A Final Resting Place for Parley P. Pratt

Parley P. PrattOne of the first LDS Apostles, Parley P. Pratt, was hastily buried near Van Buren, Arkansas on May 14, 1857. Murdered in cold blood and considered by many Latter-day Saints a martyr to his Mormon faith, Parley’s dying wish was to have his remains brought back to Utah to be buried among his friends. In early April (2008) an Arkansas judge granted permission for Parley’s descendants to disinter his remains and move him to a burial spot in Salt Lake City. Husband of 12 women and father to 23 children who survived him, Parley will be laid to rest in a reserved grave surrounded by four of his wives. (Addendum: Parley’s remains were sought but could not be found. The family gave up the search.)

The story of Parley’s death is an interesting one. This is an account excerpted from History of Utah, 1540 – 1886, by Hubert Howe Bancroft, published in 1889, pages 546-547:

In May of 1857 Parley P. Pratt was arraigned before the supreme court at Van Buren, Arkansas, on a charge of abducting the children of one Hector McLean, a native of New Orleans, but then living in California. He was acquitted; but it is alleged by anti-Mormon writers, and tacitly admitted by the saints, that he was sealed to Hector McLean’s wife, who had been baptized into the faith years before, while living in San Francisco, and in 1855 was living in Salt Lake City.[1] McLean swore vengeance against the apostle, who was advised to make his escape, and set forth on horseback, unarmed, through a sparsely settled country, where, under the circumstances, escape was almost impossible. His path was barred by two of McLean’s friends until McLean himself with three others overtook the fugitive, when he fired six shots at him, the balls lodging in his saddle or passing through his clothes. McLean then stabbed him twice with a bowie-knife under the left arm, whereupon Parley dropped from his horse, and the assassin, after thrusting his knife deeper into the wounds, seized a derringer belonging to one of his accomplices, and shot him through the breast. The party then rode off, and McLean escaped unpunished.[2]

[1] The account given in the Millennial Star, xix. 417-18, is that McLean, after treating his wife in a brutal manner for several years, turned her into the streets of San Francisco, and secretly conveyed the children on board a steamer for New Orleans, where the woman followed him; but finding that her parents were in the plot, set forth for Salt Lake City. Returning to New Orleans in 1856, she rescued her children and fled to Texas; but was followed by her husband, who had previously returned to California, and now regained possession of the children. Parley, who had already befriended Mrs McLean, had written to inform her that her husband was in pursuit. Hence the prosecution. McLean and his wife finally separated in San Francisco in 1855. See also Autobiog. of Parley P. Pratt, app. Stenhouse relates that Mrs McLean was married or sealed to Pratt in Utah, that she met Pratt in Arkansas on her way to Utah, and that the apostle was acquitted on account of her assuming the responsibility for the abduction. He admits, however, that the apostle did not abduct the children. Rocky Mountain Saints, 429. Burton says that Pratt converted Mrs McLean and took her to wife, but on what authority he does not state. City of the Saints, 412. The fact, however, that Mrs McLean arrived on the scene of the apostle’s assassination just before his death, as mentioned in the Millennial Star, xix. 478, wears a suspicious look. In the S. F. Bulletin of March 24, 1877, it is stated that the apostle made the acquaintance of Mrs McLean while engaged in missionary work in San Francisco; that her husband, who was a custom-house official and a respectable citizen, ordered him to discontinue his visits, and kicked him out of the house for continuing them surreptitiously; and that the woman was so infatuated with the Mormon Elder that she devoutly washed his feet whenever he visited her. On arriving at Fort Smith (near Van Buren), McLean found letters from Parley Pratt addressed to his wife, one of them signed ‘Your own,——. ‘The McLean residence in San Francisco, on the corner of Jones and Filbert streets, was in 1877 a dilapidated frame building, a story and a half in height. As to the apostle’s assassination, the Bulletin merely states that he was overtaken by McLean and shot within eight miles of Van Buren, and that he died of his wounds an hour afterward.

[2] This account of Parley’s murder is based on the testimony of Geo. Higginson and Geo. Crouch, whose letter, dated Flint, Arkansas, May 17, 1857, was first published in a New York paper. Copies of it will be found in the Millennial Star, xix. 478, and Burton’s City of the Saints, 419,-13, note. They state that the tragedy occurred close to the residence of a farmer named Win, and was witnessed by two men who were in the house at the time, and from whose evidence at the coroner’s jury the above version is taken. Pratt lived long enough to give instructions as to his burial and the disposition of his property. The account given by Stenhouse, in Rocky Mountain Saints, 429-30, does not differ materially, except that he makes no mention of any accomplices.

Robert J. Grow, descendant of Parley Pratt and president of the Jared Pratt Family Association is not convinced that Eleanor McLean’s legal marriage to Hector should be considered a factor in Parley’s murder. Mr. Grow states that women in those days (and especially women involved in questionable religions) had very few legal options when contemplating an end to a marriage. In addition to those considerations, however,

“It should also be noted that with respect to the ‘laws of marriage’ the Latter-day Saints at that time believed the laws of God superseded the laws of men, and a divorce from Hector may have been viewed by Eleanor as an unnecessary formality.” (“Finding Parley:” A Family’s Quest to Fulfill Apostle Parley P. Pratt’s Dying Wish pdf file)

It is said that Parley’s final testimony was this:

“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.” (Steven Pratt, “Eleanor McLean and the Murder of Parley P. Pratt,” BYU Studies 15 [Winter 1975]: 248.)

For discussion, given the circumstances of Parley Pratt’s death, in what way do you think he understood himself to be a martyr to his faith? Do you agree?

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.

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9 Responses to A Final Resting Place for Parley P. Pratt

  1. falcon says:

    This is a good example of “situational ethics”. As long as Mr. Pratt bore his testimony to Joseph Smith, then he should be considered a martyr to this faith. What he did or how he did it is all sublimated to this testimony. By the way, I kept thinking (as I read this post) about the fundamentalist Mormon group down in Texas that just got raided. Why did I feel there was a legacy of this group with Mr. Pratt?

  2. iamse7en says:

    Funny you post this now, as I am actually reading his autobiography at the moment.

    Parley Pratt is one of my favorite authors and early LDS Apostles. His book, “Key to the Science of Theology” is my favorite book written by a General Authority. It is so inspiring and beautiful.

    A righteous man was murdered, because of the practice/belief of his faith, by an evil man. Sounds like a martyr to me.

  3. Lautensack says:

    I would submit that Parley P. Pratt was not martyred, at least in the same sense that Steven, James, Paul, Ignatius, Justin, Tyndale, Staines, etc. were martyred. I say this because he wasn’t killed because he was a Mormon, because of his religious faith, but because of a personal vendetta against him. If I were to be killed because of a personal disagreement with another it would not necessarily make me a martyr. Think of it this way, if I were to refuse a costumer a special “discount” on ethical grounds that I have because I am a Christian, and this disgruntle costumer were to kill me, while it might be tragedy, it would not be martyrdom because the reason for my death would not be directly because I am a Christian. While my Christianity might play an indirect role in it, the mindset of the killer and the willingness of inevitable death also play a role in martyrdom.

    Luke 12:25 “which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

    Lautensack

  4. pallathu says:

    He is a martyr to his Mormon faith and practice. He is not a martyr for Christ’s sake. He did not die for practicing what Christ has taught but what Joseph Smith has founded.

  5. lillym says:

    What?

    You can’t marry another man’s wife, and then claim to be a martyr for your faith when the disgruntled husband shoots you! What craziness.

    “A righteous man was murdered, because of the practice/belief of his faith, by an evil man”

    ?? I agree with Lautensack. That’s like if I said my religion requires me to help children..so I kidnap a child from a foster home…and get shot in the process. Am I a martyr? lol

  6. Michael P says:

    That they subcribe martyrdom to any and all early apostles who were killed for whatever reason is interesting.

    Sounds like he pushed a man’s buttons too far by stealing his wife. Grow’s explanation may be true, but looking at it from McLean’s point of view, I doubt that it matters.

    Martyr is a bit extreme.

  7. falcon says:

    I would agree with the notion that a martyr is someone who dies for a cause he/she believes in. Now, in my mind the cause may be misguided or totally bogus. I think we have a notion that a martyr is a hero. We tend to attach positive attributes or character qualities to a martyr. None of this may be true. A suicide bomber would be considered a martyr for a cause and even celebrated as a hero among the faithful. The people who were killed would be considered martyrs by their people. Was John D. Lee of Mountain Meadows a martyr or a hero or a stupid patsy? He died for what he believed in. Which I believe wa the same thing Parley Pratt believed in. Does John get a monument?

  8. traveler says:

    Greetings!

    I was always under the impression that Johm Lee died because BY needed a “fall guy”…

    But back to Pratt – what a colourful fellow!
    I honestly can’t see why any one would fall for him (at least from the woodcut posted above) but he may have been quite charming. Was he a martyr to the LDS? I think not. As I understand it – to be a martyr – he would have had to have been given a chance to renounce his beliefs – and then refused to do so. I don’t know if he was ever offered that chance.

    Falcon has a good point, though!

  9. Berean says:

    Parley Pratt doesn’t fit into the martyr category anymore than his beloved prophet Joseph Smith. Was Joseph Smith in the Carthage Jail because he was a Mormon and being imprisoned for religious persecution? No. Joseph Smith was in jail under Governor Thomas Ford’s orders for treason by declaring martial law when he didn’t have authority to do so not to mention destroying the Nauvoo Expositor and then fleeing to Iowa like a coward. If Emma hadn’t have put him on the love guilt trip by ridiculing him for running away who knows how the Mormon story would have turned out (Joseph staying in Iowa or running off somewhere else). Emma’s letters played a big part in Joseph returning back to Illinois to “face the music”.

    Joseph Smith abused his office as mayor and general of the militia in Nauvoo. He also committed a crime. When the guns were smuggled in by Cyrus Weelock and given to Hyrum and Joseph that definitely ruled out the the two of them bestowing the sacred honor title of “martyr” for the faith. Joseph closed the deal forever by shooting three people killing two of them.

    I don’t see anywhere in the biblical account of any martyr of the faith coming close to the circumstances that Joseph and Parley did. When I read about Polycarp in Foxes Book of Martyrs I don’t see him fighting back when he was put on the stake to be burned.

    I wonder if Mormons consider John D. Lee to be a martyr for the faith? He was killed because he was carrying out blood atonement on the Fancher/Baker party under Brigham’s orders, right? Would Mormons today consider John D. Lee to be exonerated from murder (blood atonement due to being shot by a firing squad and having his blood spilled since Christ’s shed blood and atonement was not sufficient in cases of murder in the LDS system) and capable of eternally progressing?

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