Apostle Parley P. Pratt was assassinated by Hector H. McLean near Van Buren, Crawford Co., Arkansas. Following is an account of the assassination as given by Elder George Higginson, a missionary laboring in the Creek Nation:
“On the 31st of March, 1857, I was riding across a prairie in the Creek Nation. I came in contact with Elder Pratt. He asked me who I was. I then related my business to him. He informed me of his name and said that he was pursued by his enemies, who were striving to take his life and that he had fled for safety to the Indian nations. I took him to some of the Creek brethren, where he remained until the 6th of April. He then came to our conference, where he preached twice through an interpreter. He was known to the Creeks by the name of Elder Parker. He was only known to the missionaries by his proper name. He then gave me and three of the other missionaries to understand the cause of his flight; that he was pursued by one Hector Hugh McLean, who accused him of enticing his wife to leave him and go to Utah; and that not being content with that, he had returned with the said McLean’s wife to the States and had been an accomplice in stealing his children. (That was McLean’s accusation).
I was then requested by Elder Pratt to travel towards Texas and look out for the Texas emigration for Utah.
I remained on the road about three weeks, but saw nothing of the Texas saints. I then returned to Fort Gibson in the Cherokee nation. Here Brother Pratt left a letter for me, informing me of his whereabouts. On receiving the letter, I returned to my post on the Texas road.
I had ridden about five miles when I perceived some one about a mile ahead of me. I overtook him in a short time and found it to be Brother Pratt. He had determined to travel until he met Sister Eleanor. She was then known by the name of Mrs. Lucy Parker. Under that name she had letters directed to her from Brother Parley; also a letter for Brother Homer Duncan, informing them of their danger.
I asked Brother Parley if he thought he was safe traveling on the public road. He said he thought he was, for he could not hear of any inquiries being made for him. We then rode together about 10 miles farther and lighted from our horses to let them feed. We rested ourselves about one hour. We then resaddled our horses to pursue our journey onwards. I mounted my horse first and saw a military escort coming towards us armed with muskets. I then said: Brother Parley, here comes an escort of soldiers ahead. He paused and said: Yes, they are certainly on pursuit of me. I must have been watched; it is all over with me now.
The captain, whose name was Little, then rode up to Brother Parley, and said, “Parley P. Pratt, I arrest you in the name of the United States of America. You are my prisoner.” Elder Pratt asked, “Under what charge am I arrested.” He said, “For fleeing from justice and various other charges which you will hear of presently.”
The officer then asked me if my name was Richards. I told him my name was Higginson. He said: “Have you not been going by the name of Richards?” I told him I had not been going by that name. He then said: “If Mr. Shaw does not recognize you to be Richards you will be at liberty.” Upon Shaw coming up, he was I was not Richards, but said he had better arrest me until the marshal came to take charge of the prisoner, or I might raise up friends and take the prisoner away from them.
We then rode on under arrest about five miles farther, when we met a posse of Creek, Cherokees and white men with the United States deputy marshal, having Sister Eleanor and her children with them. McLean was also in their company and appeared much excited.
The marshal then read the writ for the arrest of Brother Parley and Sister Eleanor, and also James and William Gammel were included in the write, but were not present. The charge was for aiding and abetting in stealing clothing to the amount of ten dollars.
Shaw then insisted on me being arrested and taken before the superintendent of Indian affairs. I was then given in charge of the marshal. We then rode back to Fort Gibson, where we were lodged in prison, in separate rooms for that night. The next day I was taken into the same room that Brother Parley was occupying. He asked me of my welfare, and said, “I am happy that we have been permitted to converse with each other; I feel that the hand of the Lord is in it.” He said: “McLean and his friends will kill me. They have arrested me to put me in his power.” He said: “You will probably escape alive, and I have a sacred request to make of you; that is to go and see my family and tell them I am perfectly reconciled to my fate. I am in the hands of the Lord and He can do just as he likes with me. I had rather die than live. I have no desire to live except to do good and my way appears to be hedged up on every hand.” He also desired me, if I could, to wait in Van Buren and see what became of him, and if he was murdered, to make a report to President Brigham Young of the true circumstances of his death and trial.
During the day the deputy marshal came into the prison and summoned me to appear before Mayor Ogden, the United States commissioner, as a witness against Brother Parley, for the United States.
The next day we were both chained together and marched off for Van Buren, the capital of Arkansas, under charge of the marshal and two soldiers. We were treated with great kindness by them during the journey, which lasted three days.
On arriving in the state the handcuffs were taken off me, but retained on Parley.
On arriving in Van Buren, the excitement was intense. Threats, the most awful to utter, were made on the person of Brother Pratt. He was then lodged in prison, amongst a lot of thieves and murderers. While in the prison at Fort Gibson he gave me his watch and money, to deliver to his family, but seeing that I was in danger of being mobbed, he requested me to hand it back to him for safety, he being confined. On the day following, his trial came off before the United States commissioner. I was also examined as witness, but having no evidence against him, he was privately acquitted, the next morning being the 13th of May. He then told me where to meet him if he escaped. He then took his leave of me, mounted his horse immediately, and rode off at full speed. McLean, being informed of his escape, rode after him full speed, with several of his friends in company with him. Two marshals were sent after McLean to bring him back, but were unable to overtake him.
McLean overtook Brother Parley 12 miles from Van Buren in Crawford county, rode up to him with a Colt’s repeater, and discharged six barrels at him, none of them taking effect. Some of the bullets passed through his coat and some lodged in his saddle. McLean then drew a wife and stabbed him twice under the left nipple. He then fell from his horse. McLean lighted from his horse and made the wounds fatal. He also returned to his friends and obtained a pistol and came back and opened Brother Parley’s breast and discharged it; the bullet lodged in his breast.
This is the testimony of Liley M. Wynn, a spectator of the tragedy. He survived two and a half hours and then died. He said he was not in any pain at all, but died as if going to sleep.
I went the next day, in company with Sister Eleanor and several of the peaceable citizens of Van Buren and buried his person in the same county. He appointed Brother George W. Crouch to administer on his property. I never saw Brother Pratt alive after he left Van Buren.
McLean rode into Van Buren and was congratulated by his friends for his success and was allowed to escape at large and in peace after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
The property of Brother Pratt fell into the hands of the county, to defray expenses.
[Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, May 13, 1857, 2-5]