conversion of John Taylor and his wife Leonora, Joseph Fielding, and Joseph's sisters, Mary and Mercy Fielding . In 1838, he suffered persecution with the Saints in Missouri and spent nine months imprisoned in Richmond and Columbia before escaping to Illinois in July 1839.

    Following the murder of Joseph Smith, Parley and his family migrated west with the Saints, arriving in Salt Lake City in 1847.

    In 1851, he was named to preside over the General Mission to the Pacific which included both the west coast of America and the islands of the ocean. Elder Pratt was an extensive writer and pamphleteer. Many of his works became classics and standards for decades.

    The following account of the last mission and death of Parley Parker Pratt is taken from the Publisher’s Preface in the Deseret Book 1985 edition of the “Autobiography of Parley P Pratt “. This preface was written by Dr Larry C. Porter Director of Church History; Religious Studies center, Brigham Young University.

    After more than twenty-five years of constant mission­ary labors, Elder Pratt had some personal expectations of remaining closer to home and family for a season. Such imaginations were short-lived. In 1856 President Brigham Young directed him to carry out an extended proselyting tour in the eastern states. In his last dis­course to the Saints assembled at the Bowery, Great Salt Lake City, September 7, 1856 he said:

    “I am now about to wart to the States, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and bear testimony of those things which I most assuredly do know; for this is my calling. I have desired, after traveling for twenty-five or twenty-six years, mostly abroad, to stay at home and minister among the people of God, and take care of my family: but God’s will be done, and not mine. If it is the will of God that I should spend my days in pro­claiming this Gospel and bearing testimony of these things, I shall think myself highly privileged and honored. And when the Spirit of God is upon me, I think it matters but very little what I suffer, what I sacrifice—whether I secure the honor or dishonor of men, or where I die, it so be that I can keep the faith, fight the good fight, and finish my course with joy.”

    Leaving Salt Lake City on 11 September 1856, Elder Pratt traveled extensively among the branches in Philadelphia, New York City, Cincinnati, and else­where. While he was engaged in that calling, a [drunken and abusive lout] by the name of Hector McLean actively began to trace his whereabouts, blaming Elder Pratt for the estrange­ment between him (McLean) and his former wife, Eleanor. McLean nearly caught him in St. Louis. Fortunately, Elder Pratt eluded the man and managed to escape to Indian Territory (Oklahoma), where Elder George B. Higginson was working among the Indians of the Creek and Cherokee nations. Here Elder Pratt was arrested by a Captain Little of the U.S. Cavalry on a warrant emerging from the charges filed by Hector McLean at Fort Gibson (Oklahoma).

    Elder Pratt was transferred under guard to Van Buren, Crawford County, Arkansas, where the nearest federal court convened. Judge John B. Ogden, U.S. Commis­sioner, presided over the examining session on Tues­day, 12 May 1857. Evidence presented against Elder Pratt was considered sufficient to warrant holding him, and he was acquitted. However, the judge purposely did not announce the decision to release Elder Pratt at that time, hoping to dissuade McLean from his avowed determination to kill him. Elder Pratt was kept at the jailhouse overnight in protective custody. Early the next morning Judge Ogden brought his horse to him at the jail, saw that he was dis­charged, and at the same time offered him a knife and a pistol as a means of self-defense. But Elder Pratt declined, saying, “Gentlemen, I do not rely on weap­ons of that kind, my trust is in my God. Goodbye, gentlemen.”

    Although Elder Pratt rode a circuitous route to escape his pursuers, a light rain allowed Hector McLean and two accomplices, James Cornell and Amasa Howell, to track him. They caught up with the fleeing man some twelve miles northeast of Van Buren (near Alma, Arkansas) in front of the Winn farm. McLean fired shots, but they failed to take effect. Riding up to Elder Pratt, McLean stabbed him in the left breast with his bowie knife. The wounded man fell from his horse while his assailants rode off. About ten minutes later McLean returned and, placing a gun next to Elder Pratt’s neck, deliberately fired into the prostrate figure. Mr. Winn was a witness to the entire scene. He and some of his neighbors attended to the apostle in his dying moments. Before Elder Pratt died approximately two and a half hours later, he instructed those gathered about him on how to notify his family and the disposition of his personal effects. He then shared his final testimony: “I die a firm believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith, and I wish you to carry this my dying testimony. I know that the Gospel is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the living God, I am dying a martyr to the faith.”

    McLean and his companions were arrested for the murder but were not convicted during the trial. In Grampa Bill's opinion, that McLean was not made to dance the Danny Deever was a travesty, and Elder Pratt's blood must yet be atoned for, not only by McLean and cronies, but by the judge and other corrupt government officials.

    One of Elder Pratt's dying wishes was that he not be buried in Arkansas, but that his body be transported to Utah so that he might be interred with family members. Alas, that wish was not granted and he has lain in the Arkansas mud with strangers for the last century and a half.

    Now, however, Robert J. Grow, a second great grandson of Elder Pratt, President of the Jared Pratt Family Association, and a Salt Lake City lawyer, has petitioned the Crawford County (Arkansas) Circuit Court for permission to disinter Elder Pratt's body and transport it to Salt Lake City where it will be buried between four of his twelve wives, two on either side. The Court has granted permission, and Archaeologists will dig up the body later this month. After verifying the body is truly that of Elder Pratt, the body will be moved to Utah.

    The next stop for Grow is to obtain a disinterment permit from the Arkansas Department of Health. Ed Barham, a Health Department spokesman, said it takes a couple of days to issue those permits, which must be obtained by a licensed funeral director. Putnam Funeral Home of Fort Smith is assisting the family with the process.

    Grampa Bill will attempt to keep up with this breaking news story and report as developments occur.

    Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p.83
    Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt (Especially see Publisher's Preface.)
    Smith, History of the Church, numerous citations; see index
    Lawrence R. Flake, Prophets and Apostles of the Last Dispensation, p.359
    2005 Church Almanac, p.62

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