Today is the centennial anniversary of the birth of Orson Pratt, one of the great and noble men of this dispensation, and it is well to pause a moment and consider his wonderful career. For he was one of the men who, through this connection with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, exercised an influence upon the course of human events that will last for all time. He was one of the silver trumpets through which the year of jubilee was announced from the hill tops. He was one of the instruments through which the Spirit of Truth proclaimed the everlasting Gospel, that gave a new direction to the world’s thought on many subjects, and caused men and women to gather in the Valleys of Mountains preparatory to the coming of the Millennium.
When the Lord has a special work for any of His children, he carefully selects the right lineage through which to raise them up, and forms them for that work. This is illustrated in the history of the ancient prophets, and especially in that of our Lord, whose lineage was carefully prepared from Seth down the line to the house of David. In the government of the Almighty there is nothing haphazard.
Orson Pratt descended from an English preacher, William Pratt, who had sons that left the Old World for the New, in order to have the privilege of worshiping God in peace. Some of his ancestors were among the pioneers and founders of Hartford, Conn., under the leadership of Rev. Hooker. They traveled more than a hundred miles through a trackless wilderness, from Newton, Mass., to the new place of settlement. They had no cover but the heavens above, and no lodgings but those of nature. They had with them 160 heads of cattle, and subsisted very largely on the milk of the cows, during that journey. Such were the ancestors of Orson Pratt.
His parents were poor, but they taught their children the principles of morality and honesty. They instilled the teachings of the Bible into the minds of the children as they understood them. They were taught to read the Bible.
Orson had to go to work at an early age, but at intervals he attended school and studied arithmetic, bookkeeping, geography, grammar, etc. He traveled considerably and saw the world from many angles, but the religious impressions he had received at his home remained with him.
In 1829, being then 18 years old, he experienced an earnest desire for the communion with the Lord and began to pray fervently for light and truth. During night, while others were slumbering, he stole silently away and spent hours in prayer and supplication. He continued until September, 1830, when his brother Parley and another Elder of the Church, came and held meetings which he attended. His mind being prepared by prayer and contemplation for almost a year, he perceived the truth as soon as it was presented to him, embraced it and became a member of the Church. He was baptized on the 19th of September, 1830, the anniversary of his birthday, being then nineteen years old.
This was the beginning of a life of wonderful activity. Orson Pratt immediately went West to see the Prophet Joseph, who then stayed at the house of Mr. Whitmer, at Fayette. Here the revelation was given by which he was called to preach the Gospel. From that time on he was constantly giving his time and talents to the proclamation of the truth. In addition to his labors in the ministry, he devoted his time to study. He mastered algebra, the Hebrew language, astronomy, and some other branches of learning, and became very proficient.
In 1845 Orson Pratt went with the exiles from Nauvoo and started on the long and weary trek to the Mountains. His knowledge of astronomy and kindred sciences was very useful during this unexampled journey. Through the aid of such instruments as he was able to obtain, he calculated the longitude and latitude of the camps at the various stages of progress. He kept meteorological records of considerable interest, and in other ways served the Saints. But he was, first of all, a spiritual advisor whose discourses gave encouragement and inspired hope.
Orson Pratt was the first of the Pioneers to enter this valley. This was on July 21, 1847. He recorded that there was no frost that morning but heavy dew. Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow were traveling ahead of the Pioneer company, and when they left the mouth of the canyon, the latter discovered that he had lost his coat and retraced his steps to find it. Pratt continued down the valley and came upon the very land where the Temple block now is. Then he returned to meet Erastus Snow, and when he had found him, they both returned to the camp in the canyon. The following day, Pratt, George A. Smith, and seven others, rode down into the valley, as far as hot springs. On the 23rd, John Pack and Joseph Mathews were sent to the main camp to report to President Young the discoveries made, and on the 24th the main body of the Pioneers arrived.
Orson Pratt performed many important missions. He wrote extensively, delving into the depths of research with the boldness and success of an Aristotle. He had the power of reasoning of a Locke and, frequently, the eloquence of Chrysostom. Wilford Woodruff, at the funeral services in the Tabernacle, Oct. 6, 1881, said in part:
“Brother Pratt had lived longer in this Church, traveled more miles and preached more sermons than any man in it. He had baptized thousands, and fulfilled the revelation given to him through the Prophet Joseph Smith, Nov. 4, 1830. His garments were clear from the blood of this generation. He had studied and written more upon the gospel and upon science than any man in the Church.”
This tells, in brief, the wonderful story of Orson Pratt.
It is sometimes said that the “Mormons” are ignorant, superstitious, easily led hither and thither. The fact is that among the adherents of the Church are some of the best informed, most independent, and most devout men and women. All of them are not as gifted as was Orson Pratt, but there always are some who can, to some extent, fill the places of the special witnesses and messengers of the Lord, when they are called to their reward. And it is to be noted that such men as Orson Pratt do not accept the Gospel on the authority of men. They receive it, after prayer and supplication, and in answer to such prayers. And that is one evidence of the truths of the Gospel. If the promise that he who seeks shall find is true, then he who finds the Gospel because he is honestly seeking after truth, must accept it as a gift from Got and not of man.
[Deseret Evening News, Sept. 19, 1911]
[Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sep. 19, 1911, 7]
[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, Sept. 2006]