Profile of Harold Wilcken Pratt

Born 16 July 1899, Colonia Dublan, Chihuahua, Mexico
Died 17 May 1962, Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico
Parents: Helaman Pratt and Bertha Christina Wilcken
Grandparents: Apostle Parley P. Pratt and Mary Wood, Charles Henry Wilcken and Eliza Reiche
Wife: Anna Hendrickson, born 21 sep 1901, Fruitland, New Mexico, died 5 April 1962, Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico
Ten children: Ana Marie (Pratt) Taylor, Lucile Pratt, Gerda (Pratt) Haynie, Harold Wilcken Pratt Jr., Berta (Pratt) Whitney, Carmen (Pratt) Shumway, Ramona (Pratt) Gale, Doratha Rae (Pratt) Young, Elena (Pratt) Turley Brown, Kathleen (Pratt) Bigler
Missionary service: 6.9 years
Missionary service of wife: 6.9 years
Missionary service of direct descendants: 111.3 years through 1995.
Person submitting biography: Lucile Pratt

In the early summer of 1899, Harold Wilcken Pratt was the firstborn of three sons of the polygamous marriage of Helaman Pratt and Bertha Wilcken. He was a Mexico Mormon by birth and remained one throughout his life, in spite of living in the United States on occasion. At times he used both Mexican and United States citizenship, but when it became necessary to choose one or the other, he chose Mexican and formally renounced his United States citizenship. Personally he placed his family first, then his church and missionary work, and then his business, whatever it chanced to be.

Harold’s family heritage was even more notable than his birthplace, and he believed heredity was just as significant as environment in any individual character. His father, Helaman, son of an apostle, had been one of the first six missionaries in Mexico City. Earlier Helaman had been a colonist along the Muddy in present-day southeast Nevada, and before and after was a farmer at Richfield, Utah. He had responded at once when called to help colonize what became Colonia Dublan. Bertha Wilcken, Helaman’s third wife, was a sister of the second wife and the two were daughters of Charles Henry Wilcken, bodyguard to Brigham Young and John Taylor, and a German immigrant with a military background. Bertha had been a teacher at Brigham Young Academy in Logan, Utah and after her marriage lived in the same home as her sister Dorothea. Dorothea (Aunt Dora) ran the home, and Bertha taught school to help support the families. Next door was the home of Victoria (Billingsley) Pratt, the first wife of Helaman and the mother of Rey L. Pratt, president of the Mexican Mission for almost thirty years, and one of the First Council of Seventy between 1925 and 1931. The family heritage was indeed great.

The Pratt home was full of love and teasing. Some half-sisters would tease Harold about relationship since their mothers were sisters. His response was one of the family stories: “I’m not either your cousing, I’m a bugger [brother] to all you girls.” He was baptized in July 1907 and in November 1909 his father died, leaving to each family a small farm with livestock and machinery. Rey L. Pratt and Ira W. Pratt, half-brothers, became (when needed) surrogate fathers for Harold and his two brothers, Emerson and Joseph. Harold went to grammar school and portions of two years at the Juarez Stake Academy. He educated himself throughout his life, and possessed an ever growing “thoughtful faith” in the gospel. In 1943 Harold asked Pres. Franklin S. Harris for a letter of recommendation in support of his application for a federal position managing Mexican farm laborers (“braceros”) in Utah and parts of Idaho and Wyoming. Pres. Harris wrote that Harold was the equal or better of anyone to whom he had presented a diploma as president of Brigham Young University. Harold was ever proud of that letter, and the new job lasted until the end of 1946.

The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 and quickly spread north from Mexico City to Chihuahua and other northern states, with four armies roaming the area. The Mormon “exodus” occurred in July 1912, when the Mormons were asked to leave by General Ines Salazar of the “redflagger” or “magonista” troops. Dora and Bertha took their families to Salt Lake City, where Dora had daughters already (some married and some working) and where Bertha again taught school. Harold returned to Colonia Dublan in 1913, together with Aunt Dora, to join his brother Ira and resume farming. Whenever dust clouds became visible in Dublan, Harold would drive the Pratt horses into a distant box canyon to keep them safe from confiscation by approaching armies. By 1914 Bertha and the remaining children were also home. During General John J. Pershing’s stay in Mexico, Ira served as a scout for the army and Harold did some freighting for it. When Pershing’s army left in early 1917, the family made a short “exodus” to El Paso, Texas, where Harold helped support the family as a street car conductor. After they went home, Harold enlisted in a transportation unit of the United States army in September 1918. He was training at Logan, Utah, preparing for duty in Vladivostok and Siberia, Russia, when the war ended and he was discharged in January 1919. He returned home to work on the family farm until he was called on a mission. He borrowed money from a brother-in-law for the mission, repaying the debt later.

Harold served in the Mexican Mission from 23 May 1921 to 26 June 1923 under the presidency of his half-brother Rey L. Pratt. The mission territory included southwestern United States as well as all of Mexico. Harold began missionary work in El Paso and northern Mexico (and during this time met Anna Hendrickson, a missionary from Fruitland, New Mexico), but most of his service was in Mexico City and surrounding areas. He finished as district president, supervising both missionaries and members. In closing his missionary journal, Harold wrote: “There is no joy that can equal the joy of mission service. And my desire is to spend a lifetime in this joy bringing service to my fellow men.”

Once home, Harold began corresponding with Anna Hendrickson, and proposed to her by letter on 21 July 1923. She accepted his marriage proposal by 27 July, but there were still rocky times ahead. Anna began dating another young man, and her mother Gerda A. Hendrickson (a Swedish convert immigrant married to Lars Hendrickson, another Swedish convert immigrant and an ex-missionary) wrote to warn Harold of dangers to the romance. Harold had just purchased a new car, so he drove to visit Anna. After clearing up matters between them, they were married 14 March 1924 in Kirtland, New Mexico, settled in Chihuahua City, and were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple in May 1925.

Harold and Anna had an ever happy and optimistic marriage, and their love for each other and the Church was always far stronger than any problems. The years involved various jobs in various places, sometimes causing lengthy moves, and producing ten children between 1925 and 1946. Consecutively they lived in Chihuahua City; El Paso; Mesa, Arizona; Arrey, New Mexico; El Paso; Mexico City; Colonia Dublan; El Paso; Mexico City; Clint, Texas; Barstow, Texas; Hot Creek Ranch, Nye County, Nevada; Diamond Fork Canyon near Spanish Fork, Utah; Layton, Utah; Chihuahua City. Thus the first family home was in the same city as the last.

Harold’s last child was born while the first one was serving as a missionary in Mexico. And just after the missionary came home, the family moved back to Chihuahua for the last time, leaving the three oldest daughters in Utah. Since one of these was in the hospital at the time of the move, all of the children were never at home together at the same time, since circumstances precluded a home reunion later. First among the ten children were three girls, then the one and only boy, and then the rest of the girls. The sixth and seventh children were twins. Harold was in Salt Lake City when they were born, and his diary comment was “What a shock!” The twins spent their early weeks being fed by lady missionaries. Anna had somehow caught scarlet fever and was quarantined in her room at the mission home for six weeks, seeing her twin babies through the window. Seven of the nine girls and one boy served as missionaries in Mexico. Several of the children served missions after retirement, including a mission presidency and a temple visitors-center presidency for Harold Jr. (Bill). Nine of the ten marriages of the children were with people of Mexico Mormon heritage (either from the Colonies or ex-Mexican missionaries) or of Snowflake heritage (where the Hendrickson descendants had chiefly settled). The children chiefly live in western United States, with one in British Columbia and (until recently) one in Mexico.

In January 1934 Harold was called to preside over the Mexican Mission, and again kept a missionary journal. Anna and the children remained in Dublan until June 1934, while Harold was relocating the mission headquarters from Los Angeles to El Paso. This involved helping Aunt May, widow of Rey L. Pratt, choose a home in Provo, Utah and move there. Harold’s mother, Bertha, came to live with Harold and Anna at the mission home in El Paso after she retired from teaching school in Colonia Dublan. She was part of the family for the remainder of her life, although she periodically visited her other two sons and their families. She died in 1947, still a beloved member of the family.

Harold had been and remained a counselor in the Juarez Stake Presidency during his first year as mission president; he felt this was done so he could influence missionary calls. The first two and a half years of his mission presidency were spent in El Paso, and the mission still covered southwest United States and Mexico. The mission was then divided into the Spanish American Mission and the Mexican Mission, and Harold moved the Mexican Mission headquarters to Mexico City. Even before the move, a rebellion had begun among several local leaders in and around Mexico City, organized as the Third Convention in 1936. They wanted a Lamanite to be president of the Mexican Mission. Among their leaders was Margarito Bautista, who later embraced and preached polygamy (and discussed uniting with the LeBaron group). Before and during this trouble, Harold helped place one of Margarito’s sons in the Juarez Stake Academy, and often stopped to see the young man and check on his progress. Harold’s right to Mexican citizenship was challenged by these rebellious leaders, but resolved in Harold’s favor by the government. The Third Convention leaders then attempted to have visiting General Authorities arrested as illegal foreign religious ministers. Since the government during these years was anti-foreign in its stance, the hand of the Lord contributed to the failure of the Third Convention leaders to accomplish their immediate goals. Upon the advice of the First Presidency, Harold called a council in 1937 to excommunicate the leaders of the Third Convention. After consultation with General Authorities in Salt Lake City, Harold also turned the titles to all property owned by the Church in Mexico over to the federal government, thus abiding by the Constitution of 1917. In later years the Church built meeting houses under the name of the Mutual Improvement Association, but then again decided to turn title to these newer properties over to the government as well. Much of his time as mission president, Harold was periodically ill with a kidney ailment. This became more intense and eventually culminated in the removal of one kidney in July 1938, and his release as mission president on 26 September 1938 after almost five years of service.

Most of Harold’s business efforts were connected with automobiles, farm machinery, or farming and ranching, and some were of particular interest. He worked for Ford Motor Company between 1930 and 1933, when Ford Motor was establishing its first foreign assembly plant in Mexico. Much of his work involved traveling with a Ford caravan over the dirt (and often muddy) roads, because Mexico did not yet have paved highways (the first highway, the PanAmerican between Laredo and Mexico City, was not yet finished). Harold was paid a “per diem” to cover traveling expenses, and in spite of the depression he felt it was dishonest to stay in poor places to augment his salary, since Ford’s “per diem” paid for nice hotels where one met better potential customers.

At Hot Creek Ranch in Nevada, there was a dairy herd and ample pasture for beef cattle. The children drove forty miles to Lund to catch the milk truck to Ely and to attend high school, and returned after school with the empty milk cans. Harold trucked cattle to Los Angeles or drove them over two mountain ranges to the nearest railroad. In his last position, as head of Escomex, S.A. in Chihuahua City, the task was to sell Allis Chalmers farm equipment and GM motors. An automobile or truck seemed inadequate to cover the sales area, so Harold purchased a Cessna 170 and later (after a takeoff wreck) a Cessna 180. Besides selling to farmers and ranchers all over Chihuahua, he sold to the builders of the Chihuahua-Topolobampo railroad, which parallels Copper Canyon in southwest Chihuahua. People had been trying to build this railroad since the 1870s (it was finally completed in 1964). Harold was always flying out to check on needs and problems, and for the first time he began to lose his supreme ability as an automobile driver.

Wherever he was, Harold always included the Church among his activities. When no local ward or branch was available, he got approval to have one organized, with at least a weekly Sunday School and a monthly testimony meeting. Just after his term as mission president, Harold was asked to investigate various properties in Texas, Nevada and California which the Church was considering for welfare farm purposes. He and his family lived on the properties in Barstow, Texas and Hot Creek Ranch, Nevada, and he contacted three of his brothers (Ira, Emerson and Joseph) to accompany him on a critical visit to the land in California. Ultimately the Church decided against all of these purchases. In Chihuahua, Harold served as district president for the Mexican Mission, periodically visiting all the branches and also attending whenever the mission president or a General Authority was there. Thus it was that he flew, separately, Apostle and Sister Spencer W. Kimball to visit branches in Matachic and Temosachic; Sister Kimball wrote of these flights in her diary (which was published later).

Harold’s last big work for the Church involved helping to create a slide presentation for federal government officials in Mexico City. The presentation highlighted the Mormon history in Mexico and the benefits the Church had brought to the country. It also petitioned successfully to allow foreign Mormon missionaries to enter with only one visa, rather than make periodic trips to the border to renew six-month tourist permits. Harold was in Salt Lake City in connection with this project when Anna died in early April 1962. He returned at once for her funeral, as did all of his children and many of their spouses. Harold died six weeks later to the day. Both Harold and Anna were buried in the Pratt family plot in the Colonia Dublan cemetery. He was back in his birthplace, and he had truly served his family, his church, and his business interests throughout his life.

–Lucile Pratt, August 1995, Mesa, Arizona