Emerson Pratt: A Life Sketch

By Max R. Colgrove

There is a fact that Elder Henry B. Eyring teaches that applies to you and me–and it applies to Dad as well. Here is what Elder Eyring said:

"You are called of God to serve his children. You may be called as a clerk or a home teacher or a visiting teacher. You are a son or daughter or a brother or sister. None of those are accidental calls.

On November 26, 1901 Emerson was called to be the son of Helaman Pratt and Bertha Wilcken. His parents were pioneers. Helaman was born on the Mormon Trail in the Spring of 1846 as his parents, Parley P. Pratt and Mary Wood, hearkened to the Prophet’s call to move to the mountains of the West. Bertha was called to be a daughter of Charles Henry Wilcken and Caroline Reiche, She was born in Salt Lake City in 1863.

Helaman was called by Brigham Young to help settle the Colonies in Mexico. Several years later at Colonia Dublan Bertha and Helaman married. She was Helaman’s third wife. Three sons were called to bless the home this couple–Harold, Emerson, and Joseph.

One month and 16 days before Emerson’s birth, the fifth President of the Church, Lorenzo Snow, passed away and a few days later Joseph Fielding Smith was ordained the Prophet. The Church was small when Emerson was born. Its membership was less than 293,000.

On Emerson’s eighth birthday, Helaman died and the boys were raised by their mother and aunt Dora who was Bertha’s sister and Helaman’s second wife.

Emerson’s mother supported the family by teaching school and sometimes serving as the postmaster. Emerson and his brothers helped out by planting crops and tending animals on their small farm.

A civil war plagued Mexico when Dad was a boy. Pancho Villa’s headquarters was often based just outside Colonia Dublan and because of this Dad had many interesting experiences. Time will allow me only to related one incident that I shall call the Washtub War.

It was winter. The wind was cold. One of Villa’s soldiers warmed himself by thrashing his arms against his body. As the chilled air cooled his feet he began to bang the heel of his boot against the barrel he was sitting on. The barrel contained gun powder. It exploded. Several men were killed and a lot of ammunition was damaged.

Sometime later, Dad and two or three of his buddies gathered up a washtub of the damaged ammunition and took it to a basement excavation near the Villa encampment. They built a fire and set the tub on it. Then they scrambled out of the basement and ran to safety.

As the fire exploded the damaged ammunition it sounded like a great army attacking the small detachment that Villa had left to guard the camp. The Washtub War had begun. The rapid gunfire frightened the soldiers and they took off running across the plains. When they realized that they were not under attack, they returned, discovered what had happened, and they caught the young culprits. They locked them in a railroad boxcar with a promise they would hang them at dawn.

The prospect of being hung as a prisoner of war had not occurred to the boys when they started their fun, but now the consequences of their playful actions weighed heavenly upon them. Dad said that it was a long, cold, frightful night. He fully expected to be hung at dawn.

Joy filled his heart when he learned that the Church leaders had interceded and all of the imprisoned boys were being released. His appreciation for the principle of intercession was stamped upon his heart.

When the saints left Mexico during the exodus, Emerson rode to El Paso in a crowded railroad boxcar. From El Paso they moved to Utah, but within three years the family moved back to Colonia Dublan where Dad grew up.

On January 1st, 1923 Dad married Margaret Irene Porter. They loved each other so much that they married three times. Once by the bishop, once by the Mexican civil authorities because they did not recognize non-Catholic church weddings, and again in the Salt Lake Temple when they had save enough money for the trip.

Dad recorded the following about their courtship:

"When I was a young man of twenty-one, I thought I was very mature. Girl friends, I had many. First going out with this one and then with that one, but never being interested in any one girl to go with more than a few times. I did not care to tie myself to any one girl. I was having too much fun playing the crowd.

"Whenever a new girl came to town, it was common gossip that ‘there’s another girl for Emerson to try’. Then Irene came to town. She was beautiful, had the curves in the right places and those legs were a thing of beauty! Of course, I could not wait to have a date with her. When I did, I fell completely and totally in love with her. She stirred something in me that no other girl had ever been able to do. After she arrived I was her humble servant; no other girl had any attraction. When I found that she loved me as I loved her, I proposed that we get married. We met the twentieth of October and were married the first of January." Close quote.

To support his bride Dad farmed with horse and plow during agriculture season and freighted logs for the sawmill in the winter.

As a youth and adult Dad played on church basketball teams that often won district and regional championships all over Mexico. His team took second in the Mexico National Championship. They did not lose because the other team was better–they lost because the play-off was a home game for the other team and home was Mexico City–the difference in altitude beat them.

During the season Dad was always away from home playing basketball. When Mom complained of being a basketball widow, after they moved to Mesa, Dad quit–he loved his wife more than the game.

He enjoyed singing and Dad was often asked to sing solos and duets at weddings and funerals. He was part of the choir from Mexico that sang at the dedication of the Mesa Temple in 1927.

Just before leaving to attend the dedication someone stole all four tires from his used Model A. A friend jacked up his Ford, took the tires off, and put them on Dad’s car. On the return trip home, the car broke down, and Dad had to borrow money to repair it.

Back then money was always in short supply. Years of drought and the resulting crop failures forced Dad to forfeit the farm. In 1929 he packed his wife and three little girls into their car and headed for a new start on life.

They settled in Mesa, Arizona, a small farming community of about 3,000 population. They bought twenty acres way out in the country on a dirt lane called Creamery Road. Today Creamery Road is called Broadway and the old property is near the Catholic Church on Broadway between Stapley Drive and Gilbert Road.

As they settled in their new home they did not have much more than a lot of love. The small make-do house did not have running water, much furniture, or living space. Mom made window curtain, under-pants, and anything else that she could from cotton feed sacks.

During the Great Depression things continued to be financially difficult. But then Dad felt that it had always been that way. Dad said, "We lived as we always lived. I couldn’t see any difference."

Somewhere during this difficult time Dad and Mom responded to the spiritual nudge that they should be more diligent in paying their tithing. It wasn’t an easy decision. It was a choice of faith–doing without a necessity and hoping for the best.

And the best came in a strange way. Dad had planted a field of corn for a cash crop. The corn stunted and only developed few worm infested ears. Dad felt that the field was worthless. He had spent more on water than the crop would bring for livestock feed.

He was surprised when a stranger stopped and asked if he could buy the whole field of corn. Dad told him it had little feed value and it was worthless. That did not deter the man. He paid Dad top dollar for the whole field. Dad said he did not know who that man was and that he never saw him again, but from then on Dad never faltered in the payment of tithing. In later years of business he even paid tithing on his gross.

It was during the difficult years of the Depression that he got his start in business. He was working as a roust-about in a feed and grain operation in Mesa until he was transferred to Phoenix and put in charge of bookkeeping. The business was losing money. One day a man that had the largest investment in the business showed up and announced that he was taking control of the business and that he planned to close it. Dad blurted out, "You would be a fool to do that."

A few hours latter Dad was summoned to the financier’s office. Dad felt that he had really blew it. He knew that he was going to be the first to be laid off from a job that he really needed and he also knew any type of employment was hard to find.

To Dad’s surprise his new boss asked why he had said what he had said. Dad told him. The owner asked him how he would change things if he was running the business. Dad told him. The owner said, I will put you in charge and I will give you full authority to run things your way. We will see what you can do.

From the day Dad took charge, the business began to make money. Two years later the owner sold the business to Dad on very favorable turns. The location of the business has changed over the years, but remains in the family.

In 1939 the Pratts moved to Phoenix. For several years he worked with the Aaronic Priesthood. He loved to take the young men camping and hunting. Then he was called to serve on the High Council. He served there for more than 25 years under the direction of five different Stake Presidents–J. R. Price, Delbert O. Stapley, David Heywood, Junius Driggs, and Glen Jones. His next Church call gave the opportunity to serve in the Mesa Temple for almost 15 years.

In 1980 Dad retired and he and Mom moved to Wickenburg, where he devotedly took cared of his ailing wife. Near age 80 he cleared land and planted fruit trees and a large vegetable garden. In 1991 he asked Maurine and I to move near them to help them in their old age. It has been our honor to do so. In April of 1995 Mom peaceably passed away at home. For the next six years Dad slept at his home, but spent most of the day at ours. He loved his independence and asked us to promise that we would allow him to die with dignity.

That promise has been kept. On Tuesday, March 6th Dad suffered a stroke. The doctor told us that there was nothing that could be done for him and said we could take him home. Wednesday afternoon he suffered another stroke and slipped into a deep sleep. Monday morning, at 5:24 I put my hand on his shoulder and told him that I loved him. He took a deep breath and accepted the call home–six years away from his eternal companion had ended.

Emerson Wilken Pratt is survived by four daughters and one son, Marjorie Peterson of Tucson, Bobbie Tanner of Gilbert, Glenna Woodward of Phoenix, Maurine Colgrove of Wickenburg, and Wayne Pratt of Albuquerque, 27 grandchildren, 98 great grandchildren, and 8 great great grandchildren.

We all say, Grandpa we love you. We are grateful we have been called to be your posterity.