Dreadful Persecution of Mrs. McLean—Her Defence—Murder of P.P. Pratt

(From the Van Buren [Ark.] Intelligencer)

Van Buren, Monday, May 18, 1857

Mr. Editor:  Having read the editorial in your paper, headed “Tragical,” and finding several important points in the account incorrect, I beg to be heard by the community, and the world, being yet a living witness for both the living and the dead.

For the sake of the innocent and his brethren – for the sake of aged parents and my kindred – for the sake of my children and myself, and for the sake of truth, I thank God that I yet live.

In the first place, the article alluded to says that “Mrs. McLean was induced to embrace the Mormon; faith by Mr. Pratt.”  This is false, for Mr. Mclean knows that the first ‘Mormon’ sermons I heard in California, himself and my brother J.J. McComb were present and they knew it was at least two years before Mr. Pratt made his appearance in San Francisco and they knew that from the time I heard the first sermon, I never spoke except in defense of the ‘Mormons’ and their faith; and they know that I sought diligently for my husbands consent to be baptized into the church of the saints, and finally obtained it in writing, and was baptized before P.P. Pratt made his appearance.  These are facts which the certificate in McLean’s own writing and the daily papers in San Francisco announced Mr. Pratt’s arrival, can be brought to prove that my baptism and confirmation in the church of the saints was anterior to the arrival of P.P. Pratt in that state.

I will here state a fact which has never to my knowledge been written.  I took my children from the school room, (with the permission of their teacher), and in an omnibus repaired to the place where there was water and in the presence of several witnessed, they were (that is the two boys), baptized by P.P. Pratt, for the remission of sins and by the laying on of his hands, they were confirmed members of the church of “Latter Day Saints”.  If any condemn this act let them also condemn every woman who refuses to go to perdition with her children just because her husband makes this choice!

Again your article represents Mrs. McLean as eloping from San Francisco to Utah with Pratt, and after her elopement her parents wrote for the children to be sent to them.  This is also false, and my father, J.S McComb, if yet living, is a witness, with our neighbors in both places; the children were sent from me in California to him in New Orleans, and that on a ship–

Where there was not one voice or face.
That they had ever heard or seen in other place.

In November, 1851, I embraced the “Mormon” faith, and in January, 1855, my children were, on account of my faith, sent from San Francisco to New Orleans and this without my having the slightest indication of it until they were far upon the sea.  In the morning, as was our custom, as soon as their father left (generally about nine o’clock) the dear children clapped their hands and said “Now, Ma, we can have a good time, Pa’s gone; we can sing and pray as much as we wish!”  And they did pray that morning as I had never known an infant to pray!  They kissed me and said, “Good morning, mother, dear,” about ten o’clock and started for school.  At three o’clock I looked for their return; I raised the curtain, I opened the door to look if Albert and Annie were coming, but oh; my soul, they never came!

At four o’clock, their father came to inform me that they were on their way to New Orleans. Said he, “I put them on board the Sierra Nevada at ten o’clock this morning, and now they are where you and the cursed Mormons can never see them again!”

That night he locked all the doors, locked me in a room, took all the keys to his room and locked the door.  Can any one conceive of that desolation!  My cries disturbed him, and about two o’clock he unlocked the door of the room where I was.
In the morning I went from room to room, I ran in the street and called Fitzroy, Albert, Annie.  But no child answered.

I heard tiny footsteps under the window, I ran and said, “My children!”  But they were not mine.  My brother, E.C. McComb, said I should go by the next steamer to my children, but McLean said he would have nothing to do with it.

A merchant in San Francisco told me he would give me $20 and he would insure that in his neighborhood of merchants I could raise in one hour all the means I would need to go to my children.  After this McLean boasted that I was in his power, and he would see whether I could go or not.  I told him the proposition that had been made to me. – He said he would have me in the Insane Asylum in twenty-four hours.  This, however, he never attempted only in words.

Two week after the departure of the children, he fitted me out and put me on board a steamer for New Orleans, via Nicaragua, giving the officer strict charge concerning me, to lock me up if I began to rave.

Two weeks after the arrival of the children at my fathers, I appeared before them.
I remained there three months, oppressed on all sides, being closely guarded, lest I should walk, talk, pray, or sleep with my own precious children.

Under these circumstances my health declined, and I felt that I could not long survive so great a conflict of feeling, particularly in that enervating climate.

In this desperate state of feeling I once succeeded in getting my lambs away, and kept them secreted four days, but failed to get away from the city.  My father then pledged himself to change his treatment to me; he said I should have a room and have my children with me, and they should go and come with me, provided I would promise not to take them away from the city, without his consent.  With this understanding I returned to my father’s house.  But my health grew worse and worse, and it appeared I could not survive a summer in New Orleans.

I then consulted my father about leaving, told him I wished to go to Salt Lake, and he said if I would not attempt to take the children he would assist me all he could.

In a few days I was on board a steamer, the Mayflower, for St. Louis, and from thence I went on board a small steamer, the Alma, on the Missouri River to Atchison, Kansas Territory, where I found the “Mormon” emigration.

I engaged to cook for a mess of ten persons to defray my expenses, and thus I journeyed across the Plains to Salt Lake City.

I remained just one year, leaving on the anniversary of the day (11th September, 1855) I arrived.

While there I taught school, in which I taught ten of P.P. Pratt’s children, and boarded in his family seven months.  The remaining four months I taught Governor Young’s family school and boarded in his house.

On the 11th of last September, I left in a company of missionaries, consisting of about twenty Elders and twelve females.  I traveled in a carriage with two Elders and one lady, making four of us.  I furnished my own provisions, and cooked for the other three, for the privilege of riding.

At St. Louis I borrowed $100 of church funds and proceeded to New Orleans.  It was my intention when I left Salt Lake to go to my children, and get them if I could.

That I have done what I could, and all I could, I call heaven and earth to witness.

 I got on board the steam cars with my children at my father’s on Saturday at twelve o’clock to go on business to New Orleans, a distance of five or six miles.

In front of the St. Charles I hired a carriage for five hours, expecting to leave on a steamer for Galveston, Texas, the next morning at eight o’clock, but to my great discomfiture, there was no steamer to leave before Thursday.  I stayed with my children that night, Sunday, and Sunday night, at the United States’ Hotel, I kept by Mrs. Smith.

On Monday morning, not deeming it safe to stay at a public house, I took an omnibus, leaving my children at the hotel.  I rode till the omnibus stopped, far down in the third municipality, inquired in a Dutch grocery for a furnished room, and the old lady pointed across the street.  I went, found a woman with plain sewing in her hand at the door.  She was so plain looking, so poorly dressed, and apparently so ignorant, that I thought she was not likely to have visitors often. She said her husband worked on a tow-boat and would not be home till Thursday night.

We stayed at this woman’s house four days.  She gave us her best bed, lended me her cooking utensils, and gave me wood to cook with, and then helped to carry our little trunk to the omnibus.  But she never asked us where we were from nor where we were going, which I think very remarkable for one of her sex.

At eight o’clock on Thursday morning, 18th of December, 1856 we were on board the Atlantic, bound for Texas.  I could not obtain a state-room although I went on Tuesday to the agent; they were all taken.  The captain, however, was kind to us, and let us occupy his room and sent us the best of everything.

At Galveston we took a little steamer, Captain Pierce, commander, for Harrisburg, where we stayed all night at a hotel kept by Captain Andrews, and next morning took the cars for Houston.  Two miles from Houston we found a home at the house of Mr. William Gambell, who is a man of no religion, lives well, has plenty of servants and no children.  His wife was like a mother to us.  The first three weeks I made a change of clothing and then sought for something to do.  Found employment in a dress-making establishment, Mrs. Stansbury’s, where I worked five weeks, spending two days with my children, Sunday to rest and Monday to wash and mend.  On the 4th of March I left Houston with Capt. Andrews, Mr. Stanfield and James Gammell, (the latter being a Mormon Elder) to journey to Ellis County, where the Mormon emigration was fitting out for a trip across the Plains.

Through a letter from Houston, I was apprised that McLean was in pursuit of me; and to avoid trouble, and, perhaps, blood shed in the company, I took passage with a man by the name of Clark, who is not a Mormon.  He had a wife and three children, a poor wagon and three yoke of good oxen.

With these people I was journeying when McLean and party met us.  The scenes that have been in progress from that day to this are before the public.  It is well known that I have been arrested upon a false oath, and dragged by civil and military officers before an excited populace and the court as a prisoner, only to be coolly told that I might retire, nothing being found against me.

In behalf of the dead, I have to testify, that whatever relation existed between us was of my own seeking.  When he kept house with his wife, Elizabeth, in San Francisco, I often sought his society, and if any censure me, let them censure me for the strongest impulses of my nature, which have ever prompted me to seek light and truth, despite the difficulties that might intervene between me and the object of my search.

This man was a fountain of light and intelligence, at which thousands might drink, and yet the stream flowed clear, pure and free.

I am willing to acknowledge that I have often sought his door at the dawn of day, when his wife was sick, to take some meat, bread and fruit, upon which they might subsist until the following morning.

Do any blame him for being poor?  Let them lay blame upon him who required his disciples to go with the everlasting Gospel to the nations, without purse or scrip, or even two coats.
Neither do I deny that I much desired, from time to time, to have him entertained at our house, even as I gladly entertained my husband’s brethren.  We had unoccupied rooms and beds, and a profusion of the good things of life, while he was poor and a stranger, and as unpopular as a certain Nazarene who once pilgrimaged through the land of Judea, and could not find a place to lay his head.  Upon the same principle that I was deprived this privilege, Mary and Martha would have been punished for bathing the feet of their Lord and running to meet him when he returned from a mission.

I also confess that when a company of saints were preparing to leave California with P.P. Pratt, I greatly desired to be one of the number, and went so far as to ask my Father in heaven to provide a way by which I might escape my oppression, and go with the people of my choice.  If this be not right, then there is a mistake in the ancient saying, “Come with me all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

I also confess that when I got to Salt Lake alone, and knew of no one that I had even seen but Mr. Pratt and his wife Elizabeth, I sought for their house, and asked if they could let me stop a few days, to rest and look around to see what I could do for a living.  They said stay just as long as you please, and it turned out as before stated.  I also confess that it was a source of pleasure to me when I heard that he would be in the company in which I had engaged to come.       

Six pistol balls could not avail,
To make his holy visage pale;
But the fierce and deadly knife,
Pierced his heart and claimed his life.

Oh! Parley dear, we love you well,
Yea more than mortal tongues can tell;
And we know you will come again–
With us to live, with Christ to reign.

Oh! God of Israel, let the cry,
Of Parley’s blood come up on high,
And let his wounds before thee plead,
For wrath on him who did the deed.

I am free to declare before angels and men that Parley P. Pratt was innocent of the charges made against him.

If the deeds of men were registered upon their faces, it would be known and read of all men that H.H. McLean drove me from himself; and that he by his own acts blighted and consigned to eternal death all the delicate ties that existed between us, and that before “Mormonism” crossed our pathway.

I do not deny that I washed his feet, and combed his hair, and often walked that he might ride.  Neither do I deny visiting with him a number of families in St. Louis, who thought it greater honor to entertain him than they would to entertain any king or potentate living upon the earth.

I also state that it pained me to see him in chains, and fain would I have bathed his wrist where the cruel iron chaffed his skin.

But this was nothing to what I was yet to see!  Have I not seen his heart’s blood dripping from the wound of the deadly knife?    

That I would fain have been separated from him [McLean] while yet living in New Orleans, I will name as living witnesses, my father, J.S. McComb, and my brothers E.C., and J.J. McComb, and Mr. John McDougal.  These all know that I sought their counsel while living in New Orleans, to know whether I must continue to endure the degrading indecencies of a man who would continue to sip at the wine cup, and thereby unfit himself for the society of his family.

That my statements are correct in reference to our separation in California, I will name as witnesses, Captain Thomas Gray and family, Mr. Samuel Webb and family, and my neighbors and friends in general in the city of San Francisco.

That Mr. McLean put me by violence into the street at night and locked the door against me, Captain Gray and Dr. Bush, are witnesses; and I presume McLean himself would not deny that I then declared that I would no more be his wife, however many years I might be compelled to appear as such for the sake of my children.

I presume that McLean would lay it as a complaint against me that I never afterwards came to his bed!

I would appeal to every man and woman of refined sensibility to know whether a virtuous woman and faithful mother is so humble a thing that she should come again to the bosom of a man who had by violence thrust her from him, and exposed her to insult and injury in the streets of a wicked city.  Whoever takes the affirmative differs from the writer of this.

            E. J. McComb, once E. J. McLean.

[Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, May 13, 1857, 10-12]
[Millennial Star, 19:417]

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