Parley Parker Pratt
by Mary Pratt Parrish
Much is known of Parley P. Pratt’s life and travels as they pertain to his missionary work, but little has been written of his private life as it relates to his twelve wives and his thirty children. But thanks to the Daughters of the Pioneers, some letters to and from his wives as well as some of their histories have been preserved. These reveal a man who had a great capacity of love.
Parley was a polygamist. He practiced polygamy because he was instructed to do so by the President of the Church. That he practiced it prayerfully and lovingly is revealed in his letters to his wives and their letters to him.
Ann Agatha, his tenth wife asked Parley if he would accompany her to a dance that was being held. He agreed but while there a messenger came and told him that one of his other wives was in labor. He immediately told Ann Agatha goodbye with the promise that he would dance with her in heaven, and went to the bedside of the wife who needed his comfort and support. Did Ann Agatha mind? No. She loved Parley’s other wives and referred to them as some of the most noble women he had ever known. Referring to polygamy she said,
“This principle of marriage if understood and lived rightly does not, as many suppose, develop the baser feelings common to fallen humanity, but rather the higher and nobler attributes. It teaches unselfishness, that the world and all that it contains was not made for you alone , but others have feeling, rights, and privileges as well as you have and are just as worthy of consideration. If lived prayerfully and patiently it tends to purify and ennoble the heart, expand the mind, and helps one to understand and comprehend a high life which can be learned in no other way.”
If what the wives think of the principle and of him is any criteria, Parley succeeded in his effort to live this commandment.
His wife, Belina Marden said,
“In my mind I had accepted all the revelations of God, plural marriage included, but on account of the sayings and doings of some of the brothers and sisters, I suffered the temptation of Satan to nearly overcome me so far that I thought I would have nothing to do with it. I mean Celestial marriage. A good sister where I was staying called in President Young to talk to me. He instructed me in the principle and desiring with all my heart to understand the truth, I testify that the Holy Spirit of God rested down upon me and it was made plain to my understanding that it was a divine principle and with great joy of heart I accepted it and never from that time to this (1889 has there been doubt in my mind concerning it. I married Parley P. Pratt on or about the 20th of Nov. 1844 at the house of Erastus Snow.”
His wife Phoebe Soper wrote the following:
“I am blessed with a husband of noble and generous turn of mind and an affectionate heart, one that delights in good acts and kindness and discharging every know duty. Father told me that you though when I got married, if I ever did, that it would be to some old doting childish person or some tyrant but I must tell you that you missed it for once. I have one of the best men that ever graced this earth or ever will in my humble opinion. There are but a very few as good. I know that I could not have done any better if I had wished to. I am happy and I know that my husband is capable and will exalt me and what more do I want.”
These are only three of the many quotes that we could include. It is enough to say that Parley’s wives loved him and he loved them. On his way to Chile he wrote the following.
“Just imagine sundown when the shades of evening gather in silent gloom around a father who loves his home and its inmates, his fireside and the family alter. Behold him standing leaning over the vessel’s side as it glides over the boundless Pacific. What are his thoughts? Behold he prays. For what does he pray? For every wife, for every child, for every near and dear friend. He prays most earnestly, most fervently, he calls each by name over and over again before the altar of remembrance.”
Parley’s first wife was Thankful Halsey. He was 21 years old when he married her on September 9, 1827. Three years later he and she were baptized members of the church. During the years, which followed, Thankful’s health was poor. Tuberculosis restricted her activities. With quiet courage she played the role of a patient, loyal wife, who waited at home while her husband went on one mission after another. In October 1830 he embarked on a mission to the Lamanites, a 1500-mile journey which he and his companions made on foot. Soon after his return he was called to go to Canada to open up the mission there. Parley wondered how he could leave his invalid wife again so soon. He prayed earnestly that the will of the Lord would be made manifest. In answer to his prayer Heber C. Kimball came to his home and filled with the spirit of prophecy said that his wife would be healed from that hour, and would bare a son. Thankful could hardly believe her ears. Could it be possible that after ten years she could have a son? Parley reminded her that it was a prophet of the living God who promised it. And the promise was fulfilled. Thankful was healed and bore a son. She, however, did not live to raise her son and this was a great sorrow to Parley.
Mary Ann Frost was Parley’s second wife. She was born in Bethel, Maine, January 4, 1809. On April 6, 1833 she married Nathan Stearns who died August 25, 1834, leaving his young wife and a little daughter of five years, whose name was Mary Ann.
In August 1836 Mary Ann accepted the gospel and gathered with the saints at Kirkland, Ohio. For a time she boarded with Hyrum Smith, and it was during this period that Mary Ann met and married Parley P. Pratt on May 9, 1937.
Mary Ann’s marriage to Parley was a stormy one. She was in Far West with her little girl and her newborn son, Nathan, when Governor Boggs issued his infamous order of extermination. At that time Parley and others were sentenced to death. The day and the hour were appointed. Brigadier General Doniphan stayed the order of execution saying that it was cold-blooded murder. Instead the prisoners were assigned to Liberty jail. From there Parley was taken to Richmond where he was imprisoned for the next eight months. Before leaving Far West, however, Parley was permitted to go to his home and say goodbye to his wife and children. When he entered the room, Mary Ann burst into tears. She was lying on the bed with a high fever, her infant son of three months was at her breast and her daughter, Mary Ann, was lying by her side. It was very difficult for Parley to tear himself away, knowing that his wife and children had no one else to care for them and he was powerless to lift a finger, since he would be locked up in a filthy jail. However Mary Ann devised some way of getting to the jail which was some distance from Far West, for Parley in his autobiography says:
“My wife and children came to the prison and spent a portion of the winter in the cold, dark dungeon, where myself and fellow prisoners were frequently insulted and abused by dastardly guards who often threatened to shoot us on the spot.” (Autobiography p. 215)
On March 17, 1839 Mary Ann left the prison with her two children, and “with a broken heart” returned to Far West. On April 20, 1839 a gang of robbers entered Far West and ordered Mary Ann and the others who were still there to be gone by such a time or they would murder them. And so it was that on the 20th of April David W. Rogers, who had been converted in New York by Parley P. Pratt, brought the family of Parley out of Far West. When they came to the Mississippi, the water was so high that he had to go several miles down the river to find a place where the bottom lands along the river were not over flown, and where there was a ferry to cross. On the Illinois side there was a large slough to ford where the water came up to the wagon bed. As brother Rogers drove up the bank out of the water, he looked back and saw something in the water about the middle of the slough, which he thought was a bundle of clothes which had fallen off the back end of the wagon, and he called out, “There is something lost in the water.” Mary Ann cried out, “It is Mary Ann,” Brother Rogers jumped from the wagon and sprang into the water and brought her out. He said, “She was nearly drowned but we brought her to again.” From there the little company went on to the city of Quincy.
In August 1839 Parley escaped from prison and was reunited with his family. Mary Ann had heard of Parley’s escape about five days before his arrival. After five days of waiting, she had almost despaired of seeing him, when she heard a knock on the door. When she saw that it was Parley, she could hardly believe her eyes. “Parley,” she said, “You have come at last.” “Yes,” he replied, “I have come and I hope it will be a long time before we are separated again,” then he threw his arms around her and held her close.
For the next six months they worked together to build a home in Nauvoo and enjoyed each other’s company. Then Parley was again called on a mission. The Lord had revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that the quorum should meet in England and dedicate that land for missionary work. Parley took Mary Ann and the children with him as far as New York and stayed there six months doing missionary work and encouraging the saints he had baptized on his previous mission. He left Mary Ann and the children in their charge and sailed for England March 1, 1840.
He had been there but a short time when he got word that his family was seriously ill with Scarlet fever. On advice of the other members of the quorum he returned to New York and found that they were better. When he sailed for England the second time, he took his family with him. A baby girl was born in Manchester, England June 2, 1841. They gave her the name of Olivia. Two more children were born to Mary Ann. – Susan who was born on “the Maid of Iowa” a Mississippi River boat April 7, 1843, and Moroni born in Nauvoo December 7, 1844. Nathan died soon after Susan was born, and Susan died just before Moroni was born, and about six months after the Prophet was Martyred.
This was the time when polygamy was urged on the brethren. Parley’s first polygamous wife was Elizabeth Brotherton. He married her on November 2, 1843. In rapid succession three more women were sealed to him – Mary Wood, Hannette Snively, and Belinda Marden on September 9, 1844; November 2, 1844; and November 20, 1844 respectively. A year later Sarah Huston was sealed to him on October 1845; and Phoebe Sopher, February 8, 1846. All of these were sealed to him before he left Nauvoo for the Valley. Ann Agatha Walker and Martha Monk was sealed to him in Winter Quarters. Keziah Downes and Eleanor McCoomb were sealed to him in the Valley.
Mary Ann rebelled against polygamy and when her son Moroni was born in December 1844, she went to New York and did not return until 1852, at which time she filed for divorce and it was granted, much to Parley’s dismay and sorrow.
Our grandmother was the fourth wife. Her name was Mary Wood. She was born in Glasgow Scotland. Her parents moved to England while she was still a young girl. There she chanced to meet some Latter-day Saints and heard some of their doctrines. When she heard the doctrines she knew that they were true and that the Lord had restored the church through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Mary’s parents were strongly opposed to the Church and when Mary came home one night her father and mother said to her, “Mary, have you been with those Mormons again?” She answered, “Yes, father, I have.” Then her father said to her, “This night you must chose between the Mormons and your home.” Mary answer, ” I am sorry that I must make that choice for I love my home very much, but I cannot turn away from that which I know to be true.” Then her father said, “There is the door.” Mary left her home that night and never returned. She turned to the Saints for comfort and strength and especially to the family of Parley P. Pratt, who presided over the mission. Knowing how alone Mary was Parley after he and his family got settled in Nauvoo after he returned from his mission, wrote to Mary and said.
“Mrs. Pratt wishes me to say particularly that she wants you to live with us and have one of our upper rooms to follow your trade, which she thinks will be good here, and I think myself that it would give me great pleasure to see two spirits so congenial, so like each other, live so near as to enjoy each other’s daily society.”
This letter was dated June 27, 1843. Mary did come to America and plied her trade for she was an accomplished seamstress, especially skilled in making men’s suits, women’s tailored clothing, millinery and all kinds of needlework. A year and five months after she arrived, she married Parley in polygamy. This she did because she loved Parley and because she loved the Lord and that polygamy was a commandment of the Lord. It was not an easy life for Parley went on one mission after another. She with her sister wives spent the winter in Winter Quarters without him, for even in that crucial time when hunger, sickness and death haunted every household, Parley was called on a mission and his wives were left to seek strength from each other. It was as difficult for Parley to leave as it was for his wives to have him leave, for he knew of their destitute condition, but he had no choice, the Lord had called, and he must answer.
By the time Mary had reached Winter Quarters, she had braved the turbulent times in Nauvoo, was there at the time of the martyrdom; of the Nauvoo war, and felt the impact of murder and harassment among the saints, and the final expulsion of the saints from their homes. She crossed the frozen Mississippi on a cold wintry day in February. Her destination was Mt. Pisgah, where Parley had established a temporary camp for the on coming saints. As Mary neared Mt. Pisgah, labor pains set in and the wagon in which she was riding stopped long enough for her to have a fine baby boy (our grandfather Helaman). Soon after the baby was born she went on to join the saints at Mt. Pisgah. Soon after she went on to Winter Quarter, and finally started out with Parley and seven of his wives, along with others who joined the company for the valley.
It was said by many that Parley was the busiest and the hardest working of men. Preparing for the trek west, Parley mended wagons, found yoke bows, made bow keys, or pins to hold the bows in the yokes, hunted up cattle, mated them, found chains, especially lock chains, for bear in mid that there were no brakes to hold the wagons back while going down steep hills. These and hundred other things occupied his time. When his company got to the Platte River, the men in his camp built a large and substantial raft on which to ferry the people across. The cattle were made to swim.
Mary drove her wagon most of the way with little Helaman bundled up on the wagon seat. One time when the road was particularly rough Helaman fell or rather was bumped out of the wagon. A wheel grazed his head, barely missing crushing it. He had the scar that resulted from this accident until the day he died. Gladys and Amy, his two youngest daughters testified that the scar was quite visible. They should know for they fine-combed his hair every night.
Another accident involving a young child happened to Sarah Houston’s son. Her first child was born in Winter Quarters. With the other members of the family she started for the valley. At one time there was a stampede of oxen and the wagon in which she and her daughter Julia were riding was over turned. The baby was thrown out among the provisions and later was found unharmed between two sacks of flour.
A day or two after arriving in the valley, Parley and others began to explore Immigration Canyon, made a road to the timber and in a very short time erected a log room to house his family in. He fashioned enough rough seats so that all could sit around the fire. The next Sunday after arriving, they spent the evening in singing, praying and praising the kind Being who had brought them to that haven of peace and safety. Soon more rooms were added. Some however slept in their tents far into the winter but all who were well did not mind it, all were contented and happy.
One of the first things Parley did was overhaul the supplied, take out the seed grain, then carefully estimate the probable length of time before harvest, how many were depending upon him, and ration the wheat accordingly. He concluded that if we had our wheat ground into unbolted flour we could have from half to three quarters of a pound a day to each person. This might seem ample but when it is remembered that there were no vegetables, milk or butter, and a hungry winter coming on it was but a short allowance to eke out our bread. They killed the best steer and there was not enough fat in the whole creature to fry the liver.
When Ann Agatha’s first baby was born, she had no flour left. The midwife brought her a piece of bread and some of her neighbors brought her a little of their little. On the 10th Parley went early in the morning with sickle in hand, cut a little wheat here and there where it had ripened, threshed it with flail and wagon cover and took it on his shoulder to Brother Neff’s mill to have it ground, then brought it home and had a big loaf baked in a large kettle and the whole family sat down to dinner in the room where Ann Agatha was so that she might enjoy it with them. What a feast. It was the first time in nine months all had all the bread they could eat. Parley remarked, “It is the first time since I came into the church that I have reaped what I have sown. I have either gone on missions and left my labors for others to reap the benefits, or I have been driven by mobs from my possessions.”
It can be imagined how anxiously they watched the wheat ripen and how dismayed they were when one day Parley with several members of his family went out to look at the wheat crop. It was a sickening sight — every stalk was bowed down by large crickets. Parley said, “We are a thousand miles from supplies and our wheat is covered with crickets, unless God interposes, starvation stares us in the face.” But Parley and his wives had been the participants of divine intervention throughout the persecutions they had experienced, and so they fasted and prayed and worked to drive away the crickets. They saw the seagulls come and gorge themselves with the crickets, fly to the lake, disgorge and come back again until the plague was stayed. They harvested more wheat to the acre that year than seemed possible under the circumstances.
In 1849 Parley built a road through Parley’s Canyon. This road would make it easier for the incoming saints to get into the valley. In addition it would make possible a source of income, for it would be a toll road for those who were coming through on their way to the gold rush. This would insure a source of income for his wives when he was away doing missionary work. Often he would hire some of the men on the way to the gold rush to work for him. This helped them replenish their supplies and helped Parley get the work done. Often one of his wives would go with him to cook and help with things around the camp. Each man had his own tin plate, and his own knife and fork and spoon and a cup and saucer. The food consisted mostly of baked beans, meat, coffee and a little butter. There was a long rough table to eat on, a small tent to sleep in. The wife would cook the food, and Parley and his eldest son Parley would take it to them. The camp would be made in a shady place near the creek. When two miles of road would be completed Parley would move on and make another camp a mile or two ahead on through Parley’s Canyon to the Weber River where the road was completed sometime in November.
Soon after this road was completed, Parley was called to go on an exploration trip through southern Utah, Nevada and into California. It was on this trip that Parley found a lovely little valley nestled in the hills of southern Utah, and named it Marysvale after our grandmother. When he returned he was called to go on a mission to the Pacific Islands and to South America. He was gone about two years. In December 1852 he was chosen a member of the Legislative Council. On the 6th of April 1854 he was called on a second mission to California – and in 1856 he was called to go on a mission to the “states.” The constant demand upon his time and energies so weakened Parley that many feared he was not physically able to go. He himself felt that he would never come back from this mission. His wife Ann Agatha asked him why he felt this way and he said, “I do not know. Perhaps Indians will kill me or some accident may happen.” Brother Brigham sensing that he was not in the best of health said, “Brother Parley, you need a rest and a change. You can assist Brothers Taylor and Snow and visit the Saints and instruct them by their firesides and do much good in many ways.” Then he laid his hands on Parley’s head and gave him a blessing. “Brother Parley,” he said, “Your children shall be preserved unto you.” President Grant who was present said, “I would give a good deal for that one clause in your blessing.” Parley started for his mission about the 14th and arrived at his destination in November 1856. The following May he was brutally murdered. When news of his death reached Salt Lake, the Presidency was spending the holiday, July 24th in Big Cottonwood Canyon. President Young said, “Nothing has happened so hard to reconcile my mind to since the death of Joseph. Brother Parley has done more good in this short mission than many elders will do in their whole lives.”
Parley’s death was surrounded by some unusual circumstances. On November 14, 1855, Parley married Eleanor McComb. She was converted to the gospel in San Francisco where her husband, Hector McClean was a minister there. When he discovered that she was in earnest about the Mormon Church, he told her to leave his home and never return. She had no choice but to leave her two children with him. She later discovered that he had sent the children to her mother in New Orleans. In the meantime she had come to Salt Lake and on November 14, 1855 had married Parley. Two years later when she learned that her children were with her mother in New Orleans she went there to get them. She found out that a group of saints were leaving Van Buren for the valley, and she decided to join with them. Parley met her and her children there and outfitted them for the journey. Somehow McLean learned of her plans and he also went to Van Buren with sole purpose of intercepting her plans and doing away with Parley. He was successful in that he killed Parley, but he did not stop his wife from going to the valley. She joined the train and arrived there with her two children. She was welcomed by Parley’s other wives and established a school for the benefit of their children.
Some of Parley’s wives married again, but Mary, our grandmother wanted nothing more than to raise her children to be strong members of the Church. She took over the full responsibility of feeding, clothing, and educating them. She built a little home on North Temple by exchanging her training as a tailor for house building skills. For example she made a tailored suit out of a wagon cover in exchange for the foundation and thus step by step she build her house. She taught most of her husband’s daughters to sew and do fine needlework. She is remembered as a very prim person, always neatly dressed in black, with a white apron, a little bonnet, her hair parted in the middle and smoothly combed, with a little bob in the back. She went about her work quietly but quickly with precision in every move. She was very thrifty and independent. One of her favorite sayings was “patience is a virtue.” When her children were raised she went to live in what was known as the Big Field (Forest Dale.) She was an active Temple worker and lived to meet her friends in the various social functions held in the valley. She died March 5, 1898. Her funeral was held in Forest Dale Ward, Brother George Q. Cannon being the chief speaker.
[Look to the Rock from Which Ye Are Hewn, about 1984, 1-15]