A Sketch of the Life of
Anna Johanna Doratha Wilcken Pratt
Born July 25, 1854 in Echorst, Germany
Died June 22, 1929 in Colonia Dublan, Chihuahua, Mexico
Written by her daughter
Leah Pratt Call
Anna Johanna Doratha Wilcken Pratt, or Dora W. Pratt, as she was know was the eldest child of her parents, Charles Henry Wilcken and Caroline Eliza Reiche Wilcken. She was born July 25, 1854 in Echorst, Germany. Her father was a millwright and operated a gristmill, owned by his father-in-law. They were a thrifty couple and owned a comfortable home and a small savings account.
When Dora was about five years of age, her father, being a tall, well-built, handsome young man, was chosen to be body guard to the king, but before he was officially notified of this, one of his friends, who happened to know the situation, told him. He knew this meant to life long servitude if he remained there, so he left Germany before the call came to him and was miraculously led to Utah, where he met Brigham Young and went to work for him in the old Chase Mill in Liberty Park. He heard the Gospel and accepted it.
Thus deprived the protection of her husband, the mother was persuaded by her parents and the parents of her husband to sell her home and with her two children live with them until her husband could send for her. Those loving grandparents and the Uncles were especially indulgent with these two children. Sweet memories those childhood’s indulgences remained with Dora throughout out her life. She remembered the letter that came from her father telling them of his arrival in Utah, among strange people called Mormons; that he had work and would make a home and send for them. In 1860 all arrangements were made for the trip and Dora, with her mother and brother Carl, bade farewell to four loving grandparents and other relatives and to their native land to come to America to join their much loved husband and father.
Some incidents of the voyage across the waters impressed themselves indelibly upon the child mind. There was a thrill of seeing a great school of golden backed fish following the ship. Another vivid picture was of a child who had died, being placed in a canvas bag and lowered over the side of the ship into a watery grave. One day Dora and her brother were playing at their mother’s knee as she sat in her chair on the deck. The mother became very sick and the porters carried her in her chair to the deck railing. Dora was filled with fear and clung to her mother’s skirts begging the men not to throw their mother over board, as they had done the little girl a few days before.
When this little family left Germany they had plenty of money to see them to their destination. Not being able to speak English and feeling the need of assistance, the mother entrusted the money for their first-class passage to the Captain of the emigrant company, who appropriated the money and they found themselves in the steerage with no food, except some knick-knacks she had brought along for the children. They had not traveled far when the mother was taken sick. A German speaking member of the ship’s crew interceded for her and they soon found themselves in better quarters. In this new location they met up with three Swedish girls, who joined the Church and were going to Utah. These girls were very kind to the sick mother and took full charge of the two children throughout the remainder of the journey.
The sea voyage had been a long and tiresome one. Everything seemed to smell and taste of the sea. No wonder the children coaxed and begged their mother to buy them the lovely looking golden corn bread and shining red tomatoes from the little black venders, who peddled their wares at the entrance port. She protested that they would not like the food. However, she relented and bought it for them. I have often heard Dora, my Mother, tell of biting into that corm bread, expecting to find a sweet spicy cake and finding that she had a mouth full of dry saw dusty stuff. She next bit into the tomato, then wept bitterly with disappointment.
Upon reaching the western frontier they purchased a wagon, team and provisions for the journey across the plains. The team consisted of one horse and one cow, the cow to supply the milk for this little family. After the children had been given silk for breakfast the remaining portion was placed in a tin pail, covered tightly and hung under the wagon. At noon there would be a little pat of butter and some buttermilk to help out with the noonday meal. Toward the later part of the journey news reached the emigrant train that a company of men was coming from Salt Lake City to meet them. The father of this little family was among the number. Oh, what a happy reunion.
Their first home in Salt Lake City was at the old Chase Mill, then owned by Brigham Young, now known as Liberty Park. From this home Dora first started to school. Her task was first to learn the English language and then teach it to her mother. She would carry her primers and readers home and day by day she helped her mother very greatly in learning to read and speak the English language. Dora readily learned to speak her newly adopted tongue and was happy in her new home and soon made friends among the children.
In 1865, Dora’s father, in company with R.T. Burton, was called to Heber City to build the first grist mill in that vicinity. While still living in Heber City the father was called on a mission to England for the L.D.S. Church. Dora had now grown to young womanhood and was willing and capable of helping support the family during her father’s absence, which she did by teaching school taking most of her pay in produce such as pork, beans, molasses, dried fruit, etc. Besides her schoolwork, she assumed a great responsibility in the home that of assisting her partly invalid mother, to whom had been born several other children since her arrival in Utah. After the father’s return, they again moved to Salt Lake City and again made their home in Liberty Park at the Mill.
Dora received her early education in the common schools of Salt Lake and Heber City. She later attended Miss Mary Cook’s Select School for Young Ladies. After finishing at that school she assisted Miss Cook in Primary School work. She also taught one year under Professor G. Maeser in the old 20th Ward School. She taught in Heber City also.
In 1874 Dora was married to Helaman Pratt in the old Endowment House, Helaman being a son of Parley P. Pratt and Mary Wood Pratt. The Wilcken family was then living in what is now known as the care keeper’s home in Liberty Park. The wedding reception was held on a grassy plot just east of the home. Her husband often said he fell in love with her cooking first, then found it easy to fall in love with Dora.
A call came for this young couple to settle in Sevier County and after a year or so of pioneer life in helping to establish settlement, they again moved to Salt Lake, prior to her husband’s going to Mexico on a mission. On May 6, 1876 at the home of her parents and with her husband in the mission field, her first child was born a beautiful little girl whom they called Anna. After having recovered fully from her confinement, she cooked for the mill hands, thus doing her bit toward helping to keep her husband on his mission. Upon his return from his mission these two devoted people set out to make an honest living, establish a home and raise a family. On September 8, 1878 another little Dora was born, and two years later a third child, Leah, was born July 31, 1880. They then bought a home in City Creek Canyon, almost directly east from the present State Capitol Building. They were well established in their new home, with a small milk dairy and a fruit farm from which to make their living, when a letter came from Box B asking the husband to shape his affairs and leave soon to preside over the Mexican Mission. Prior to his leaving, however, twins were born to them, a girl, Mary Irena and a boy, Ira W., born July 1, 1882. Again Dora cheerfully took the task of supporting her little family with her hard work and her missionary husband with her faith, prayers and encouraging letters.
In 1887 Helaman Pratt was notified that he was released from presiding over the Mexican Mission in the interior, but was given a life mission of colonizing the Saints in the northern part of the state of Chihuahua. He went directly to the colonies, hence the responsibility of disposing of the home and property, packing up and getting ready for the journey of about 1600 miles rested upon this wonderful mother. She, with her five children, bade farewell to loved ones and friends and a much loved country to adopt a new country and build a new home.
They left Salt Lake in January, 1887, traveling by train as far as Deming, New Mexico, where they were met by their husband and father, with teams and wagons. He had been in the colonies and knew the scarcity of food stuff, so in Deming they bought sacks of flour, sugar, dried fruits of different kinds, spices, extracts, etc., to last the family for a long time. Heavily loaded wagons and bad roads necessitated several days of wearisome travel before this little band arrived at the colony in which they were to build their new home. In this new community there were woman with new born babies, some in delicate health, who were in need of finer food than they had been able to get and Dora went throughout that little colony like a ministering angel, carrying a tempting meal to the sick and comforting and blessing those poor people wherever she was needed. The little store began to diminish and Dora said, “We will share as long as we have, then we will all start out alike.”
No wonder every man, woman and child in that community learned to love her. I can see her now, cheerful, bravely enduring the hardships of pioneering a new country, ministering to the sick, comforting those in sorrow, sewing and mending for her own and the sick neighbors children. Then as fall came on she opened her home and gathered the neighborhood children in and taught school in her own one room home. Using her schoolbooks she had so thoughtfully taken with her into that new land.
A one-room rock house with a willow shed had been built during that summer and in that little home Verde was born October 17, 1887.
The following spring a dairy was established on Tenaha Ranch and Dora was the cheese and butter maker, and besides her own little family she mothered several young men who were hired to work on the ranch. Then they bought a large ranch in the mountain country and called it Clift Ranch, and it was there that Amy was born March 16, 1890. They were very prosperous there for two years, farming and making cheese and butter. This produce was hauled in double-bedded wagons by four horses to the markets in Chihuahua City about 250 miles. They then rented this fine ranch and moved down to the mouth of the canyon to a very large ranch owned by Governor Terrasas.
Years of drought, poverty and sickness and debts followed, but through it all this wonderful woman never give up to repining. She was ever hopeful always speaking encouragingly to her husband, family and neighbors. Throughout it all her home was always neat and clean and was a place where her friend and her children’s friends were always welcome. After two years of terrible drought and the death of Parley, age 16, and Edie (Aurelia), age 18 the eldest children of Aunt Victoria, the family moved to Colonia Juares, where the children might enter school. A year or so later a house and farm were purchased in the Colonia Dublan and Dora went there to make her home. A home? Well, it was an adobe building that had been used for a store, just a long building with four walls, dirt floor and flat dirt roof. It was just one long room, but large enough to made three large rooms–a place that looked impossible, but it was home, sweet home, to that little family. It was there that two more lovely children came to bless this splendid mother and father. Little “Caddie” Caroline Eliza was born October 27, 1893 and died March 21 1897; and Charles Henry was born January 5, 1896 and died January 1 1898.
As the years passed by improvement were made. Three rooms were made of the one large one, and three upstairs were built, a shingle roof put on, a large porch, the place was painted and lawns and flowers planted. To the passerby it might be called an ugly place, but those who were privileged to enter it was most beautiful because of the sweet spirit of faith, humility, cheerfulness, friendliness and hospitality that seemed a real part of it. Dora entertained with queenly dignity and charm Church, State and National Officials. The weary traveler, the neighborhood children, the young and old, all loved the warmth of her hospitality. She was the first President of the Y.L.M.I.A. in Colonia Juarez. She was always a faithful worker in the Relief Society and in 1893 after the death of Apostle Teasdale’s wife, Tillie, Dora was made Stake President of Y.L.M.I.A. of the Juarez Stake, which position she held for 19 years, or until 1912, when the people were driven from their homes in that land.
During those years she was ever happy, ever studying to keep abreast with her work. She traveled hundreds of miles by team to make the rounds in the Stake and hundreds of miles by train to attend the M.I.A. Conferences in Salt Lake City, where she was always lovingly welcomed by many of her old associates then acting on the Board.
Dora very patiently and unselfishly lived the principle of plural marriage, her husband having two other families, all of whom loved and respected each other. She lovingly and tenderly helped to lay away four of her husband and sisters’ children. Then, on November 26, 1909 she patiently and uncomplainingly bore the sorrow of separation from her much-loved husband, and tenderly helped lay him to rest. She sweetly turned her time to comfort other members of the bereft family, and eleven months later she tenderly laid away her husband’s first wife, Aunt Victoria.
The love and devotion of this good woman to her husband and his family through the years of adversity and on through the years of prosperity were most beautiful. Truly, as the writer says, the love a woman for a man passeth all understanding.
Dora W. Pratt was the mother of nine children–seven girls and two boys, 44 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren, all of whom are active members of the church. She buried her two youngest children, a girl and a boy, in their early childhood and her two eldest daughters after they had married and had families. These sorrows, though keenly felt, were always born uncomplainingly and submissively.
She was truly tender and devoted wife, a wise and loving mother, and she was truly loved and appreciated by her children, her husband and every member of his large family.
She bore her widowhood for 20 years calmly and serenely, visiting among her children when she chose, but always maintaining the home her husband had made for her. She had a good farm, which supplied her with plenty of means to make her comfortable, and enable her to travel, as she pleased to visit her children. Always when visiting in Utah among he children she would say that when her time came she wanted to be home where she could be laid by the side of her husband. So it was that after she had visited here among her children for a year she went home seemingly in good health. On her way home she attended that dedication of the Mesa Temple in Arizona. Soon after her arrival at her home in Dublan, Mexico, her health began to fail and on June 22, 1929 she peacefully passed away, surrounded by her devoted son Ira, and two daughters, Irena and Amy and her sister Bertha, who tenderly laid her by the side of her companion.
Because of the conditions existing in far-off lands, loving hands made her burial clothes, and her casket was homemade, but neat. To some it may have seemed crude. Loving hearts plucked flowers from their own gardens and her family and friend from all over the Juarez Stake were there to silently and lovingly pay tribute to her beautiful life.