Grampa Bill's General Authority Pages
Rey L. Pratt Rey L. (Lucero) Pratt

1878 - 1931

  • Born 1878 Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Baptized as a child; Aaronic Priesthood as a youth; Melchizedek Priesthood as a young man
  • Married Mary Stark 1900; fourteen children
  • President of Mexican Mission 1907-1931
  • First Council of the Seventy 1925-1931
  • Died 1931 Salt Lake City, Utah

    Rey Lucero Pratt, Member of the First Council of the Seventy from 1925 to 1931 and President of the Mexican Mission from 1907 to 1931, was born Oct. 11, 1878, in Salt Lake City, Utah, the son of Helaman Pratt and Emmeline Victoria Billingsley. He was a grandson of the legendary Parley P. Pratt.

    His father, Helaman Pratt lived the fullness of the Gospel as he understood it and thus fell under the illegal and unconscionable persecutions suffered by those who practiced plural marriage. In an attempt to preserve his family and save them from the tender mercies of the rapacious territorial law of the day, Helaman took his family to Mexico. Rey went with his parents to Mexico in October, 1887, and located in Juarez, where he learned Spanish from the natives.

    Thus at the age of nine, Rey became a pioneer. He later spoke of "those things that I had to do as a boy, for I went into a new land and had to make fences, build ditch, kill snakes, ride the cattle range, and do many things that neither I nor my children are called upon to do now." The Pratts were closer to the local Mexicans than many of the other colonists were, and Rey learned to speak Spanish like a native. Perhaps even more importantly, he also grew to understand the history and culture of the Mexican people.

Mary Stark Pratt    Rey married Mary (called May) Stark on August 8, 1900. Their marriage was blessed by fourteen children, three of whom the Ancestral File indicates are still (2000 AD) alive The young couple settled on a ranch outside Dublán, isolated from the bustle of an industrializing world. They lived in a log house under a big oak tree, cooked over a fireplace, raised beef and dairy cattle, hunted deer and turkeys, and rode their ponies over the range together. At the time of the mission call, they were making plans to expand their herd and install an electric generator. For years they had dreamed of returning to that idyllic setting when the mission was over, but that time never came.

    He was called on a Mission to Mexico in 1906, and in September, 1907, he became president of the Mexican Mission. Elder Pratt spoke in the October 1913 general conference, and said this of revolution-ridden Mexico showing at once the spirit in which he led the Mexican Mission through its most critical quarter century and why his name is still linked inseparably to the success of the Church in Latin America.

I enjoy my work [in Mexico]. True it is I have seen some horrible things during my stay there. For months in the City of Mexico we awakened every morning to the music of cannons. Day after day we saw houses and even people burning in the streets. And yet I am ready to go back and stay as long as the servants of the Lord shall desire it.
    When Elder Pratt was called to labor in the Mexican Mission in 1906, he found it a small and struggling operation. It had been first opened in 1879, just a month after he was born, but due to political problems and a shortage of missionaries it had been closed down from 1889 to 1901. During that period, the only contact southern Mexican converts had with the Church was an  occasional visitor from the Mormon colonies in Chihuahua and Sonora, in the capital for some business reason. This obviously was not sufficient guidance to support a young and essentially foreign institution, and it deteriorated badly. Many of the Saints slipped away from Church doctrines and practices, some whole branches falling into apostasy.

    The Mexican Saints, most of them recent converts, needed strength and continuity in their leadership -- a man in whom they could place a complete trust. On 29 September 1907 they had their leader when Rey Pratt was set apart as president of the mission. He was never released. The choice was a wise one. Although Pratt was born in Salt Lake City, he had grown up in Mexico. His father, Helaman Pratt, had been with the epic 1875-76 expedition that explored and proselyted in Mexico, and later he had served there as missionary and mission president. In 1887 the family was called to settle in Colonia Dublan, one of the LDS colonies in Chihuahua.

    Well grounded in language, culture, and the goals to be pursued, Pratt was the right man to lead the Mexican Mission through the most turbulent years of that nation's history. The story of his presidency is a succession of seemingly crushing difficulties which he had to overcome that the mission might succeed. In the words of his daughter, "It just seems like they were tried in fire such as you can't believe."

    From the first, President Pratt was beset by knotty organizational problems. In a unique and somewhat cumbersome arrangement, the mission was set up under the Juárez Stake which was comprised of the colonies in the North. At least until 1912 the members were considered part of the stake, and the mission reported both to the stake presidency and to the General Authorities of the Church.

    There was also a question of authority, since Pratt presided over the mission for four years as an elder. During this time he ordained at least one seventy, Manuel C. Naegle, saying that, "my calling as president gives me that authority." The procedure was irregular but the ordination seems to have been accepted as valid by the Church.

    Elder Ernest Young recalls from personal observation that Pratt "visited the sick a good deal." Indeed, sickness harassed the mission. Typhoid was common, two elders having died from it in the 1880s. In 1904 Apostle Abraham O. Woodruff and his wife, while visiting Mexico, both contracted smallpox and died. Pratt's year-old daughter Mary came down with a severe case of smallpox in 1909, but survived. His son, Carl Lee, survived scarlet fever in 1911, but died of "intestinal infection" in 1925 when attending school in Mexico City. Others had cases, some serious, of malaria, pneumonia, and influenza. Pratt himself nearly died of typhoid in 1909, and was incapacitated for several months. The next year he was down with appendicitis, then in 1913 with influenza.

    In spite of these hindrances during its early years, the mission continued to grow. The missionary force was increased, giving President Pratt an office staff and allowing expansion into new areas. Conversions accelerated, more than doubling the membership in his first six years, and several new branches were organized.

    The Mexican Revolution almost stalled Missionary work in the Mission despite President Pratt's herculean efforts. Missionaries who had completed their term of service were not replaced and by 1912 there were nly twelve missionaries in the entire country.

    In September 1913, with the Revolution nearing its peak, there were over 1600 Latter-day Saints in Mexico, some 1150 of them in the area of the capital. With a few scattered exceptions in the colonies, these were "all natives and mostly Indians," without much leadership experience of their own and without their shepherd.

    That shepherd was like a tiger in a cage. At the October general conference of the Church he said,

I have the spirit of that mission running through my veins to such an extent that it is almost impossible for me to talk to the people here except I speak in regard to the Mexican Mission.
    He affirmed that the day of the Mexican Indians had come and that he was ready to go back and continue the work under any conditions.

    At a meeting for mission presidents following the close of conference Pratt offered to return to Mexico alone and do what he could to hold the Church there together for the interim. The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve discussed the matter, decided that he should not go back, and instructed him to guide the mission by correspondence until the situation settled down. This he did, devoting himself almost exclusively to the task for the next twenty months--sending letters of encouragement and instruction to the Mexican Saints.

   The reports he received were alternately heartening and distressing. The Mexican Saints, along with many other people, often went hungry. Some were reduced to scavenging in the streets and eating perhaps once in twenty-four hours. Some of the men had been conscripted into military service, were ill-clothed and poorly paid, their families left to fend for themselves. In 1916 Pratt received a pathetic letter from Señor de Monroy of San Marcos, whose son Rafael had been left in charge of the little branch there, telling of the execution of Rafael and his counselor by a Villista detachment for refusing to renounce Mormonism. In spite of such hardships, these humble people remained faithful. They kept the branches running with the long-range instructions from Pratt, and they scrupulously saved a tenth of their income for tithing, even when it meant going without food.

    During his enforced exile, Pratt wrote much and spoke often to American Mormon audiences. He was recognized as having a more profound grasp of the Mexican scene than anyone else in the Church, and he felt it important that everyone gain some understanding. His style helped. Said his daughter, "He was an old-time orator. He wasn't this kind that got up and took you logically from one point to another, he just got up there and pounded the pulpit. But people listened to him." He always spoke highly of the Indian people. His talks and writings constantly refer to Book of Mormon prophecies on the birthright of the Lamanites. In an especially incisive article for the Young Woman's Journal in 1914 and in a series for the Improvement Era in 1928, he interpreted the Revolution and other signs of the times as heralding the day of that birthright. The Lamanites were ready to assume a position of leadership, and it was the duty of the Church to train them and place them there. He often chided the press and public opinion for their prejudiced view of the Indians, especially of those in Mexico, and declared to Church members that their missionary sons, far from working among the savages, were living among a courteous and gently people. He openly admitted that his own prejudice ran against the Spanish and other European conquerors whose influence on native Mexicans had been one of corruption rather than enlightenment.

    For two years, from 1913 to 1914, Pratt was only partially active in Mexican Mission affairs, until the Church called him to a different kind of mission. There were LDS missionaries in all of the states along the Mexican border, but they spoke only English; no one had ever worked with the many Mexican and Spanish-American residents in these areas. In June 1915 Pratt was asked to open a mission among these people.

    It was an odd arrangement. The new field of labor, to open first in Colorado and New Mexico, came under the auspices and direction of the Western States Mission. At the same time, Pratt still presided over the Mexican Mission which was a separate entity.

    The new mission was soon going strong, but he continued to worry about the old one. By autumn of 1917 the civil war in Mexico had wound down to a level where people could return to their homes and settle down to a more normal life style. Cutting through red tape at the border, Pratt went back to Mexico after an absence of four years.

    His record of the train ride from Laredo to Mexico City describes a long panorama of destruction and hunger. The capital and surrounding area were in better shape than he had expected, but the people still suffered from a scarcity of just about everything, including food. In spite of this and other problems in the wake of war, the Church and its members were in remarkably good condition. During his month-long visit, Pratt found nearly all of the branches functioning according to the instructions he had sent. Through keeping in touch with the man they had come to regard almost as a father-figure, the Saints had remained faithful; their own organizational abilities and even their numbers had gradually increased.

    In the following spring Pratt made another trip, again visiting the branches. The main purpose of this trip, however, was to initiate a program of bringing Mexican Saints to Zion. Arrangements had been made for fifty families to work for the Church-controlled Utah-Idaho Sugar Company. As it turned out, the incompatibilities between Mexican and United States immigration laws were insurmountable and the project had to be scrapped. Perhaps the failure was partly due to Pratt's difficulty in getting along with Mexican officials. His sister recalls that he always had trouble with customs inspectors and showed little patience with Latin bureaucracy. This probably had something to do with his anti-Spanish bias as well.

    Back in Salt Lake City for April conference, Pratt met with the Church officials who together decided to separate the Spanish-speaking people from the English-speaking missions. Accordingly, in May jurisdiction of all Spanish-speaking branches and missionaries was transferred to the Mexican Mission. Pratt also expanded the proselyting into Texas. In November 1918 the mission headquarters was moved from Manassa, Colorado to El Paso, Texas, this being a more central location as missionaries moved into the Rio Grande border towns, and across the river into Mexico itself.

    Crossing the border was still a bit risky. In June 1919 Elders Abel Páez and Victor Hancock went over to do some tracting in and around Ciudad Júarez. They suddenly found themselves in the midst of a pitched battle between Villistas and federal troops and could not get back to El Paso. While waiting for a chance to reach the river safely, they had an opportunity to interview Villista General Felipe Angeles, and Eder Páez spoke with Pancho Villa himself. Both of the generals expressed friendliness toward the Mormons and approval of the missionary work being done in Mexico.

    The rewards outweighed the risks, however, and in October a branch of the Church was opened near Ciudad Júarez. This was the first new one in Mexico since the exodus and the first in the northern part of the country outside the colonies. In 1920, as he elders moved down into southern Texas, some were also sent to Chihuahua City and Monterrey, the first regularly assigned to the interior of the country since 1913.

    By 1921 the civil war was effectively over and the time was ripe to reopen the mission in the South. The first of March saw Pratt, a pair of elders, and Church Historian Andrew Jenson on a train headed toward Mexico City. Again they reported much evidence of the war along the route, and some towns in ruins.

    During the next few weeks ten more elders arrived and all of the old branches were visited. For some places (Cuautla, Morelos, which was Zapata's home town, for example) this was the first visit by American elders in nine years. Working as a team to reorganize and to gather history, Pratt and Brother Jenson made a comprehensive tour of the branches and the capital.

    At the conference of the Juárez Stake in November 1921, the Chihuahua Mission, which had functioned under stake authority, was transferred to the Mexican Mission. The local Saints had always supplied the area with missionaries, but due to colonial attrition in the Revolution, this was no longer possible. Now Pratt's elders took over all of the branches in Mexico except those in the colonies themselves, and he assumed the presidency of all Spanish-speaking organizations in the Church.

    Their number grew over the next three years as Pratt moved missionaries into Querétaro, León, Guaymas, and Baja California. In 1924 he opened up work among Spanish speakers in southern California for the first time and established a branch in Los Angeles.

    Mission headquarters remained in El Paso, but much of the time Pratt was on the go to administer his far-flung and expanding constituency. His daughter says that he was "conscientious about attending every conference," including those in his mission, those of the Juárez Stake, and the general conferences in Salt Lake City. "He wasn't home any more than four or five days at a time," and when he was, there was "no time for anything" as he was always busy translating and revising Church literature. Then he was off again to Zion's Printing and Publishing Company in Independence, Missouri, to Utah, or to some part of the mission.

    On January 29, 1925 he was ordained a Seventy and set apart to the First Council of Seventy. He died while still acting in that capacity April 14, 1931, in a Salt Lake hospital, following an operation.

    Mary Pratt Parrish, Rey L. Pratt, Look to the Rock from Which Ye Are Hewn, pp.54-124
    The Family of Helaman Pratt, An excellent source of photos and a promised forthcoming transcript of the definitive work on the life of Rey L. Pratt
    Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p.348
    2005 Church Almanac, 73

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