Arkansas Judge says remains of Parley P. Pratt can be moved to Utah

Published: Thursday, April 3, 2008 3:26 p.m. MDT, Associated Press

VAN BUREN, Ark. — The remains of an early Mormon leader murdered 151 years ago in Arkansas can be moved to Utah for burial as long as other burial sites are not disturbed, a judge has ruled.

A descendant of Parley Parker Pratt, an original member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was granted a petition to remove the remains from a Mormon-owned cemetery near Rudy for burial at Salt Lake City Cemetery.

One of Pratt’s dying wishes was for his body to be returned to Utah, said attorney Robert J. Grow of Salt Lake City, a great-great-great grandson.

Grow said Pratt will have two wives to his left and two wives to his right in the Salt Lake City Cemetery and the reburial will help close a chapter in the family’s history.

Pratt’s descendants include former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is Pratt’s great-great-grandson.

Crawford County Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell said Wednesday that because radar showed that three or four people are buried at the same site, Pratt’s descendants must be sure to remove only Pratt’s remains.

“The problem here is you’d be asking me to possibly disinter bodies that weren’t kin to you,” the judge told Grow. “The question is are you able to disinter others to which you are not kin? I don’t want multiple disinterments.”

Grow said he believed descendants know which body is Pratt’s. A granite monument was erected in 1951 to mark the property. “If it’s not Parley, we certainly don’t want to move anybody else,” Grow told the judge.

Records show the other bodies nearby are probably children.

Grow will have to get a disinterment permit from the Arkansas Department of Health. Department spokesman Ed Barham said those permits are issued to a licensed funeral director and usually take a couple of days.

Putnam Funeral Home of Fort Smith is helping the descendants, and the descendants plan to have archaeologists dig up the body later this month. Pratt’s descendants hope to also identify the body on the basis of stab wounds on chest bones and gunshot wounds.

Pratt is honored in Salt Lake City with a statue at the corner of 2300 East and Parleys Way, a road named for him. Below the statue are the names of his many wives and children. A park and a canyon also bear his first name.

Pratt was chosen by Joseph Smith as one of the first Mormon apostles. A religious writer and missionary, he also counseled Brigham Young. While on a mission to the Southern states, he was accused by Californian Hector McLean in a lawsuit of causing estrangement in McLean’s marriage. Eleanor McLean became Pratt’s 12th wife.

Although Pratt was exonerated by the court, McLean and two accomplices pursued Pratt to Alma, where they fired at and stabbed him. Pratt died May 13, 1857.

Some historians believe Pratt’s murder led to the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah of some 200 Arkansas pioneers on their way to California. But most scholars discount the connection, said Jan Shipps, professor emeritus of history and religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.


Body of missionary to be exhumed

by KENNETH FRY, Press Argus-Courier Editor
Published: Monday, April 7, 2008 11:06 AM CDT, Press Argus-Courier

A saga in the history of a Morman missionary murdered in Crawford County will be closed if his body is returned to Utah, one of the death-bed wishes of Parley Parker Pratt.

On Wednesday, Circuit Judge Gary R. Cottrell signed an order allowing Pratt’s family to exhume the remains from a small cemetery near the Rudy exit of Interstate 540. The family has a burial spot in Salt Lake City purchased more than a century ago. He will be surrounded by four of his 12 wives.

Robert J. Grow, one of Pratt’s great-great-great-grandsons, said the exhumination could begin within two weeks and take about four days.

“Parley never came home from his last mission,” he said. “And the family has never had a place to grieve for him.” It also would satisfy one of Pratt’s deathbed wishes.

Grow said the family learned from eyewitnesses to his final hours that Pratt asked that his personal possessions be returned to his family and that word be sent to a wagon train of Mormons headed to Utah to delay until they could get his body and carry it home.

Pratt, one of the most successful evangelists in the Mormon Church, was murdered May 13, 1857, near Alma by Hector McLean, the former husband of Pratt’s wife, Eleanor. A large stone monument now marks the site of Pratt’s grave.

Grow said the burial site near Alma “will always be a special and sacred place for the Pratt family, even if Parley is moved to Utah. This is the place where he drew his last breath and gave his last testimony in defense of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the church that he loved.”

The monument honoring him will remain, Grow pointed out. He said a new plaque, relating information on Pratt and what is known of the others at the site, will be erected.

Cottrell told Grow his concern was whether the petitioners had the right to disinter other bodies in the cemetery, who are not related to them.

“There will not be multiple disinterments,” Cottrell said. “If removing others are necessary, you can take steps to petition for that.”

Grow said the strictest archaeological methodology will be used to identify and then excavte the grave.

“This will provide the best possibility to recover all existing distinguishing physical materials described in the eyewitness historical accounts of Parley P. Pratt’s burial – pine box, walnut coffin, clothing and shallow interment,” said Le Grande Davies in his proposal to exhume the body.

Davies said archaeological controls will be used ensure that “all physical artifacts, including Parley Pratt’s body, be recovered for reburial as well as answering and clarifying questions concerning his death and burial.

Grow’s attorney, Randall McGinnis, introduced exhibits of scientific tests and historic records pointing to the likely location of Pratt’s remains in the cemetery. He said geophysicists have studied the site using techniques that have located probable gravesites.

Grow said the grave they suspect holds Pratt is close to the property line and the family fears if left where it is, it may be threatened by changing conditions or off-site development. He said it may be necessary to take steps to preserve the burial site, even if it is proven not to be Pratt’s.

“Bringing Parley home will satisfy our desire to close a chapter in our family history after a long time,” Grow said.