Dora W. Pratt

By Amy Pratt Romney

Dora, the eldest child of Charles Henry and Eliza Reiche Wilcken, was born in Echorst, Germany, July 25, 1854. While she was still a small child her father was forced to leave the fatherland or serve the rest of his life as a bodyguard to the Kaiser. Thus deprived of the love and protection of husband and father, the mother and her two children disposed of their home and went to live with relatives. In 1860, Dora with her mother and brother Carl left their native land for America. Some incidents of the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean impressed themselves indelibly upon Dora’s mind; particularly, she remembered a school of golden-backed fish following the ship, and a child who had died being placed in a canvas bag and buried in the sea. En route the mother became seriously ill and the stewards carried her to a chair placed by the deck railing. The little girl became so filled with fear she clung to her mother’s skirt, begging the men not to throw her overboard as they had the child.

Mrs. Wilcken, not being able to speak the English language, entrusted sufficient money to the captain of the emigrant company for first class passage for herself and children; but, nevertheless, they were put in steerage and had but little food except the few rations she had brought on board. The children had begged their mother to buy some “lovely looking golden cornbread and round shiny tomatoes” from a Negro vender who peddled his wares at the entrance of the port. The mother protested they would not like the food but finally relented. After the first bite of cornbread, the children, expecting it to be a sweet cake, were very disappointed for instead they had a mouthful of “dry, sawdusty stuff”; then biting into the tomato Dora wept bitterly at the “insipid tasting thing.” The voyage was a long, tiresome one and everything seemed to smell and to taste of the sea.

Upon reaching Florence, Nebraska, a wagon, cow and provisions were purchased for the westward journey. After the children had been given their milk in the morning, the remainder was put in a bucket with a tight lid and hung under the wagon. Sometimes there was butter and buttermilk to serve with the evening meal. News reached the immigrant train one morning that a company of men from Salt Lake City were coming to meet them. The father of this little family, who had previously made his way to Utah, was among the number. Hew had been away from them so long the children scarcely recognized him. The first home of the Wilcken family in Salt Lake was near the old Chase Mill in Liberty Park. Mr. Wilcken worked at the mill.

In 1865, Mr. Wilcken, in company with R. R. Burton, was called to Heber City, and here they built one of the first grist mills in that vicinity. Dora, now a young woman, taught school, taking most of produce. While living in Heber City, twin girls were born to the Wilcken’s family, thus putting a great deal of responsibility upon Dora; that of helping her invalid mother take care of the infants, partially providing for the family, and supporting a missionary father who was then laboring in England. Dora received her education in the common schools of Salt Lake. She later went to “Miss May Cook’s Selected School for Young Ladies.” After finishing the course, she assisted Miss Cook in primary school work, and also taught one year under Professor Karl G. Maeser in the old 20th Ward School.

In 1874, Dora married Helaman Pratt, son of Parley P. Pratt and Mary Wood. The wedding reception was held on the lawn opposite the caretaker’s home in Liberty Park. Helaman always said it was the cornmeal mush of Dora’s making that he fell in love with first and then later with her. Soon the young couple was called to help settle Sevier County, but after a year of pioneering this area they returned to Salt Lake. Before long her husband was called to the Mexican Mission. In 1876 their first child, a daughter, was born in the home of Dora’s parents.

After Helaman’s return they purchased a home in City Creek Canyon, and were well established on a small dairy and fruit farm, when a letter came informing him that he was to preside over the Mexican Mission. Dora uncomplainingly supported the little family and her husband from the farm and dairy products. Twins, a boy and a girl, were added to the growing family.

In 1887, Helaman was released from his duties presiding over the mission in the interior; but was sustained on a life mission to the Mexican colonies. The responsibility of disposing of the property, and making preparations for the long journey to the new home, rested upon Dora. They took up their abode, the second country by adoption as Mormon colonists, and pioneers, in Chihuahua, Old Mexico. Dora endured bravely and cheerfully the hardships of pioneer life, for she was capable of making a real home out of the poorest hovel. The doors of their dwelling were always open to the poorest wayfarer as well as to church, state and national officials.

During the succeeding years she served as president of the Young Ladies’ Association in Juarez, and, in 1893, was made Stake president, which position she held until 1912, the time of the exodus of the Saints from that colony. This remarkable woman, who had traveled alone with her children to Utah that she might rear a family in the principles of the church of her choice, died at Colonia Dublan, Chihuahua, Mexico June 22, 1929.

[Kate B. Carter, comp., Our Pioneer Heritage (Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1958), 3:80-82]

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