By Leah Pratt Call
Helaman Pratt, the subject of this sketch, was the son of Parley P. Pratt and the oldest child of Mary Wood Pratt. He was born May 31, 1846, at Mount Pisgah, Iowa, while his parents with a company of Saints were on their way to Utah. The record states that Bro. Pratt’s wagon halted one half-hour for the advent of this little baby, then they drove on to overtake the rest of the company. The Pratt family with the rest of the company spent the summer and winter in Winter Quarters and the spring of 1847, they resumed their journey toward the valley, arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in September of that year, when little Helaman was but 16 months of age.
The wife of our dear old Patriarch Charles Pulsipher, who frequented our home for many years, often entertained us children with stories of how she carried our father across the pains. She was a young girl in Parley P. Pratt’s company and in the mornings she and several other young ladies would “borrow” some babies, as she said and would carry them for miles. This happened so frequently that she claimed she carried our father most of the way across the plains. These stories greatly interested us children as Sister Pulsipher was such a tiny little woman and our father was large and strong.
Helaman’s parents experienced the privations, hardships and pleasures of pioneer life in a frontier country. Their faith was great and their courage was strong and they instilled that wonderful faith and courage into the lives of their children. Helaman very early in life learned to control his appetite, as provisions were scarce and the family had to ration their food to make it last longer. After Helaman was old enough to remember, they were rationed to one slice of bread for a meal, then it was cut to half slice per meal and sometimes there was no bread at all for days at a time. Wild roots and bulbs were used extensively and this little boy was so fed up on these things and beet greens and beets that as a man he never at them; he used to laughingly remark that he had eaten his share of then when he was a boy.
At a very early age, Helaman had to assume great responsibilities. It was his duty along with other boys of his age to herd the cows. Their pasturelands were out toward the warm springs, north of the city and on to the west. Of course, they would carry their lunch as they had to stay all day. As soon as their destinations were reached the lunches would be cached or hidden to protect them from the Indians. Some days the Indians would pass in such constant processions that these sturdy little herdsmen would hardly have a chance to eat their scanty lunch. These youngsters were thrifty little men, organizing themselves into squads, some looking after the cows and round them up, while others fished. When they were successful fishermen they were they were proud to be able to supply a real treat for the family supper. One day our little hero had caught several nice fish which he had put on a forked willow, when it was his turn to look after the cows. He stuck one end of the stick in the mud at the edge of a pool of water, to keep them fresh till he went home. After gathering up the cows he returned for his fish and to his sorrow and disappointment he found them cooked by the hot sulfur water of the pool and floating on the eater, only the head clinging to the forked willow.
Soon after arriving in the valley, fruit trees were planted, and the children eagerly watered and cared for the trees till at last one spring they blossomed and the blossoms developed into green fruit. One day as Helaman was watering the trees and caring for them, he found a green apple lying under the trees. The children had been warned not to pick the fruit till it was ripe, but on seeing this apple on the ground, Helaman felt at liberty to eat it. He bit into it and found it to be distasteful and puckery. What a disappointment it surely was to his anticipation of what fruit should taste like.
Helaman was reared in the 14th Ward and received shat schooling he had in the public schools of Salt Lake City. At the death of his father he was only 10 years of age, the oldest of his mother’s family of 4 children. Of course his responsibilities were increased and he began to take a very active part in helping his mother maintain her family. As he grew in years and experience his mother’s children as well as many others of his brothers and sisters would come to him for council and advice and he was a great source of comfort and support to his widowed mother.
He received the Priesthood and accepted of its responsibilities and was a willing and able worker in his ward. He was ordained an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and received his endowments in the Salt Lake Temple on January 23, 1864 and was ordained by J.T.D. McAllister and J.V. Long.
At the age of 22 Helaman with a number of other young men of character in 1868 was called to go south and help settle what was then known as the “Muddy.” President Young called him into his office one morning and said, “Helaman, I want you to get married and take your wife with you.” The company was to start in a few days, so Helaman went that evening to see his sweetheart to whom he was already engaged and told her of his call and what the President had told him. The young lady felt that she just could not endure the hardships of settling a new country so she told him that if he must go he must go alone, but she would wait for him to return. But he told her that he had had his instructions and if she wouldn’t go with him she didn’t need to wait for his return.
So he started on his trip and one night they stayed at the home of an old southern gentleman by the name of Elijah Billingsley. Here he met the youngest daughter of the family, Victoria. Victoria was a sweet little maiden of 17 years. He courted and married her and their lives were successful and happy. Their union was blessed with 8 children, five sons and three daughters. I relate this story to show my father’s profound respect for authority. He took a very important part in the settlement of this new country “The Muddy” and especially in dealing with the Indians.
One little incidence that I have often heard father relate is as follows. “Firearms among the Indians were very scarce and of course they were very much interested in those owned by the white men. One day as some of the men from the settlement were out in the woods cutting logs to build their houses, when some friendly Indians came and were urging the men to shoot their guns, until finally a crow was spied away and the Indians urged them to shoot at the crow, so Helaman took his pistol from his side and fired with very little care to his aim. The Indians ran and soon returned with the crow and much to his surprise he had just taken off the top of the crow’s head.’ This established his marksmanship on the minds of the Indians and their tribe had profound respect for his ability. Helaman realizing that it was more good luck than good marksmanship would not be persuaded to shoot again in the presence of those Indians.
Helaman was a man of good sound judgment and strong determination. He was kind to the Indians but would not be imposed upon by them without taking some issue with them. These settlers were greatly annoyed by the Indians stealing their grain, cattle and produce. One night they caught two young Indian braves in the act of stealing their grain. The thieves were locked up in a log schoolhouse. Next morning Helaman sent a posse of men down to the valley settlement to ask for help, as there were so few people in the upper settlement and they knew the Indians would be enraged when they missed the two braves. The man in charge of the lower settlement absolutely refused to send help, saying “You have foolishly brought this trouble on yourselves. Now get out of it the best you can.” The posse of men rode back just in time to replenish their store of ammunition and go to the school house where they joined Helaman and the other men of the community in acting as the reception committee to the enraged Indians. Just a roadway separated the schoolhouse and the Pratt home. Helaman was determined to have justice, and to teach the Indians a lesson. So he stationed himself in the doorway with his pistol and in his hand. His wife, Victoria, stood in the doorway of their home armed with a shotgun. As the enraged Indians rode up to the schoolhouse the chief jumped from his horse and grabbled Helaman by the collar. His warriors pointed their deadly arrows at him and the white men each took aim at the redskins. The old Chief was angrily jabbering as fast as he could and the interpreter was talking as fast. Helaman had the situation sized up and was firm in his policy, without seeming to be greatly agitated, he talked and reasoned with the Indians. Finally thing were fixed satisfactorily and the two braves were released with the promise from their Chief that the whites wouldn’t be bothered in that way again. The Indians rode away to their camp and from then on they considered Helaman Pratt as their friend and truly he was a friend and benefactor to them. They learned to love and respect him and often took the trouble to befriend him.
He afterward served in the Black Hawk War. While still residing in the south, Helaman went to Salt Lake City to transact some business, and he was invited to have supper and spent the night with some old friends, Billie Segmiller and his wife. Dora Wilcken, a young school teacher was boarding in this home and being an expert at making cornmeal mush she was asked by Sister Segmiller to prepare this dish for the evening meal, which she did, but retired to her own room before the guest came in. She did not dine with the family that night. The young man complemented his hostess on the excellency of the dish and was informed that the young schoolteacher had prepared it. Of course he insisted on meeting the young lady. I remember father used to laughingly say that he fell in love with her cornmeal mush and later with her. However he afterward married Dora Wilcken and their union was bless with 9 children, 7 daughters and two sons.
After returning from this mission to the Muddy he served on the Salt Lake Police Force for some time.
Together with A.W. Ivins, Ammon Tenney, Dan Jones, and others Helaman was called to go on a mission among the Lamanites. They traveled on house back and did missionary work among the Indians and Mexicans from Salt Lake south to the interior of Old Mexico. Some time later he was called to the City of Mexico on a mission and there, succeeded A.W. Ivins as President of the Mexican Mission. During his labors there he had the privilege of presenting the Book of Mormon to President Diaz and of explaining to him the significance of the book as a history of the Mexicans. President Diaz wept and said, “I accept this book as the history of my people.” Helaman became intimately acquainted with President Diaz and on several occasions received very kind and courteous treatment from him. Later on he interceded with President Diaz for the tract of land in Chihuahua for the Mormon Colonies to settle on. On the way to Mexico the missionaries held a religious meeting in the Tucson Court house near the last of November 1875.
After he had presided over that mission for some time and was released from that mission, he was called on a life mission to assist to colonizing the saints in the northern part of the state of Chihuahua in Old Mexico. While going around the mission and settling up his affairs and getting ready to turn the mission over to the new president, he was very strongly impressed to get off the train in a town where he had not intended to get off. He reasoned that he had no work there and so rode on through the town, but the impression persisted so strongly that he persuaded the conductor to stop the train and he got off and walked back several miles. Upon arriving at the depot he found a telegram from the colonies awaiting him. The saints had gone into Chihuahua, Mexico and the officials of that state were trying to expel them from the country. The man in charge of the colonists had tried to adjust things but had failed so had telegraphed to Helaman Pratt at the mission headquarter to see if he could do anything about it. The clerk in the office had sent the telegram on to this town thinking that they could catch him as he went through. Helaman returned to the city of Mexico immediately and sought an audience with the President but was refused by the clerk in the office because he had no previous appointment. But he insisted on his card being taken into President Diaz and immediately was admitted to his presence and laid his problem before the president. President Diaz telegraphed the Governor of the state of Chihuahua to allow the Mormons to remain and to treat them kindly. Then arrangements were made for the titles for the land for colonization purposes.
In January 1887, his wife Dora and her five children left Salt Lake City and their home and traveled by train to Deming, New Mexico where they were met by their husband and father from where they traveled by team to the colonies in Chihuahua. There they suffered privations and went through hardships incident to pioneering a new country. His first wife, Aunt Victoria and family followed a year later. Helaman was resolute and determined to be true to this call, determined to succeed in the face of difficulties and to help others to do the same. He worked hard and cheerfully in helping to establish eight colonies in the states of Chihuahua and Sonora. He made one trip into the interior of Mexico about 16 hundred miles south of the colonies and brought back a company of about 100 Mexican Saints, many of whom became discouraged and returned to their homes, but a few remained in the colonies and were faithful to the church. For a number of years the Mormon Colonies were a branch of the Mexican Missions and were presided over by Apostle George Teasdale.
Due to the hot foods that as a missionary he had had to eat and other complications he contracted stomach trouble and for about 20 years he suffered greatly. This finally affected his heart till he was in a very serious physical condition. He worked hard in his public work as well as providing for his family until he was finally stricken to his bed, his condition became so serious that it looked as though his time had come when he would leave us. One night we children were called up to surround his deathbed. A number of the Priesthood were holding prayer circle in the other room, he uttered a few parting words and then apparently passed away. The Brethren came in from the other room and all were in great sorrow at the death as we thought, but his spirit had just left his body and was hovering in the upper part of the room. Finally after what seemed several minutes his eyelids began to quiver and his lips moved. Mother and Aunt Victoria were still kneeling at his side. Soon father spoke and said, “I am all right, send the children to bed and bring me some gruel.” At first they feared to give him nourishment, but after he had eaten a few spoonful of browned flour gruel and he became a little stronger he told of his experience. He said his spirit left his body and hovered in the upper part of the room. There he was met by Apostle Erastus Snow, who in life had been a dear friend and missionary companion to our father. Brother Snow said, “Brother Pratt go back and take up your body, your mission is not yet complete.” Father said, “But Brother Snow, I have gone as long as I can, my stomach and heart are completely worn out.” Then Brother Snow said to him, “You still have a great work to perform, go back and take up your body and your stomach and heart will be made whole.” For some time he was careful of his eating but soon he recovered his strength and was a well man. He lived 16 years longer and enjoyed perfect health and worked very hard without inconvenience.
After Brother Teasdale had presided over the Saints there for several years, the colonies were organized into the Juarez Stake of Zion. Brother A.W. Ivins was made president of the stake and chose Helaman Pratt as one of his councilors, which position he held until President Ivins was called to the apostleship. He was then appointed as advisor to the new stake Presidency in their dealings with the Mexican officials. Aunt Bertha had been brought into the family as my father’s wife and to them was born three fine healthy, stalwart sons of whom we are all proud.
Father was affable and kind and possessed a keen sense of humor and he was so hospitable that young people and children loved to come to his home for he always entered into their joys and entertainment’s. State and city officials were often entertained in his home. His home was always open to friends and acquaintances as well as to strangers. They and their animals were always fed and well cared for and no one, not even the greatest stranger was ever allowed to pay for even his horses’ feed. Helaman Pratt was the husband of three women and the father of 20 children, 10 boys and 10 girls. He was a kind and loving husband and father.
Surrounded by most of his large family he died at his home in Colonia Dublan, Mexico after an illness of four hours, on November 26, 1909 at the age of 63. He was greatly mourned by hosts of friends of whom many were of the Mexican people.
By Leah Pratt Call, daughter