clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

'A great missionary'

Church president, others visit grave site of martyred apostle Parley P. Pratt

FORT SMITH, Ark. — While traveling for member meetings in Mississippi and Louisiana, President Gordon B. Hinckley made a detour on March 2 and visited the grave site of Elder Parley P. Pratt, an early apostle of this gospel dispensation who was assassinated on May 13, 1857, near Van Buren, Ark.

Among those joining President Hinckley for the grave site visit were his wife, Marjorie; Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Gene R. Cook of the Seventy, Elder Jon M. Huntsman, Area Authority Seventy, and their wives, Barbara Ballard, Janelle Cook and Karen Huntsman; and Fort Smith Arkansas Stake President Virgil M. Christensen and his wife, Lucy.

The weather was cool and partly sunny but pleasant.

Elder Huntsman is the great-great-grandson of Elder Pratt. He and Sister Huntsman brought a wreath to place at the grave.

The brethren and sisters spoke of the great missionary efforts of Elder Pratt. Elder Cook was invited to read the words of the hymn "The Morning Breaks," (Hymns, No. 1) which were written by Elder Pratt.

President Hinckley characterized his visit to the grave site as a "significant event."

"It was a privilege to be at the grave site again," reflected Elder Ballard who had been there some 25 years earlier, "because Parley P. Pratt was one of the great missionaries to serve in Canada, which was where I later presided. That's where he brought into the Church John Taylor and the Fielding family, including Mary Fielding, my great-great-grandmother. To be there at the grave site with the president of the Church and with Elder Pratt's great-great-grandson, Jon Huntsman, was a great privilege."

According to the Publisher's Preface to the 1986 Deseret Book edition of his autobiography, Elder Pratt was murdered while serving in the eastern states on his last mission for the Church. A man named Hector McLean had been tracing his whereabouts, blaming Elder Pratt for the dissolution of his marriage to Eleanor J. McComb. She had fled the marriage because of physical abuse and had later been sealed to Elder Pratt in Salt Lake City.

"McLean nearly caught him in St. Louis," wrote Larry C. Porter in the preface. "Fortunately, Elder Pratt eluded the man and managed to escape to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). . . . Here Elder Pratt was arrested . . . on a warrant emerging from the charges filed by Hector McLean."

A federal court acquitted the apostle for lack of evidence, but he 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 12 miles northeast of Van Buren (near Alma, Ark.) in front of the Winn farm."

The preface states that shots fired by McLean at Elder Pratt failed to take effect, so he rode up to the apostle and stabbed him in the left breast with a Bowie knife.

"The wounded man fell from his horse while his assailants rode off. About 10 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."

Elder Pratt was recorded as saying in his final words: "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."

Elder Pratt's body was shrouded in fine linen, placed in a pine casket and driven to Sterman's graveyard, now known as Fine Springs. The apostle's remains were buried by Elder George Higginson at about 10 p.m. on May 14, 1857.

The Pratt family organization Web site gives these directions for reaching the grave: Take Interstate 540 to Arkansas Highway 282 (about five miles north of I-40 on I-540, a little east of Fort Smith, Ark.) Exit on 282 and turn north on a gravel road about .2 of a mile from I-540. The grave site is on the west, about .2 of a mile from 282.