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Ozarks 2020

The Strange Case of Parley Parker Pratt - Mormon Apostle and Ancestor of Mitt Romney


The Strange Case of Parley Parker Pratt - Mormon Apostle and Ancestor of Mitt Romney

By Eric Holmberg


Unless you're a devote member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and/or a member of the Romney family, you likely have never heard of the Mormon missionary, Parley Parker Pratt.   I mention the Romneys because Mitt's grandmother on his father's side, Anna Amelia Pratt, was Parley's  granddaughter.  


Pratt is considered by the Mormon church to be one of the more prominent apostles of the "restoration."


(An aside: According to Mormon doctrine, true Christianity declined during the Great Apostasy that took place during and after the first century AD as all but one of the original apostles was martyred.  "The apostolic authority to bestow priesthood keys and to receive revelation for the Church was lost along with many precious teachings. Errors about His teachings crept into the church resulting in conflicting opinions and lost truths." (From the official LDS website; the following quotes are taken from the same publication.)  Despite the valiant efforts of later reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin to fix things, the story goes, the apostasy continued, for "without the authority of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, His gospel and Church could not be returned to their original form."  But in 1920, that apostolic authority was finally restored as "God selected a 14-year-old boy as His messenger."  The boy was Joseph Smith and the true Christianity he restored came to be known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; more commonly known as Mormonism.  And men like Brigham Young and Parley P. Pratt continued that apostolic tradition. This is the restoration. And this further means that every other Christian denomination or church is still under the thralldom of the great apostasy.  Mormonism, according to LDS teaching, is the only true church.)


The April 2007 edition of Ensign, the official magazine of the LDS church, featured a six-page article on the "Extraordinary Life of Parley P. Pratt."  "One of the original Twelve Apostles" in the line established by Joseph Smith, Pratt's "devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ had taken him far from his youthful home in New York. He had crossed the

Atlantic six times on missions to England, explored the western United States, visited gold rush California, and eaten figs fresh from the trees in Chile. As a minister of Christ, Parley had 'been honored and received as an Apostle, and scorned as a Devil.  Indeed, his beliefs had entangled him in a wide range of difficulties: 'I have lain months in gloomy dungeons, and been loaded with chains. I have been visited there by visions of Angels and Spirits, and been delivered by miracles.' During his life, he said he had been a farmer, a servant, a fisher, a digger, a preacher, an author, an editor, a traveler, a merchant, an elder, and an Apostle of Jesus Christ."

The article mentions his marriage to his first wife, Thankful Halsey.  Interestingly, it also notes in passing the longing he experienced for "his second wife, Mary Ann Frost" while he was imprisoned. (This does not mean, as the modern reader would assume, that poor Thankful had passed away and the grieving widower had found consolation in a second wife. Pratt at this point had two wives, soon to be followed by many more.  One can only wonder how thankful Thankful was to hear that her husband was longing only for Mary.  And by the way, Mormon historians tend to either state outright or imply that the frequent imprisonments Mormon leaders experienced were acts of religious persecution; that these great men were suffering for their faith.  In reality, often they were simply arrested for bigamy and sexual licentiousness.)  The article then concludes with an account of his supposed martyrdom:


While on his mission, Parley sensed his approaching death. He wrote home, "I long to do my duty while here and then go to rest in the paradise of God." Indeed, Parley stated, "I neither dread nor fear death, but I anticipate changing worlds with joy inexhaustible." In May 1857, shortly after his 50th birthday, Parley was murdered outside the small town of Van Buren, Arkansas.


As he lay dying, Parley testified to those who had come to help: "I die a firm believer in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. . . . 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."  Indeed, Parley's testimony of Jesus Christ and the Restoration resonates down through the years and strengthens us today.


What the article fails to mention is the proverbial "rest of the story."  Indeed, this omission is symptomatic of Mormon theology and history in general.  With the possible exception of Islam, there had never been a world religion that is rifer with redactions, suppressions and cherry-picked "facts."  The plain, unvarnished truth is that Pratt had 12 polygamous wives and the last one he took was married to another man.  The "apostle" was killed by this other man who wasn't happy Parley had added his wife and his children to his harem. A summary of the account is as follows[1]:


Parley P. Pratt was sent to explore a southern route from Utah to California in 1849. He reached San Francisco from Los Angeles in the summer of 1851, remaining there until June, 1855. He was a fanatical defender of polygamy after its open proclamation, challenging debate on the subject in San Francisco, and issuing circulars calling on the people to repent as "the Kingdom of God has come nigh unto you."


While in San Francisco, Pratt induced the wife of Hector H. McLean, the former Elenor J. McComb, to accept the Mormon faith and to elope with him to Utah as his 12th wife. Elenor was the mother of three children, a girl and two boys. 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.


It is reported that she was married to Apostle Pratt November 14, 1855, in Salt Lake City. Concerned that his (Hector's) wife [we have not found any record of divorce] would take his children and follow Pratt to Utah, McLean sent his children to his wife's parents in New Orleans, Louisiana. Hearing that her children were in her own father's home, she made plans to go to New Orleans and gain possession of them. After pretending that she had abandoned the Mormon belief, her parents allowed Elenor to take the children. When McLean learned of this he went to New Orleans, and traced his wife and Pratt to Houston, Texas, and thence to FortGibson, near Van Buren, Arkansas. On arriving at Fort Smith (near Van Buren), McLean found letters from Parley Pratt addressed to his wife, one of them signed 'Your own,--.


In May of 1857, Pratt was arrested near Van Buren, Arkansas by a Captain Little of the U.S. Cavalry on a warrant stemming from charges filed by Hector McLean. 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 insufficient to warrant holding him, and he was to be released. 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."


As soon as Pratt was released, he left the place on horseback. McLean, who had found letters from Pratt to his wife at FortGibson which increased his feeling against the man, followed him on horseback. Although 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. About ten minutes later McLean returned and, placing a gun next to Pratt's neck, deliberately fired into the prostrate figure.


Following the assassination of her second husband, Parley Pratt, by her first husband, Hector McLean, Elenor returned quickly to Salt Lake City, where she relayed the details (as she knew them) of Pratt's death [some say reporting directly to Brigham Young]. Some say that it is was her report that set off the sequence of events that culminated in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.



List of Pratt's wives [with his age and the bride's age annotated]:


Wife #1: On the 9th of September, 1827, Parley P. Pratt [age 20] and Thankful Halsey [age 30] were solemnly united in the bonds of matrimony by Elder Palmer, minister of the BaptistChurch, in Canaan, Columbia County, New York.


Wife #2: On May 9, 1837, Mary Ann Frost Stearns [age 28] married Parley P. Pratt [age 30].


Wife #3: In 1843, Elizabeth Brotherton [age 27] was married to Parley Pratt [age 36] in Nauvoo by Patriarch Hyrum Smith.


Wife #4: Mary Wood [age 26], daughter of Samuel and Margaret Orr Wood of Glasgow, Scotland, became a plural wife of Parley P. Pratt [age 37] on September 9, 1844.


Wife #5: Hannahette Snively [age 32}, daughter of Henry Snively and Mary Heavnor of Woodstock, Shenandoah County, Virginia, Hannahette married Parley P. Pratt [age 37] on November 2, 1844, in the Nauvoo Temple. They were married by Brigham Young.


Wife #6: Belinda Marden [age 24], the seventh daughter and the fourteenth child of John and Rachel Shaw Marden of Chichester, Merrimack County, New Hampshire, married Parley P. Pratt [age 37] on November 20. 1844 at the home of Erastus Snow.


Wife #7: Sarah Huston was born August 3, 1823. in Starke County, Ohio. She [age 22] married Parley P. Pratt [age 38] October 15, 1845 at Nauvoo.


Wife #8: Phoebe Soper moved to Nauvoo in February 1846. She [age 23] married Parley Parker Pratt [age 38] on February 8, 1846.


Wife #9: Martha Monk was born in Raynor, Chestershire, England, the daughter of Thomas and Sarah Monk. She [age 22] became the wife of Parley P. Pratt [age 40] in 1847.

Wife #10: Ann Agatha Walker was born at Leek, Staffordshire, England. Her parents were William Gibson Walker, a schoolteacher, and Mary Goodwin, the town milliner. Ann Agatha [age 18] married Parley P. Pratt [age 40] on April 28, 1847 at Winter Quarters.


Wife #11: Kezia Downs was born May 10,1812 at Raynor, Chestershire, England. She was baptized by Elder Parley P. Pratt and arrived in the SaltLakeValley in 1851. December 17, 1853, she [age 41] was married to Pratt [age 44].


Wife #12: Elenor J. McComb was born December 29. 1817 in Wheeling, West Virginia, the daughter of James McComb. Elenor married Hector McLean and they went to San Francisco, where she became acquainted with the Mormon elders and was later baptized. Elenor was the mother of three children, a girl and two boys. Elenor became acquainted with Parley P. Pratt while he was on a "mission" to San Francisco. She [age 38] was married to Pratt [age 48] November 14, 1855, in Salt Lake City.


[1] The following was taken verbatim from the excellent web site MormonThink (