The Diary of Mathoni Wood Pratt

Kenneth J. Pratt
Associate Professor of History at Immaculate Heart College
Los Angeles, California
September 1, 1934

Oct. 9th, 1857—I was called by the voice of the general Conference, held in Salt Lake City, to go to the United States to preach the gospel.  I was only nineteen years old, and had not thought of going on a mission till my name was called.

So begins the unpublished diary of the second generation Mormon Mathoni Wood Pratt (1856-1937), the youngest son of Parley Parker Pratt and Mary Wood Pratt.1  In two unattached manuscript sheets, found with the bound notebooks of the diary, Mathoni Pratt briefly indicated his fortunes up to the year of the beginning of his mission.  His father, Parley Parker Pratt, well-known companion of Brigham Young and one of the original twelve apostles, was shot to death by hostile non-Mormons in May, 1857.2  The mother tried to provide the best education possible for her son, but the necessity for him to work on the family farm, located about three miles south of early Salt Lake City, curtailed his formal schooling to a few months of each winter.3  Mathoni Pratt, during his teens, in addition to farming, aided in the grading for the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad on the Bear River (1868), worked in a saw mill at Weber Canyon and helped construct a home for his mother in the 17th Ward of Salt Lake City.4  The young man went to work, in 1872, as a salesman in the 13th Ward cooperative store, which position he held until the call to go on his mission.5

He was assigned to work in the “Western States” with headquarters at St. Louis, Missouri.6  Four notebooks contain the day by day account of his activities on the mission.  The mood is one of initial enthusiasm, somewhat sobered by the difficulties involved in the actual work.  For the 14th of November, 1875, he recorded:

Held meeting (in St. Louis) in the afternoon as appointed, Bro. Stuart preached.  There was only a moderate attendance.  In the evening we had quite a good audience, and I made my first effort at public speaking.7

The notebooks reveal the record of the search for halls in which to hold meetings, the actual meetings themselves, conversions, baptisms held in various places including the Mississippi River, conflicts with the sect known as Josephites, the visiting of apostate families and pleasant reunions with other Mormons traveling through St. Louis.8

Pratt fascinated by the steam boats on the Mississippi, boarded one in May, 1876, in order to visit historic Nauvoo, Illinois.9  His father’s house he found to be occupied by a Roman Catholic priest who had constructed a church on the adjoining lot.10  The clergyman gave Pratt a snapshot of the house.11  Some of the townspeople of Nauvoo complained to the young Mormon missionary that since the greater portion of his group had been driven out of the region (1846), that there was a lack of life and energy in the community.12  The diary provides an extensive account of surviving Mormon families in Nauvoo and Montrose, Iowa across the river.13

Back in St. Louis, Pratt described in several pages his impressions of the important Democratic convention of June, 1876, which nominated Tilden.14  The city reminded him of a “bed of ants.”15

Having received a small sum of money from his mother, he left St. Louis, in July, for a tour of the East coast.16  Two notebooks include a detailed account of a visit to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and New York City.  None daunted by a lack of funds, and subsisting to a great extent on bread and milk, he traveled with enthusiasm.  He reported, among other things, an exhaustive list of the individual items in the Philadelphia exhibit.  He recorded, for example, almost two hundred works in the Art Gallery and Annex.17  In Washington, D.C., he visited the Senate chamber, where the Belknap impeachment trial was taking place.18  In New York City, he was impressed by Central Park and was delighted by the crowds at Rockaway Beach.19

He returned to Salt Lake City, in August, 1876, by the railroad that he had helped to completion.  There he spoke of his mission to a group in the Tabernacle.

I was called upon to address the people, which I did to the best of my ability, for a short time, although  it was quite a task for me to stand before such an extensive congregation with my very limited experience.  My remarks were followed by a splendid sermon from my uncle Orson Pratt.20

From 1876 to 1881, the diary is complete with the exception of one missing notebook, which contained material for the Fall and early Winter of 1877.21  The chronicle is one of a man whose livelihood was earned through employment at the 13th Ward cooperative.  This lasted until July, 1877, at which time Pratt was employed by the Z.C.M.I. wholesale dry goods department.22  His salary at the Z.C.M.I. to start was $65.00 a month; by the beginning of 1881, he was earning $85.00 a month.23  At the latter time, he was sufficiently experienced to be sent to the towns of central Utah as a salesman.24  Visiting over twenty towns, he went as far south as Richfield.25

Work, judging by the space allotted in the journal, was secondary to the activities of the young man as a church member.  The record is filled with impressions of sermons by the aged but still vigorous Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders.26  Pratt’s activities as a teacher, treasurer of the Y.M.M.I.A., participant in ward meetings and quorums of the seventies are fully registered.27  The influence of the church is revealed as all persuasive, from education to social work.  That the church had problems, however, is also revealed in Pratt’s notes concerning sermons delivered by church leaders against those who did not participate honestly in their tithing duties, or engage in church activities only in the hope of bettering themselves in a material sense.28  Although preaching was in many cases of a high caliber, he noted also those sermons which were poor enough to be laughable.29

Sections of the notebooks indicate in detail the extensive social life of Salt Lake City in the late 1870’s and the early 1880’s.   Centered generally around the ecclesiastical unit of the ward, activities included singing, croquet, plays, dialogues, declamations, and the more vigorous ones of camping trips, baseball and some plain horseboy.30  Intermingled is the more stark story of infant deaths, a scarlet fever epidemic, and imprisonment by federal authorities of certain Mormons.31  In 1880, Pratt married “for Time and Eternity,” Elizabeth Sheets, daughter of Bishop E.F. Sheets of the 8th Ward.32

The next seven notebooks in the journal do not form a consecutive account, but present isolated periods in which Pratt’s life from 1875 to 1913.33  A great number of the notebooks are missing.  If a notebook were kept for each year from 1875 to 1929 (where the chronology of the diary becomes again complete), then at least twenty-six are missing.  A possible explanation may be offered by a note which appears in a later book of the diary,

My camp at Marvin Davis’ place, Nevada City, Calif. Was today burned during my absence.  The camp included two tents, two suits, 1 box valuable books, Pratt family cards and record sheets, many personal items….34

The extent material, however, offers the historian some solace.  The first notebook records a journey in May and June of 1887 from Salt Lake City to the Colorado River in southeastern Utah.35  The party, led by Professor J.E. Talmage, who was later to become President of the University of Utah and one of the Twelve Apostles of the Mormon church, was evidently in the nature of a geological field trip.36  The group consisted, in addition to its leader, of Pratt and three students.37  The narrative is especially rich in its description of the area from Scofield, through Provo to Elsinore and Monroe, thence to the east across the mountains and the desert to the Colorado river.  Town development, church activities in the region and the physical nature of the country are described.  The hardships of travel included a scarcity of water and the physical exhaustion of the men and horses.38  The party depended on the animal life of the country for much of its food, which included prairie dog, porcupine, rabbit, venison, dove and trout.  On two occasions, a timely meeting with Indians who had food saved the party from hunger.39  Pratt, although not a trained geologist, was able to appreciate, as natural art, the sandstone weathering, rock formations and other geological phenomina which he observed on the trip.

Terse notes for the period January to June, 1902 comprise the body of the next notebook.40  Pratt continued to be employed by the Z.C.M.I., for which he still made trips as a traveling salesman.  This section of the diary records a trip of such a nature to Logan and other towns in northern Utah.  He was frequently invited to speak at religious gatherings while on a tour.  During the winter months, he occasionally attended the theatre.  He mentions having seen Hazel Kirk, A Woman’s Honor, The Man From Mexico, Human Hearts, and Santiago.41

Two notebooks cover the period from January to June, 1904.  The greater portion of the story is one of a business venture which included a five week sojourn in New York City’s garment district.  Pratt was associated with a Mormon from New York, B.F. Cummings: their hope was to establish a mail order house for the sale of clothing in the Utah-Idaho region,42

…in the p.m. he (Cummings) and I visited several large clothing houses, found one house Klee & Co. 22 to 24 Lafayette Place with whom we could make proper connections, but they make no suits to cost less than $11.00 while we will require some as low as $5.00 or $6.00, so we must hunt on.

Upon Pratt’s return to Salt Lake City, he dedicated nine pages of the diary to a coverage of the seventy-fourth Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held at the Tabernacle.44  Messages are recorded in précis that were delivered by J.F. Smith, Anton H. Lund, J.R. Winder, F.M. Lyman, B.H. Roberts and others.

The next three books of the diary relate to parts of 1908-09, 1910 and 1913.  In the first, Pratt, resident in the Forest Dale area of Salt Lake City, told of his part in a stock selling venture in the Salt Lake City region.  One of the few political references in the diary occurs in this book, where he mentioned that he voted for Taft in 1908.45 The material for 1910 describes as a series of ventures in real estate development in which he was concerned.  These were (1) in the Curlew Valley near Malad, Idaho,46  (2) in the sale of land for the townsite of Delmore, Idaho,47  and (3) in planning for large scale occupance of the area about Ashton, Idaho, west of what is today the Great Teton National Park.48  Plans for the economic development of the latter area were seriously considered:

Conference with Olmstead, discussed question of water works and power plants in Teton Valley, at evening session we decided to visit the valley at once and look the matter up with the view of securing sites etc. & forming a company.49

The contents for the notebook which contains the materials for 1913 are brief and incomplete.  Pratt was in Portland Oregon engaged by a company which had undertaken the construction of the Empress Building in that city.50  But, since the phrase “worked on books” occurs, an executive or clerical position may be assumed.51

Eight notebooks comprise the final section of the diary.  They form a continuous narrative from August, 1929 to April, 1937.  The last date under which there is an entry is the 27th of April.  Mathoni Pratt died on the first day of the following month.52  The scant value to the historical world of the most recent section of the diary precludes its presentation at this time.

Mathoni Wood Pratt’s economic activities were varied; in this fact lies much of the value of the diary.  And yet, somewhat paradoxically, the constant dedication of the man to his church is as important to the historian.  This is so not only in the gauge of his personal religious attitudes and activities, but also in the information contained in the diary concerning important Mormon families in many parts of the United States, records of meetings of a religious nature and in précis of sermons.

1 The diary or journal (Mathoni Pratt used the term interchangeably) consist of twenty-four manuscript notebooks of various sizes in the possession of the writer.  The first book begins in 1875; the last recorded item is April 27, 1937, three days before the death of Mathoni Pratt.  Nine notebooks cover the years 1875-81, the remainder are for 1887, 1902, 1904 (two), 1908, 1910, 1913, 1929-30, 1930-32, 1932-33, 1933, 1935, 1935-36, 1936-37 and 1937.  Not all of the notebooks are complete, in that lacunae exist within some of the above mentioned years.  Two separate sheets exist, in Pratt’s handwriting, sketching his life up to his nineteenth year.  In addition, there is a financial record book for 1904 (with a genealogical account of the Pratt family), one for 1906, 1910-11, 1911-12, 1930-35, and 1936.

2 Separate ms. Sheet; of also Reva Stanley, A Biography of Parley Parker Pratt, the Archer of Paradise (Caldwell, Idaho, 1937), 303-307.

3 Separate ms. Sheets.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Pratt Diary, October 9, 1857.

7 Ibid., November 14, 1875.  In Ibid, January 8, 1876, Pratt cited twenty-five or thirty persons as having been present at an evening meeting.  This he described as “a pretty good turn out.”

8 There are thirty-four baptisms recorded on a separate card in the pocket at the back of the second notebook.  These all took place in Missouri or southern Illinois.  Elder Pratt was directly associated with five of the ceremonies.  Some biographical information on those five persons with whom Pratt was connected is given on a sheet in ibid.  Other cards and sheets in ibid. give biographical data on Parley Parker Pratt.

9  Pratt Diary, May 20, 1876.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.  There is no evidence in his diary of hostility on the part of Pratt toward any religious denomination.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid., of. also May 21-23, 1876.

14 Ibid., June 25-28, 1876.

15 Ibid., June 28, 1876.

16 Ibid., July 6, 1876.

17 Ibid., July 21-22, 1876.

18 Ibid., July 12, 1876.

19 Ibid., August 1-2, 1876.

20 Ibid., August 20, 1876.  Frequent references are made in the diary to Orson Pratt, inventory, mathematician and philosopher.  CF. Ibid., August 27, 1876; September 9, 1876; September 9, 1876; February 22, 1881; passim.

21 The last entry in the notebook containing material for 1877 is August 10; the first entry in the next notebook is for January 27, 1878.

22  Ibid., August 23, 1876; July 27, 1877.

23 Ibid., January 15, 1881.

24 Ibid., February 5, 1881.

25 His itinerary included stops at more than fifteen towns.

26 Ibid., October 8, 1876; passim.

27 From Friday, October 16 to Tuesday, October 10, Pratt attended two meetings in the Tabernacle, a priesthood meeting, and a quorum of seventies.  In addition, he commenced his duties as a teacher by making visits in his neighborhood.

28 Ibid., September 24, 1876.

29 Ibid., October 1, 1876.

30 Pratt recorded, July 25, 1872, that the Deserets beat the Cheyenne Red Stockings 17 to 11.  It is perhaps of interest to note that the eastern National League was organized only one year earlier.

31 Ibid., August 10, 1879, “…we called upon Elders Geo. Q. Cannon, Albert Carrington & Brigham Young, (Jr.) at the Penitentiary, where they were confined for alleged contempt to Court as Executers of the Estate of Brigham Young.  We found them pretty comfortable and in good health and spirits.  They were very glad to see us, and we had a pleasant visit with them.”

32 Ibid., November 17, 1880.

33 There is material present for 1887, 1902, 1904 (two), 1908, 1910 and 1913.

34 Ibid., August 2, 1929.

35 The book opens with the record of an altercation between Pratt and a half-drunken man who disturbed him in his camp, “I arose and after demanding him to leave with no effect, gave him as a persuasion one in the nose—he left.”

36 Who Was Who in America, 1, 1215.

37 The student members of the party were J. Nelson of Moroni, S. Allen of Mt. Pleasant and W. Croxell or Crexell of Salt Lake City.

38 Water at one point was rationed at the rate of one half ounce per person, Pratt Diary, June 15, 1887.

39 Ibid., June 2, 1887; June 6, 1887.

40 The paucity of information in this notebook is accounted for, in part, by the physical format of the book, less than three fourths of an inch (top to bottom) is accorded for each entry.

41 Cummings was an ideal partner for Pratt.  When they were not visiting garment firms or planning their business, they would discuss some such theological subject as celestial marriage. Ibid., January 24, 1904.

42 Ibid., January 14, 1904.

44 Ibid., covers the conference for April 3 and April 6, 1904.

45 Ibid., November 3, 1908.

46 Ibid., April 11, 1910; passim.

47 Ibid., May 4, 1910.  Here mention is made of plans for the formation of the Pratt Irrigation Company.

48 Ibid., especially October 10 and October 21, 1910.  A description of the general region is found in Nolie Mumey, The Teton Mountains; Their History and Tradition (Denver, Colorado, 1947.)

49 Pratt Diary, October 14, 1910.  The reference is to H.M. Olmsted of Driggs, Idaho.

50 Ibid., January 22 and May 22, 1913.

51 Ibid., February 4, 1913.

52 This information was obtained by a personal interview with Mrs. C.L. Evans (Florence Pratt), Mathoni Pratt’s daughter, Los Angeles, California, August 11, 1954.