Law Questions

Salt Lake City, November 29, 1875

Editor Deseret News:

The public is now in possession of the decision of the federal court, in the appealed case of Sarah M. Pratt vs. Brigham Young, reversing the decision of the lower court, and adjudging the said Sarah M. Pratt, as the lawful occupant, and consequently the only legal claimant, of the south half of lot 5, block 76, plat A.  As this decision will effect the landed interests of many other citizens, under the very similar circumstances, not only in Salt Lake City, but in the numerous incorporated cities of the territory, I wish to ask the legal fraternity and the honorable court the following questions:

Question 1. Whereas Orson Pratt, sen., had the undisputed occupancy of the whole of the aforesaid lot, from the autumn of 1851 till Oct. 29, 1861, during which time two dwelling houses were built, one on the north east corner, and the other on the south west corner of said lot; and whereas the said Orson Pratt did, at the last date aforesaid, bargain and sell to the said Brigham Young all his right and title to the occupancy of said lot, and to the improvements thereon, and did convey the same by a quit-claim deed, and for which the said Orson Pratt did receive four thousand dollars as a full equivalent therefore; and whereas the said Orson Pratt did immediately vacate said premises, and the said Brigham Young did immediately enter thereon, placing Mrs. Harriet Barney Young and children in the house on the north end of said lot, where she has continued to reside, until the present time; and whereas the said Brigham Young, some few years after purchasing, did permit the said Orson Pratt and his wife Sarah M., to temporarily reside in the dwelling house, belonging to the said Brigham Young, on the south side of said lot; therefore, under these circumstances, which of the four persons, namely, Brigham Young, Harriet Barney Young, Orson Pratt, or his wife, Sarah M. Pratt, becomes, in law, the legal occupant of the whole said lot?

Question 2. If occupancy alone constitutes a legal claimant, would not the oldest occupant, namely, Harriet B. Young, be the only legal claimant of the whole lot?

Question 3. If occupancy alone entitles the occupant to the whole of a city lot, could the said Brigham Young take away from Harriet B. Young, the occupant, one-half of her legal rights, and give the same to the said Sarah M. Pratt, or to any other person?

Question 4. If Sarah M. Pratt enters as a resident upon a city lot, which has had, for several years, a previous occupant, does such residence entitle her to any legal claim to the whole or to any fraction of said lot? If such residence constitutes her a joint occupant, with the prior occupant, what fraction of the lot should be taken from the oldest occupant, and given to the second one? Or should the lot be equally divided between the two?

Question 5. If a city lot, containing 200 square rods, had but one legal occupant for several years, in the person of Harriet B. Young, and then 49 other citizens should enter upon the same and each claim to be a legal occupant, must the lot be divided into 50 equal shares, and each claimant receive his four square rods, or will the whole be given to the first occupant, the said Harriet B. Young?

Question 6. If it be argued that the said Harriet B. Young did not file any claims, founded on occupancy, who then was the legal claimant for the first few years after the said Brigham Young purchased the right of occupancy and the improvements on said lot? If it be adjudged that the said Brigham Young was the only legal claimant, did he render invalid his cliam by barely permitting another person or family a temporary residence in one of his own houses?

Question 7. As the said Brigham Young purchased the occupancy of the whole lot, why did he not have the same legal claim to the south half and its dwelling house that he had to the north half and its dwelling house? On the other hand, if the temporar residence of the said Sarah M. Pratt nullified the rights of the purchaser and constituted her a legal claimant, why did not her claims include the northern half as well as the southern half of said lot?

If I had been called upon as a witness in this case, I should have testified that it was principally through the frequent and earnest entreaties of my wife, Sarah M. Pratt, that I was reluctantly prevailed upon to sell the right of occupancy of and the improvements upon said lot. The four thousand dollars which I received from the purchases enabled me to erect a good two-story dwelling house in the city of St. George, Utah, which was afterwards exchanged for a dwelling house, and part of a lot in the 17th Ward of this city, which I gave to my wife, Sarah M. Pratt, and permitted her to file for the same. We were otherwise greatly benefited in the payment of a debt of eight hundred dollars, and with means to purchase several years provisions, nearly all of which was derived from the four thousand dollars, which the said purchaser did pay to me. When the purchaser generally permitted me and my family to have a temporary residence in his own house, he did not then, nor at any time afterwards, give to me the least intimation that he would give any portion of the lot, either to me or to my wife Sarah. It is with extreme regret, and deep sorrow, that I witness the attempt of my wife Sarah to procure, through the technicalities of the law the property which rightfully and justly belongs to another.

Orson Pratt, Sen.

[Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Nov. 29, 1875, 1-2]
[Deseret News, 24:719]

[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, May 2006]


Orson Pratt’s Letter.

Reply of Mrs. Sarah M. Pratt and Her Children.

Eds. Tribune: Permit us to state through your paper, that the communication published in the News of December 1st, 1875, (of which the following is a copy) purporting to come from Orson Pratt, Sen., makes, under the guise of conundrums proposed to the legal fraternity, statements so utterly false that they could have proceeded only from a man long subjected to the soul enslaving influences of Brigham Young. It is the custom of Orson Pratt, Sen., to sign any document the “President” may wish him to sign, regardless of its content, and indeed cases have occurred, according to O. Pratt’s own confession to his family, in which “the President” has had O.P.’s name signed without the little formality of a consultation. If he actually knew the contents of the letter aforesaid before signing it, we can only regret that he thus given to the public another convincing proof of his moral imbecility.

Sarah M. Pratt,
Orson Pratt, Jr.,
Harmel Pratt,
Arthur Pratt.

[Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 3, 1875]

[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, May 2006]


A True Statement.

Some Astounding Facts in Regard to the Villainy of Brigham and His Apostle Pratt.

Eds. Tribune—Permit me, through the columns of your paper, to reply to the unjust attack upon the name and character of Sarah M. Pratt, by her husband, Orson Pratt, sen., which appeared in a letter in the Herald of the second of December, copied from the Deseret News.

In the first place, permit me to say that before we can arrive at a correct and just conclusion in this case, it is necessary that we have a correct and just statement of facts, and I do not hesitate to say that the facts set out by Orson Pratt, sen. are in many material points incorrect. It is true that Orson Pratt, sen., and his wife Sarah M. Pratt, had the undisputed possession of the lot in controversy from 1857 to 1861, but Orson Pratt, sen., in his kind advertisement of his wife, forgets to state that Sarah M. Pratt built with her own means, the house on the southwest corner, while he was converting the “heathen” in foreign lands, and that very nearly all the improvements on the land were made by Sarah M. Pratt.

Orson Pratt, sen., in 1861, was instructed by Brigham Young to take his family South, at the same time saying that he wanted the place in controversy himself. Just before going, according to his own statements, Brigham Young called him into his office and requested him to sign a deed, which he did. Said deed was a conveyance of the lot in dispute to Brigham Young. Orson Pratt, sen., previously to this, had repeatedly refused to sell said lot. Sarah M. Pratt, with her husband, went South, and it was some two or three years after that the first learned that any deed to said lot had been given. In 1873, in the presence of Mrs. Pratt’s attorney, Orson Pratt, sen., admitted that at the time he signed said deed to Brigham Young, he did not know its contents.

Brigham Young, in consideration of said conveyance, turned out tithing stock, which at that time we supposed for the services of O. Pratt, sen., to the church. In 1863 Brigham Young met Sarah M. Pratt on the street, and his familiar way said, “Sarah, would you like to go back to that house and lot?” She said, “I would.” “Very well,” said he, “I will give you back the south half of the lot, with the house, and you may move as soon as B. Young, Jr., moves out.” To pursuance of this, Mrs. Sarah M. Pratt moved in on March 12th, ’68, and immediately after Brigham Young, Sen., divided the lot by building a board fence exactly in the middle of the lot.

Now, I will ask any reasonable man if this action on the part of Brigham Young, even though it stood alone, is not sufficient evidence of an abandonment of the possession of the lot? It is not true, as stated by Orson Pratt, sen., that the possession of the premises was given to him in connection with his wife; for at that Orson Pratt, sen., and his wife were living separately.

Among other things the writer says that Brigham Young “generously permitted” himself and wife to have a temporary residence in his own house. O yes, at the rate of fifty dollars per month, for in the evidence on record in this case some of Brigham’s witnesses testified that they were instructed by Brigham Young (“generous” soul that he is!) to collect $50 per month from “Bro. Orson” for the use of said premises. Fifty dollars per month for seven years! There is a fine chance for a mathematical brain to while away an hour in speculating upon the beauties of “generosity.” Brigham’s “generosity” would have cost Orson Pratt, sen., $4,200 had it not been for his wife.

Again, Mr. Pratt says “that if he had been called upon to testify as a witness in said cause, he should have shown that it was principally through the frequent and earnest entreaties of his wife that he was reluctantly pervaded upon to sell the right of possession of said lot.” The gentleman may congratulate himself that he was not called as a witness, for if he had made any such statement as above, his conscience would not have been free from perjury.

Now, as to the legal questions propounded, I will say, that as his theory is founded upon a false assumption of facts, not only as to the occupancy of the whole lot by Harriet Barney, but in many other material matters, and as the points are wholly immaterial to the correct decision of the case, it will not be necessary to comment on them at the present time. Mrs. Barney has only occupied the north half of said lot, and she never was in possession of the south half. Besides, if others, through fear or otherwise, see fit to sleep upon their rights until they lose them, it is no reason why we should do the same.

As I have now consumed much of your space, I will close by recommending Orson Pratt, sen., to a careful perusal of the real facts in this case, and also a diligent search into the first principles of law before he endeavors to instruct judges wherein their decisions are wrong. It is with “extreme regret” and “deep sorrow” that we again witness the attempt to try a civil cause in the public newspapers.

Harmel Pratt.
Salt Lake, Dec. 3, 1875.

[Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 4, 1875]

[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, May 2006]

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